Govt must evolve institutional framework for IBMS in India

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World over the evolution of Bridge Management System (BMS) was directly a resultant of the legislative need, to have a system to monitor the health of the bridges and to define the repair/replacement needs of existing bridges. Through this legislative need, arose the system to create an inventory of bridges as per their technical parameters and the system of BMS got evolved. Management of bridges gained importance as the funds available for repairs were always in short supply. The risk of doing nothing even when distress was identified; created an urge to justify the inaction. The process of prioritisation of bridges allows the department to repair only those bridges which can be repaired within the constraints of budgetary limits.

India does not have any legislative laws that mandates the creation of the inventory of bridge structures nor do we have any legislative mandate for authority of safety of bridges. Such situation does not warrant the need to implement . In 2015, a round table was held in Mumbai wherein various engineering bodies in India got together to review the results of a research being done by IDDC Engineers in the sphere of ‘Bridge Management Program’.

Unanimous resolution was passed in that round table, wherein the Minister for Road, Transport and Highways was urged to incorporate Bridge Management system in India. Based on this resolution, the ministry accepted to explore implementing BMS on National Highways. This was supported by Union Minister . The proposed BMS was digital, in a manner that the data collected at site for inventory was to be digitized and other data was to be collected in documents which were than catalogued and saved under each bridge. IBMS is a part of Setu Bharatam project in .

In absence of a legislation, a three-year project starting 2015 was implemented. The project is complete and no further utilisation of BMS data is envisaged at present.

IBMS achievements

Before IBMS was initiated in 2015, on the world scene, BMS was implemented manually. When IBMS was initialized in 2015, the whole process of data collection for inventory was digitized and online submission of collected data was probably attempted for the first time in the world. IBMS digitized BMS and soon other systems world over followed digitization.

IBMS is the largest database with data for over 172,000 culverts and bridges being stored. This helped BMS foray into big data. The database has enabled MoRTH to define the exact number of bridges, it’s age, it’s material of construction, it’s geometrical characteristics, etc. Data also comprises of the spatial information in the form of latitude and longitude. The inventory data being digital has enable data analysis and data mining to define the statistical demography of the bridges with respect to its age since constructed, it’s material of construction, it’s design system, the crossing features and most importantly the structural status of all bridges as defined in the last inspection.

Within one year of start, IBMS identified over 147 bridges which were in critical condition. Since then, lot of attention is being paid on the structural health of bridges. Collapse of bridges started hogging limelight post IBMS – Savitri Bridge in Maharashtra, few bridges in Bihar, West Bengal, Pedestrian overbridge in Mumbai. Accountability was established for the safety and structural adequacy of bridges not only on National Highways but bridges in general.

IBMS has successfully brought into focus the aspect of safety on bridges resulting in accountability towards the safe keeping of bridge assets in India.

Implementation of IBMS, resulted in impetus for research, which resulted in 20 plus technical research papers on BMS being published by Team IBMS. Notable contribution in the international scenario, was IBMS acting as a nodal point from India in the European Cooperation in Science and Technology (COST) Action group on bridge inspection and management. (COST TU 1406) COST Action is a network dedicated to scientific collaboration and complementing research in Europe with other countries around the world acting as observers.

Closer within India; Indian Road Congress (IRC) has taken steps to revise all codes, special publication and guidelines in BMS, with intend to streamline the way in which BMS will be implemented in India. IRC SP 35, IRC SP 40 being the major publications which are being discussed by B8 committee and both the modified documents will be soon available. This will enable the engineer taking the responsibility of the bridge to address the problem in a defined manner, which is supported by IRC guidelines.

Many state governments are taking an active look at having their own BMS to maintain the bridges on state highways and major district roads. Municipal Corporation of Mumbai floated a tender for the development of BMS for the city bridges. Many such initiatives will happen with time. IBMS created an opportunity for establishment of BMS in India.

IBMS – The way forward

Union Minister Gadkari took the decision to implement IBMS and he actively supported the project. History will treat, this decision to implement IBMS, to have revolutionized the whole process of bridge management in India. Even without any legislation in place, much was achieved and can be a very significant step in the correct direction to bring safety on Indian roads.

IBMS now needs a proper institutional framework to ensure that proper procedures are followed to ensure that any form of BMS being implemented is being done in the most scientific manner. Absence of legislation, make it more imperative to have this institutional framework. This institution on bridge management could collate all works and procedures required to ensure standard operations are being adopted while implementation of BMS. Many BMS work flows do not have a code or guideline to monitor the work being done. All such work flows and processes need to be defined with proper codes and guidelines.

As more and more states start to adopt BMS, there will be severe shortage of trained manpower to undertake inventory, inspection, testing and defining specifications for remedial measures for bridges. Training and accreditation of manpower could be key input to improve the quality of work being done under BMS. From the government department, officers need to be sensitized on the IBMS protocol and various methods to extract the maximum advantage from such a system.

One key area where protocol needs to be established is related to testing in bridges. Routine or as per a standard protocol – just like in human beings, the general practitioner speculates on the probable cause of illness and suggests pathological test to confirm his prognosis, similarly, IBMS shall need to adopt a process wherein the diagnosis of distress and cause of distress in bridges is validated by proper Non-Destructive test. In recent times such tests are adapted extensively by various accredited testing laboratories to define the cause of distress in other structures. IBMS needs to incorporate such a protocol within the work flow to avoid a repeat of the scenario that plagued it during 2015 to 2019, when repeat cycle of inventory and inspection were only done without any testing of bridges.

MoRTH needs to continue with the good work it initiated during the previous few years and consolidate on the gains of the establishment of IBMS. As we progress, more research will be needed to ensure that the correct technical decisions are taken during its implementation.

Adaptation of drones in inspection, data capture, new chemicals for cost efficient repairs, incorporation of Structural health monitoring using nano technology are some of the pilot project it undertook during IBMS but did not further the cause of their adaptation. Serious government efforts are essential to sustain the gains of IBMS.

MoRTH should take a lead in establishment of such an institution, to monitor all activities related to IBMS, establishment of codes, training of man-power for skill development, channelizing research activities, adapting new technologies to maintain and sustain the technological edge of IBMS.

The author is Emeritus Chair-IBMS, IDDC Engineers. Views are personal.

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