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Poor cement quality, crumbling structures and bad roads

Lalit Shastri

 

Some unscrupulous elements, are illegally mixing cement with fly ash, raising its proportion to even 60%. This is being sold to the consumers in the name of good quality branded cement.

 

After last week’s twin-building collapse in greater Noida, the Uttar Pradesh Government followed the thumb rule and was quick in ordering a magisterial probe into the incident.

On 17 July 2018, a six-floor under-construction building had come crashing down on an adjacent five-story building in Shahberi village killing nine people.

Such a disaster, every time, leads to a knee-jerk reaction from the political executive. The law enforcing agencies take up the responsibility of fixing liability and prosecuting the culprit. Media follows the beaten track of parroting the statements and announcements of the chief minister and others who matter. All attention gets focused on issues such as illegal construction, bypassing of building laws and permissions, and poor construction quality. Rarely the concerned authorities talk of cement quality, which is supposed to be a very important factor – of course the other issues are equally important.

Manish Jain, industrialist, talks to Newsroom24x7 on the menace of inferior cement being sold illegally as branded good quality cement by unscrupulous elements

 

Prahlad Singh Patel, ruling BJP MP from Damoh, Madhya Pradesh, speaking in Parliament on 19 July 2018 on the quality of highways had raised the issue of cement quality.

Responding to his pointer, Nitin Gadkari, the Union Minister for Road Transport & Highways, Shipping and Water Resources, River Development & Ganga Rejuvenation told the House that 40 per cent of the cement produced in the country is being used for constructing concrete roads. Speaking at length on cement price, the Minister had underscored the cement manufacturers have the bad habit of working as a cartel. This amounts to blackmailing, he said adding the Competition Commission has even imposed a fine on them and a case is also pending in the Supreme Court. At a recent meeting in Goa, Gadkari had told the cement manufacturers that if cement price goes up, the cement roads would be converted to bitumen to lower the construction cost by 30%.

In some states the cement bags cost Rs. 380 whereas in many other states they are available for Rs, 210, Gadkari said in Parliament emphasising that the cement industry should adopt a fixed policy to determine the price. If the industry refuses to tow the line, the Government will be compelled to bring cement under the Essential commodities Act, he said.

It can be noted that the ruling party MP from Damoh had raised the issue of cement quality whereas the Minister chose to sidestep this matter and had kept speaking in Parliament (on 19 July) about the price of cement and how the Government was working towards bringing it under control by measures that many in the cement industry are describing as “arm twisting” tactics.

Now coming to the basic issue of cement quality. From the lay man’s point of view, it beats imagination why cement roads that are supposed to have a durable surface, within a short span of time after they are commissioned, start generating dust and with movement of traffic, the road metal and stone chippings soon mark the surface making it rough and uneven.

Addressing this issue, Gadkari told Parliament that it is suggested that bitumen could be used as top surface to make the cement roads more smooth. This perhaps could be a cover up for poor quality of cement getting channelised for road construction. It is a possibility that cannot be discounted without a thorough investigation – that should be done not on a random basis but across the board covering every road project, big and small.

Union Government’s Cement (Quality Control) Order, 1995 describes “cement” as any variety of cement manufactured in India and includes blast furnace slag cement, Portland Pozzolana cement, rapid hardening Portland cement.

The 1995 order prohibits manufacture, sale and store of cement which is not of the prescribed standard which requires that no person shall himself or by any person on his behalf, manufacture or store for sale, sell or distribute cement which does not conform to the prescribed standard and which do not bear the standard Mark.

The Indian standard adopted by the Bureau of Indian standards pertaining to composite cement also covers the requirements such as its manufacture, chemical and physical requirements, packing and marketing. It covers the requirements of materials, that is fly ash and granulated slag and their proportions to be used in the manufacture of composite cement.

For example, the manufacture of Portland cement should conform to IS 269.

Portland cement has to be manufactured either by intimately inter-grinding portland cement clinker, granulated slag, and fly ash; or by intimately and uniformly blending ordinary portland cement, finely ground granulated slag and fine fly ash, with required addition of gypsum so as to propdice a cement capable of complying with the Indian Standard.

It is to be noted that when composite cement is obtained by grinding granulated slag and fly ash with Portland cement clinker, no material is allowed to be added after burning, other than gypsum (natural mineral or chemical), water and not more than 1.0 per cent of air-entertaining agents or other agents, including coloring agents, which are not harmful.

The same limitations also apply for manufacturing cement under the blending process.

The material prortions to be used in composite cement is as follows.

Portland cement clinker/ordinary Portland cement – 35 to 65% by weight; Fly ash – 15 to 35% by weight and Granulated slag – 20 to 50 per cent

Importantly, Chemical gypsum can be added only if the performance requirements of the final product as specified by the Bureau of Indian Standards are met with.

Now mark the catch: knowledgeable sources have informed Newsroom24x7 that some unscrupulous elements, are illegally mixing cement with fly ash, raising its proportion to even 60%. This is being sold to the consumers in the name of good quality branded cement. This is being done more at small retail outlets than at the company distributor or licensed dealer point, it is alleged.

The modus operandi of the cement dealers and retailers, who resort to cheating, is that they procure empty used cement bags of well-known brands, fill these with low grade or low priced cement mixed with additional fly ash and restitch them. Used and second-hand cement bags come in circulation if their stitching is opened without causing any damage. Such bags are in great demand. They are collected by the Kabadiwala” (ragman) and are available in the junk market for Rs. 3 to 4 per bag. Inferior cement, once it is repacked, is passed away to the gullible and unsuspecting customers as branded cement.

When additional fly ash is mixed with cement making it inferior in quality and if this is sold as normal company product, with the authorities looking the other way, buildings and other cement structures will continue to collapse.

To plug the possibility of cheating through the marketing of inferior cement, prominent cement manufacturers keep giving important tips to the customers but very few follow them.

People should follow the following advice:

  1. Purchase the cement from authorized company counters only.
  2. Check the stitching of cement bag and ensure the cement bag has not been tampered with and re-stitched.
  3. Check the week number and year of the manufacturing which is printed on the cement bags.
  4. Avoid purchasing cement bags manufactured 3 months before the date of purchase.
  5. Ensure there is ISI mark on the cement bags.
  6. Condition of the cement bags should be good and they must be stored in a moisture free area in a proper cement warehouse or store.
  7. Open the bag and take a good look at the cement. There should be no visible lumps. The colour of the cement should normally be greenish grey.
  8. Dig your hand into the cement bag. It must give a cool feeling. There should not be any lump inside.
  9. Take a pinch of cement and feel it between the fingers. It should give a smooth and not a gritty feeling.
  10. Take a handful of cement and put it in a bucket full of water. The cement should float for some time before sinking.
  11.  Customers should demand cement bags that are not stitched but sealed and pilfer proof. This will compel the manufacturers to ensure that the bags are sealed in such a manner that they can only be torn open so that the cannot be reused.
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