The Narendra Modi government has initiated a process to corporatise the Central Public Works Department (CPWD), its 163 year- old main construction arm. The move is expected to strengthen the performance of CPWD by decentralising its ambit of operations. BE’s Shahana Banerjee spoke to Rajendra Kumar, Executive Engineer (Civil), CPWD, New Delhi, regarding this move.
Q. What are the main functions of the Central Public Works Department?
A. Central Public Works Department (CPWD), which came into existence in 1854, functions within the ambit of the urban development department. It primarily undertakes the construction of government projects and provides comprehensive management services including planning, budgeting, evaluation of bids, finalisation of contracts, defending arbitration, etc. It is also involved in the projects of autonomous bodies and public sector undertakings and serves as a technical advisor to the Indian government on matters pertaining to architecture, civil engineering, electrical and mechanical engineering. In recent times, the CPWD has been actively engaged in border fencing, flood lighting, and constructing roads along the sensitive Indo-Bangladesh and Indo-Pak border region.
Q. Why is there a sudden move to privatise the government’s main construction arm?
A. Last year, the Ministry of Urban Development (MoUD) issued a request for Expression of Interest (EOI) for the selection of reputable agencies to conduct a study on the working and reorganisation of the CPWD. The recommendations of the Request for Proposal (RFP) formulated by these agencies have expressed the need to corporatise the department to improve its performance.
This move was long due, given the way in which the department was functioning over the last two decades. The rate of growth of the department has seen a considerable decline. Naturally, we stand at a point where the present growth rate of CPWD is inadequate. Also, there is lack training and development programmes for CPWD staff and this has increased the number of complaints from our clients. The growing dissatisfaction among clients poses a serious problem to CPWD. The said reform shall be the first attempt to enhance the delivery capabilities and functional efficiencies of the department.
Q. What according to you will be the positives of privatisation?
A. The present employees are already repulsed by the abysmal career prospects and paltry emoluments provided to them. Clearly, the dissatisfaction of the employees will only decrease the organisation’s productivity. Any loss of work due to organisational inefficiency will impact the rate of growth, leading to further stagnation and poorer performance. Hence, the biggest positive that we can expect from privatisation is to reduce the dissatisfaction of the employees and restore efficiency in manpower.
Q. How is the government planning to divide responsibilities if CPWD is privatised?
A. As of now, it is expected that the construction wing of the Central Public Works Department will be privatised whereas the maintenance wing will continue under the control of the government. However, the main concern is that the CPWD functions in high security domains and undertakes construction work of security installations, including border areas. Corporatisation may compromise the security of such assets.
Q. How has the department reacted to these proposals?
A. The move to corporatise CPWD has ruffled feathers within the department with several employees fearing for their future. The CPWD service associations held a large rally in February this year to demand an immediate withdrawal of this proposal. The employees had also written to the then Urban Development Minister, M. Venkaiah Naidu requesting immediate withdrawal of this proposal.
Q. How much time can we expect for this move be realised?
A. Given the complexities of the department and the precision with which the government needs to take decisions, it will take at least four to five years to implement this.