Comparing contractual systems
India is often referred to as a land of great ideas, with the majority of them unimplemented. Construction field is slightly better off with only implementable and mutually agreed concepts getting drafted, hence built as well. However the advent of green ideas and stress on sustainable construction has focused lime light on varied innovative ideas, often found only in essays, research papers and seminars. Designers and thinkers have done their job, with shortage of builders and workers to get them executed at site.
No wonder, this Green Sense column has elicited many mail responses seeking advice about contractors who could build the new or countering technical experts who speak against the alternate. The experience of the majority of owners has been the same – building green sense is an enormous task, unless we get the right kind of people.
Traditionally we are used to a contractual system called labour contract where the owner supplies and pays for all the materials, while a head mason supplies all the workers, besides supervising their work. Such teams will simply do what the owner wants, hence superficially appear capable of building eco-ideas. However majority of labour teams have no idea of the alternate and owners despite reading essays may not be technically qualified to instruct the team or may not have the time to spend on construction site.
No one would like their building project to be an experimental learning for an untrained team, wasting time and money with no guarantee for assured product. Invariably, the green intentions slowly get dropped off, in favour of conventional approaches, simply because the labour contractor is more confident about repeating what the team as done in the past.
Lump sum contract
Another popular contractual method has been where a professional contractor charges fixed lump sum money for unit area, most common reference being rupees per 100 sft. of built area. It is an all inclusive cost once the construction system and materials are mutually finalized. Technical experts like qualified engineers and architects could also be involved here, primarily as advisors. By far it is the most hassle free system, where the owner can relax and one day just walk into the building, though there may be no guarantee for quality or time for evolving customized designs. From an eco-building perspective, the major limitations here are rooted in its rigidity. Once the price is fixed, material variations become bone of contentions and substandard quality becomes a cause for difference of opinions. Lump sum contractors charge very competitive rates based on standard construction practices to survive in the market, hence prefer to work on routine projects with least of fresh instructions to their team, ensuring no loss in the income. As such, majority of them refuse to undertake buildings with alternate ideas, with the apprehension of losing money at the end.
So, are we the end of the road? No way – there are alternate modes of getting alternate ideas executed that we can explore.