Common agency for creating infrastructure of new IITs

In this post I'm putting forth a case for setting up a common agency for the sole purpose of setting up the infrastructure of new IITs (or similar institutions). Let me start by noting some key observations about the overall scenario that exists across the younger IITs:
  1. Considering the "core business" -- which is teaching and research -- of these institutes, all of them need more or less the same type of facilities. More than 80% (at least by built-up area) of the infrastructure comprises of: teaching labs, lecture halls, students' accommodation, teaching and non-teaching staff's accommodation, offices of teaching and non-teaching staff, recreational facilities. The only area where the infrastructure of any two IIT's may differ is: certain type of research facilities.

    This means that from functionality perspective the infrastructure requirements of all IITs is largely the same.
  2. Each one of IITs that were setup in 2008-2009 embarked on their individual infrastructure development projects. They all separately invited tenders for various infrastructure works: selection of architects, a project management consultant, a builder and so on. An important point to keep in mind is that almost all of them awarded the work in phases roughly of the order of 350-400 Cr. per phase.
  3. A norm and experience in the such projects is that: a) the bigger the value of work to be awarded the better the possibility of big (and supposedly better) players participating. b) The overheads/costs of various types of works and materials (e.g. architects fees, or procured material costs) is inversely proportional to the volume of work. For instance, NICSI today charges more than 7% as its overheads if the value of work is below 50 Cr., whereas its overheads are 4% for works above 50 Cr value.
  4. Another very important point is the client's (i.e. an IIT's) personnel involved in the conceptualising, planning, executing and monitoring the project. Check any of the new IITs you will find that it is always some faculty member(s) who is entrusted the responsibility for these tasks. Such tasks are often outside the core competency of the faculty who is entrusted with these tasks.
  5. Often the same set of experts are engaged by multiple institutions to advise them on infrastructure building matters. For instance, Sh. A.K. Jain is a member of Building and Works Committees at IIT Gandhinagar, IIT Ropar, and IIT Mandi (As far I know him, Mr. Jain is an excellent consultant, perhaps that's why he is consulted by many institutes). Similarly, you may find other renowned experts specialising in different areas who are consulted by multiple IITs.
Considering the above observations one may see that the following points emerge:
  1. More than 80% of the infrastructure requirements are functionally same for all new IITs. As such, there is a clear opportunity to consolidate the work across IITs. By doing so the Govt. can bring in the best agencies/firms to implement these projects. More importantly, with consolidation of work the cost of materials and services will go down. This saves the taxpayers money which may be utilised for other projects.
  2. It is not right to expect the top administrators (with due respect to their academic achievements, and barring few exceptions) at these institutes to be rock stars at everything. They may not necessarily be equipped with adequate expertise to handle infrastructure creation projects of this scale. Particularly, the situation at new IITs is worse because they do not even have senior professors with adequate administrative exposure. There it is not uncommon to see administrative work being entrusted to the younger lot who have just begun their careers as assistant professors. Not only does this situation lead to cost and time overruns, it also affects the academic and research output of these institutes.
  3. Already more than one new IITs are taking the assistance (formally or informally) from the same set of external experts. There is an opportunity to bring the experience of all such advisers/experts together as one group which can be more effective than the fragmented efforts.
I'm of the view that creating a special agency for the purpose of managing and executing the infrastructure creation projects at all new IITs may be of great value to the nation. The individual IITs should own the task of charting their academic vision and the philosophy of how each one of them would like to see its infrastructure developed. They should work to provide inputs towards this end, and be the final authority to sign-off on the concepts/designs etc. Managing and executing the projects should be off loaded to the central agency I'm envisioning.

How will such a central agency look like? Considering the "autonomy" of IITs, the IIT Act and other relevant legalities, is it really possible to entrust the infrastructure creation work of multiple IITs to such an agency? These are some the questions that need to be thought through. 

With my limited understanding of the technicalities that apply, I think such an agency would be more like a pan-IIT Project Management Consultant (PI-PMC) agency. You are looking at something like a common PMC for handling the projects of all new IITs.

I believe having such an agency should be possible. After all, there is already one agency (CPWD) which is performing more or less the same role, albeit in a fragmented way by working through separate MoUs with different IITs.

Such a model should also take the pressure off from the newly appointed directors, who are often tensed about possibility of any irregularities happening in these projects, because ultimately it is their institute that gets a bad press in such cases and as head of the institute he/she is responsible. With the central PI-PMC model, all the financial accountability would rest with the PI-PMC thus making life somewhat easier for the IIT director/administration.

Having closely seen the infrastructure development project of a new IIT I can well imagine the huge task that the administrators at the new six IITs face (In December 2015 Union Cabinet, chaired by Prime Minister had given in-principal approval for setting up six new IITs in different states of India. Visitor to IITs, president of India, last week has approved the names recommended by MHRD for the directors of these newly setup IITs -- here's a news link).

I hope our learned policy/decision makers in Shastri Bhawan may want to consider evaluating this idea of having a central agency for handling infrastructure creation projects for new IITs.


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