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AN OPEN LETTER TO HON.

PRIME MINISTER NARENDRA MODI ABOUT GROSS WASTAGE OF PUBLIC


FUNDS ON RESURFACING OF RURAL ROADS

24 April 2018

Hon. Shri Narendra Modi (Personal Attention)


Prime Minister of India
7 Lok Kalyan Marg
New Delhi – 110 003

Subject: Over 4,400 crore rupees wasted every year in bituminous resurfacing of rural roads in India

Honourable Prime Minister:

Sadly, it is true. We are wasting over 4,400 crore rupees every year by using a most inappropriate and
very expensive technology for bituminous surfacing (blacktopping) of our rural roads. Now, that is 12
crores rupees every day! To put in perspective, we can construct over 12,000 km of additional brand
new rural roads per year with this wastage if saved.

My name is Prof. Prithvi Singh Kandhal. This observation is based on my experience in road construction
(including rural roads) of over 30 years in the US and over 20 years in India. (My brief resume at the end
of this letter.) Sir, I am appealing to you directly because you are my (country’s) LAST HOPE. Over two
months ago I wrote a letter dated 19 February 2018 on this issue to Hon. Narendra Singh Tomar,
Minister of Rural Development. That letter has not been even acknowledged as yet.

I sincerely hope your eyes will get to see this letter and PMO will not forward simply to the concerned
ministry for “information and necessary action”. That would be an exercise in futility. I will try to explain
the blacktopping technologies to you in simple, nontechnical language.

Two technologies (surface dressing and premix carpet) are specified in India’s Rural Roads Manual for
blacktopping (providing a bituminous surfacing) our rural roads such as roads under Pradhan Mantri
Grameen Sadak Yojna (PMGSY). Either of these two technologies are permitted. Both are also
standardized by the Indian Roads Congress (IRC). These two technologies are explained below:

1. Surface Dressing (SD)

Surface dressing (also called chip seal) consists of spraying a thick film of bitumen over the compacted
stone base layer (called water bound macadam) with the help of a bitumen truck tank distributor at a
specified rate. This is followed by spreading stone chips (aggregate) at a specified rate by a mechanized
chip spreader (available from many manufacturers in Gujarat costing less than Rs. 2.5 lakhs). Stone chips

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are then compacted with a road roller so as to embed/fix them (about 70%) into the sprayed thick
bitumen layer. This completes the surface dressing operation as illustrated in Figure 1.

Figure 1. Schematic of surface dressing

Prior to the introduction of the premix carpet (discussed later) by the IRC during the 1960s, surface
dressing was very common across India. As an Executive Engineer with the Rajasthan PWD during the
mid-1960s, I had used it successfully for construction and maintenance of rural roads, which hardly
developed potholes. Surface dressing was done manually at that time; now it is fully mechanized.

Surface dressing has the following advantages:

(a) It is very cheap, costing only Rs. 2.62 lakhs per km. If a black surface is desired, stone chips can
be precoated with 1% bitumen which would also further increase the bond between the chips
and bitumen. This results in marginal cost increase of 0.34 lakh per km with a total of 2.96 lakhs
per km only.
(b) Due to thick sprayed film of bitumen, it is highly effective in waterproofing the road. It is very
well known that water is Enemy No. 1 of the bituminous road and should be kept away from the
road surface.
(c) Contractors cannot use lower bitumen application rate because it would be obvious right after
construction when the stone chips would be lost with the movement of the traffic.
(d) Indian Roads Congress has an excellent standard for designing and ensuring good quality surface
dressing.
(e) Surface dressing is used successfully across the world both in developing and developed
countries (such as US, Europe and Australia) for blacktopping low and medium trafficked roads.
No other country besides India uses premix carpet.
(f) Hundreds of research papers have been published on surface dressing across the world to fine
tune this technology (I have published two papers in international journals).

