Dire need for training in asphalt technology in India, where is the vision?
Just ask a typical highway engineer in India the following two questions: (a)
Which paving grades of bitumen are used in India? [Most engineers would say 60/70 and 80/100 although these penetration grades have been outlawed and replaced with Viscosity Grades (VG): VG-30 and VG-10 since 2006.] (b)
How would you determine if part of the paving bitumen has been replaced with marble dust during transport from refinery to the project site? [Most engineers would not be able to answer. They do not know about the very simple bitumen solubility test to determine the presence and amount of insoluble like dust in the bitumen.] The preceding two questions are about the paving bitumen only, which is the most important and most expensive ingredient in bituminous mixes (about Rs. 50,000 per ton). There are other areas such as aggregate; mix design; construction; maintenance; and recycling. Most highway engineers in India are technically ignorant in those areas as well. The so-called “smart” engineer’s knowledge is generally limited to the specification book only. Unfortunately, no quality road construction can be expected if the highway engineers are technically ignorant. It is just common sense. Now, who is responsible for this technical ignorance prevailing among most highway engineers in India? The engineering institutions cannot be blamed because there is hardly a course (if any) on highway engineering in the civil engineering curriculum. It is the responsibility of the employers (such as MORTH, NHAI, State PWD, and contractors) who hire the civil engineers for highway design and construction activities to train them. Good example: Indian Railway gives extensive training to civil engineers selected for railway engineering services. India is spending at least 75,000 crores of rupees in highway construction per year. As mentioned earlier, there cannot be quality without knowledge and training. There is no question that MORTH and NHAI should have the vision (which has been lacking so far) to initiate an ambitious program of training highway engineers across India. It cannot be achieved through the Indian Academy of Highway Engineers (formerly NITHE) in New Delhi, which is just a drop in the bucket. MORTH should engage a competent engineering institution (through RFP based on technical competence) to prepare a one-week course on asphalt technology with proper visual aids as a start. Then, that course can be offered continuously at several IITs and regional institutes of technology across India to train both government and private highway engineers at large. The capability of academia to do this job should not be underestimated (because in some cases they can always learn, if necessary, and then teach). Even a small percentage of Rs. 75,000 crores, say 0.1 percent or 75 crores spent per year on this training will go a long way to achieve quality road construction across India, which is the need of the day. That is hardly any price for quality.