I have made frequent references to the steep increase in construction costs triggered by frequent and large increases in the prices of a wide range of materials that go for construction like cement, steel, bricks, sand, sanitaryware… Of course, at the base is the price of land.
In Chennai metro, the price of a flat in K K Nagar has shot up from around Rs 850/sq.ft in 2001 to around Rs 10,000 plus per sq.ft today. Such steep increase comes in the way of the citizen acquiring a roof of his own or for renting it.
Governments across the world, notably China in recent times, have addressed this issue by resorting to mass housing projects. Employing techniques for rapid construction, large housing projects were completed in quick time. Yet the need is large and resources are limited.
In this context, the efforts of the IIT-M in researching for a cost-effective solution appears interesting and kindles hope. Dr A Meher Prasad, Head of Civil Engineering Department and his colleague Dr Devdas Menon, have constructed a couple of model houses within the IIT-M campus. Utilising pre-fabricated gypsum boards with concrete poured in between, the model houses have been constructed in just a month! The saving of around 15 per cent is stated to have been made in such a construction.
Gypsum is produced as a by-product in the production of phosphatic fertilizers at large capacity fertilizer plants like FACT-Cochin, RCF and Paradeep Phosphates Ltd.
The Saint-Gobain group is a large manufacturer of gyp boards. Dr T Anand, MD of Saint Gobain Research India (SGRI), researching on a vast range of building materials, referred to the elegant and economical gypboard, with its low weight, suited well for mass housing.
Explained Dr Prasad: “the technology for rapid mass housing using gypsum boards has been perfected by an Australian company. In India, large-sized gypboards are manufactured at Kochi using gypsum produced by FACT’s Cochin Fertilizers... The boards for our model house have been brought from Kochi. The technique developed by IIT-M of constructing the walls by pouring concrete between a pair of gypboards, imparts higher strength. We can build comfortably and speedily up to eight floors using this material and technology,” he said.
Union Minister of Urban Development, Venkaiah Naidu, is working on a mass housing project at Nellore, targeting to construct a row of houses in just three months. Union Minister for Chemicals & Fertilisers Ananth Kumar has also evinced interest in such a mass housing project in Karnataka.
Dr Prasad pointed to the high cost involved in moving large-sized boards to construction sites at far away locations. A policy back up by the government can give a big push to this collaborative effort between industry and institute. He is confident over bringing down construction costs by setting up large capacity gyp board plants near fertilizer plants spread across the country. This will help the fertilizer units find an outlet for gypsum presently dumped as a waste product. -SV