2. Premix Carpet (PMC)

In this technology of the premix carpet, single size (about 12 mm) stone chips are mixed with 3.5%
bitumen by weight at a hot mix plant. This mix is laid in 20 mm thickness manually or with a paver.
When introduced in the 1960s, it was realized that this PMC mix is extremely open (porous) and can be
saturated with rainwater within seconds. Therefore, a sand seal coat (mixture of sand and bitumen) is
applied to seal (rather unsuccessfully) the open PMC mix at the top. This seal coat is not always effective

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and therefore allows water penetration into PMC (Figure 2). This phenomenon has been verified by
some field/laboratory tests conducted in recent years at IIT Madras, IIT Guwahati, MNIT Jaipur, and NIT
Silchar (Figure 3). Results have been reported in two recent formal papers published by the Indian Roads
Congress (IRC). One IRC paper can also be accessed at the following link on the internet:

https://www.scribd.com/document/371769366/Review-of-Practices-for-Improving-Ride-Quality-and-
Periodical-Renewal-of-Bituminous-Pavements-in-India

Figure 2. Schematic of premix carpet showing water penetrating it

Figure 3. Field steel ring test on premix carpet verifying its porosity to water

The premix carpet (PMC) has the following disadvantages:

(a) It is more expensive costing Rs. 7.88 lakhs per km compared to surface dressing which costs only
Rs. 2.62 lakhs per km. This is phenomenal increase of about 300 percent (3 times). This is highly
significant considering the cost of blacktopping component of our rural roads is about 20% of
the total new project cost.
(b) Despite the sand seal at the surface, premix carpet can allow penetration of rainwater readily,
which not only damages it but also damages the underlying layers of the road. This results in
premature/early development of potholes.

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(c) Because of the preceding two significant negative points, no other country in the world has used
the premix carpet ever for blacktopping any road including rural roads. No road engineer in the
right mind would use a bituminous mix which can potentially soak up water thus destroying it.
To put it bluntly, it can happen only in India where we, the road engineers, sometimes use
“conventional wisdom” rather than fundamental road engineering principles. This is primarily
due to lack of formal education and training in the field of road construction.
(d) Hardly any research has been done on premix carpet in India over the last 50 years. As
mentioned earlier, recent research during the last 2 years has shown negative results indicating
that premix carpet can soak up rainwater, which is highly undesirable.

Over the years, premix carpet has replaced surface dressing in most states in India. Unfortunately for
India, surface dressing is dying a slow death. It is estimated that the ratio of premix carpet and surface
dressing at the present time is about 80:20. No figures are available from the Ministry of Rural
Development on this.

Sir, if you seriously look at the comparison of surface dressing and premix carpet in terms of their costs
and performance as explained above, I believe you would decide to discontinue the use of premix
carpet. That would save us mindboggling thousands of crores in constructing new roads and maintaining
the existing ones. This very big saving can rightly be used in building and upgrading more and more
lengths of rural roads in India.

Many of your engineers privately agree with me on this but they do not have the education and
incentive to speak out. We cannot blame individuals for this collective “conventional wisdom” of using
premix carpet for over 50 years despite the fact that it is highly expensive and is an undesirable
technology. However, some engineers who “like” premix carpet would like to maintain the status quo
and would make one or more of the following misleading statements (my response is in parenthesis):

1. Premix carpet is “good” for India. (It is just an unfounded vague statement; if it is good why we
have not been able to convince and export this technology to rest of the world.)
2. I have seen it perform well. (Not all jobs fail, but fundamentally it is water-trapping and
therefore premature potholing is highly likely.)
3. It provides structural strength to the road. (This is absolutely wrong. Both surface dressing and
premix carpet do not contribute to structural strength of the road.)
4. It provides a black and shiny surface and is laid sometimes with a paver, which pleases the
public. (This seems to indicate public perception is more important than proper engineering and
the welfare of our country in terms of costs and performance.)
5. Let’s undertake some research projects to compare the performance of premix carpet versus
surface dressing. (This is just a delaying tactic. Satisfactory performance of surface dressing has
been proven and reported worldwide. Moreover, India’s Rural Roads Manual allows either one
so why not use surface dressing which costs only one-third of premix carpet. The Rural Roads
Manual also states surface dressing is an age-old technique which really seals the road well.)
6. Let’s set up some demonstration project to “reintroduce” surface dressing. (Again, it is just a
delaying tactic. Why do it when we have an excellent and easy to follow IRC Standard for surface
dressing for our road engineer?)

