I am sitting in a car with a consultant friend who is negotiating fees with what I can sense to be a procurement executive of a large infrastructure company. Though the road build using L1 logic has already turned the car into a concrete vibrator, I feel more shaken because I am forced to overhear mind-numbing logic of the corporate honcho who sees no difference in hiring engineering knowledge and buying vegetables in wholesale market. 

After ten minutes of bearing absolute insult of science of engineering by a man inebriated by power of money, I am forced to conclude that we, the citizens of India are stuck between the devil and the deep sea. 

Devil is the “work must be awarded to the lowest (L1) bidder” rule followed by the state and the deep sea is the negotiations that private sector players indulge in.

Over the years, I have watched Indian private sector with hope as it is not hindered by the absurdity called L1. So using private players through the PPP (public private partnership) model could have been an escape route that would have worked in the favour of the nation. But, participation in innumerable tender negotiations over the years, I have now discovered the great Indian Achilles heel, and that is complete lack of respect for science of engineering. 

It is an undefeatable force in action across Indian corporate houses thwarting any possibility that India will start looking like the rest of the developed world any time soon.

As British left India with zero technocrats and few moneybags that grabbed monopolistic opportunities of the elitist rule of congress, we have rarely found engineers and technocrats rising to build large corporates. So, even engineering-centric sectors like infrastructure are also run by men who understand nothing but money and thus have no respect for knowledge. 

This has led to creation of a strange corporate structure where project engineers who actually know the subject have no say while finance people without an iota of an idea about the engineering drive the negotiations.

Unfortunately for us citizens, infrastructure construction is still not possible using magic as it is an unforgiving master that must be served with good engineering. But, as engineering consultancy is hired at the beginning of the project, with all the time in the world to negotiate, corporate negotiators who have no understanding of the effort required in design, proudly squeeze the rates, making them if not unworkable, low enough for the consultant not to bother to apply mind for any value addition.

The net outcome is, Indian private sector is now competing with the state in making low quality infrastructure. 

Though homes and corporate headquarters of the same businessmen always match up with their international counterparts (as these contracts are awarded at rates that are ten times higher, and mostly to international firms), what they build for us Indians to use is engineered to match the L1 construction of the state.

Unfortunately for us, as most of these private players are in valuation game where infrastructure is built not to operate but to pledge to get more money to siphon out, it is a vicious loop with no end in sight.

Across India, engineering is getting sacrificed at the altar of greed of corporates by men of finance driving negotiations without any consideration of the need of doing quality work, so we are heading for a disaster.

As the government plans to use infrastructure sector to kick-start the economy by pumping in one lakh crore in in the sector, it looks to be more money going down the drains, as we will empty our coffers and still remain a third world country with substandard infrastructure made by cutting unnecessary corners by decision-makes driven by the sole agenda of saving money at the cost of quality.