Only a few years back availability of steel in required sizes and grades at all locations in the country was an issue that prompted many builders, contractors and masons to recommend concrete-based designs and construct houses requiring minimum volume of steel. Things have appreciably changed for the better, thanks to the efforts made by major steel producers, that numerous local dealers, distributors, shop owners emerging in the vicinity of construction areas with limited steel inventories of rebars, light structurals for foundation and columns and coated sheets for the roofing.
Thus in the residential housing sector (G+3) use of steel has increased, but RCC construction still predominates as saving of space advantage (compared with concrete slabs) with steel is possible primarily for high rise buildings.
For one story low cost houses, innovative technologies like ferro-cement in place of bricks for cladding and wall with sandwich panels and light steel frame structures (including hollow tubular) have been implemented by INSDAG in tribal villages and other places.
The cost per square feet is well within the limit prescribed by the government under the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana. The casting of ferro cement panels is easy to make in the rural and semi-urban areas. The same technology can be applied in making anganwadi, primary health centre, school building, community/ panchayat halls, weekly market sheds, small warehouses where column free, long span space is ideally suited for steel based construction.
Steel based toilets both for individual houses and for the community, would reaffirm the spirits of the Swatch Bharat programme.
The concept of a model steel village would, therefore, fulfill our basic commitment to create a pollution free and environment-friendly atmosphere and would many ways improve the quality of life of rural population. The use of steel in making household items like tables, chairs, furniture, storage bins, fencing and trunks is getting increasingly popular.
Steel based small span (2M/3M/5M) culverts and bridges, steel poles for electricity transmission as part of Grameen Urja Yojana would provide a durable, strong and much faster solution. But the whole concept needs widespread awareness campaign. It is well established from structural engineering point of view that while steel is strong in tension, concrete is strong in compression. An ideal design must blend the strength of steel and cement in steel concrete composite design. In UK, US the steel concrete composite design for residential houses has become popular.
One constraining factor to popularise more use of steel based household items and in general construction, be it in the rural or urban localities, is the lack of fabrication facilities or surplus feast of bad fabricators in these areas who make a mess of steel based fabrication. An ugly welding makes fabricated structures look awkward and discourages the prospective users.
The masons and the small contractors are the real influencers for the individual households when they decide to build a house or any other structures for other purposes. It is essential that these masons are trained to learn the basics of steel based construction, bar bending, use of good quality TMT bar (BIS certified) in construction, earthquake resistant detailing, safety practices in storing, bending. It may be mentioned that although more than 3500 numbers of masons have been trained by INSDAG in association with SAIL, Tata, RINL, JSW, there is an enormous need to enhance the coverage. The training in fabrication, erection and Welding are the three corners of steel based construction and skilled hands in all these segments would fill up the triangle of good construction practices.
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The skill development training in welding (Plasma cutting and Tungsten Gas Arc Welding) currently being implemented also need a much wider coverage to ensure availability of good fabrication and welding personnel to give practical shape to steel based construction. The department of MSME has a funded scheme of encouraging entrepreneurship and steel fabrication that combines the knowledge of preparation of project reports necessary to be submitted to the banks for loans. It can ideally prepare the unemployed youth to set up their own facilities each of which can employ 3-4 persons.
However, most of the banks apprehending inability of the trained persons to return the loans is unwilling to lend support. As a result the training efforts get neutralised, the limited availability of fabrication and welding facility continues and promotion of steel based construction suffers.