Sir, the recurring estimated loss of Rs. 4,400 crores per year for maintenance of existing PMGSY roads
are based on the following assumptions:

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 PMGSY roads constructed so far: 5,29,975 km
 Ratio of premix carpet and surface dressing – 80:20
 Cost of premix carpet and surface dressing per km: Rs. 7.88 lakhs and Rs. 2.62 lakhs, respectively
(based on 2012 Rajasthan PWD Basic Schedule of Rates)
 5-year cycle of renewal of surface for existing roads

Sir, here is the brief summary of what I have stated above. India’s Rural Roads Manual permits two
technologies: surface dressing or premix carpet for blacktopping our rural roads. Both have been
standardized by the Indian Roads Congress. However, premix carpet is highly expensive (three times the
cost of surface dressing); generally, soaks up water readily which results in early potholes; and not used
anywhere in the world. Surface dressing is cheap (only one-third the cost of premix carpet); makes the
road highly waterproof thus less potential for potholes; and is used successfully throughout the world.
Therefore, it is crystal clear that surface dressing has great advantage over premix carpet in terms of life
(performance) and cost.

It is my earnest request to put a stop on the use of premix carpet immediately for all roads including
urban and rural roads. I also urge you to listen to people like me outside Government, who do not have
to defend the status quo unnecessarily by giving lame excuses or delaying tactics. If you can give me 30
minutes, I am 100% confident I can convince you to take this action. Again. We are talking about a gross
loss of Rs. 4,400 crores per year (Rs. 12 crores every day!) Let’s not forget it can fund building over
12,000 km of new rural roads per year. Hard to believe but a fact!

Sir, I am looking forward to your response to this highly important personal letter which I am sharing via
email with over 2000 road engineers across India.

Sincerely,

Prof. Prithvi Singh Kandhal


Karanpura House, 50 Raj Bhawan Rd.
Civil Lines, Jaipur 302 006
pkandhal@gmail.com

“American roads are good not because America is rich, but America is rich because American roads
are good.” - John F. Kennedy

“Those who resist change will become irrelevant in the 21st Century.” – Narendra Modi

ABOUT THE WRITER

Prof. Prithvi Singh Kandhal is Associate Director Emeritus of the National Center for Asphalt Technology
(NCAT) based at Auburn University, Alabama, U.S.A. NCAT is the largest asphalt (bitumen) road
technology center in the world.

Prior to joining NCAT in 1988, Prof. Kandhal served as Chief Asphalt Road Engineer of the Pennsylvania
Department of Transportation for 17 years. He has been chairman or president of many national and
international very prestigious organizations in the asphalt road technology area. He co-authored the first

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ever textbook on bitumen road technology in the US. Recently in 2016, he has also authored the first
ever textbook on bituminous road construction technology in India.

Prof. Kandhal has been a practicing highway engineer in India for 20 years and in the US for 30 years.
Recently he has drafted many standards for the Indian Roads Congress including specifications for dense
graded bituminous mixes, stone matrix asphalt and readymade pothole patching mix. He was also
instrumental single-handedly in introducing viscosity grading of bitumen in India in lieu of penetration
grading in 2005.

In August 2011, Prof. Kandhal was inducted on the “Wall of Honour” established at the largest asphalt
road research center in the United States. In April 2012, he received the “Lifetime Achievement Award
in Asphalt Road Technology” from the International Association of Asphalt Paving Technologists during
their annual banquet held in Austin, Texas, USA.