Trenchless Technology in India: An Ever Growing Population Needs Trenchless Innovation

By Tabitha Mishra
Published: February 24, 2020 | Last updated: July 5, 2023
Key Takeaways

India has made giant strides in the technological and industrial sectors. As a developing country with one of the world’s largest population, India has many needs. Those needs present opportunities to advance and innovate.

India has made giant strides in the technological and industrial sectors. As a developing country with one of the world's largest population, India has many needs. Those needs present opportunities to advance and innovate.

According to Raoul Pal, the mastermind of Global Macro Investor, India is now the most attractive major investment opportunity in the world, but that it largely remains unnoticed. Much has been invested in metro cities like Mumbai and New Delhi to upgrade infrastructures such as roads, bridges and railway.

With the up-gradation of infrastructure, there’s also the need to upgrade sub-surface infrastructure to meet the needs of the ever-growing population. In cities where growing job opportunities are attracting thousands every day, the water supply and sewer lines are overloaded and overflowing.

The Indian Sub-surface

Areas still exist in India where overhead power lines exist and drains are left open. This can be a cause for concern during the monsoon season when heavy cyclonic winds can blow down electric poles and flowing rainwater can overflow drains.

Things are changing though as power lines and drains go underground, and that’s time-consuming and a lot to take on. With miles and miles of sewer pipelines, water pipelines and utility lines running underneath, installing new ones can be very challenging. Most of these are being done using the traditional dig-and-install methods that take up space on the road surface, creating bottlenecks and traffic jams.

Trenchless technology can answer these problems.

Trenchless Technology in India

India has caught up to trenchless technology thanks to organizations like INDSTT, but more on the installation sector than the rehabilitation sector. Cities are growing quickly, demanding better infrastructure by means of electrical and telecommunication lines, sewer and water pipelines and transport tunnels. Now that most of the pipelines have already been laid in the available space below the surface, the only option left is to go deep and install there.

Digging from the surface can be a nightmare especially considering the amount of traffic flowing through cities these days. Not only that; reaching that far down means digging through a maze of pipes and utility lines, which is severely problematic. It also involves dealing with a lot of excavated soil that has to be safely stored for backfilling or disposed of to a landfill.

Many river crossings such as Brahmaputra-1 River crossing, Narmada River crossing, and Mahanadi River crossing have been conducted using trenchless technology to lay gas and oil pipelines.

However; the greatest need for trenchless technology is in the water and sewer sectors because of the fact that many pipelines are in a state of deterioration and their service life is in serious jeopardy. This means the risk of contaminating groundwater through leaking sewer lines and the wastage of clean water from leaking water pipes is a present problem.

This necessitates new installation in most cases and rehabilitation or replacement where it is possible. For over a century, pipelines have been buried underground to keep the surface sanitary and safe. Repairs were always carried out by trenching from the surface, but now rehabilitating these pipelines that pass under city roads by digging them up is no longer viable.

Trenchless Rehabilitation for the Indian Sub-surface

The city of New Delhi has the longest sub-surface pipe network with an approximate length of 3000 miles. Some pipelines still exist in Kolkata, Mumbai and Banaras that date back to 100 years.

Structural failure and silting are commonly observable in many of these pipelines. Many of the gravity-based pipelines have to be pumped due to sluggish flow caused by improper grade or slope. These problems can be largely attributed to the lack of condition assessment of pipelines on a regular basis. (Read Your Comprehensive Guide to Condition Assessment of Buried Pipelines.)

Condition assessment is essentially an effort undertaken by concerned municipal authorities, to ascertain the condition of existing utilities. It helps determine the structural integrity of the pipeline, its remaining service life, the need for replacement or rehabilitation and assessment for future needs resulting from population growth.

Trenchless technology also offers great methods to study the sub-surface condition of a city without having to dig it up. This is the inspection part of trenchless technology that uses non-destructive methods to study the sub-surface features and inspect inside pipelines using methods such as video inspection and ground-penetrating radar (GPR). (Read Understanding How Ground Penetrating Radar Works.)

This can help isolate problematic portions in a pipeline that can then be repaired or replaced using the appropriate trenchless method.

Trenchless Market in India

With the increasing awareness of trenchless technology, many parts of the country are adopting it to meet their utility installation and rehabilitation needs. Many projects have been completed and many are underway and in various stages of execution. Cured-in-place pipe (CIPP) and pipe bursting can find a good market in many places where sewer and water pipelines have not lost their structural integrity but where rehabilitation is necessary. (Read An Introduction to Pipe Bursting.)

CIPP method utilizes a resin-soaked liner that is pulled into a cleaned host pipe and expanded and allowed to cure until it sets. The resulting pipeline is back to form, provided other pipelines in the network are also properly assessed and repaired.

Pipe bursting can be used to replace sections of pipe that have lost their structural integrity. It involves replacing the damaged pipe section by inserting a new pipe section. A conical bursting head at the leading end of the pipe fragments the old pipe and pulls and installs the new pipe behind it. This method does not compromise the capacity of the pipe; in fact, it can help increase it to some extent.

Other methods include sliplining, thermoformed pipe, mechanical spot repair and spray-in-place pipe (SIPP).

Trenchless technology is expanding in India with many project owners realizing how much time and effort can be saved while also catering to environmental concerns. Trenchless players in the global scene will benefit greatly by investing in India at this time.

The potential market that needs trenchless installation and rehabilitation methods to meet its sub-surface utility needs is huge. Once these methods are adopted by the local municipal authorities, the benefits of these methods will soon make open trenching obsolete, except where no other option is viable.

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Written by Tabitha Mishra | Civil Engineer, Technical Content Writer

Tabitha Mishra

Tabitha has a Bachelors Degree in Civil Engineering from Mumbai University, India, and is currently freelancing as a technical content writer. Prior to writing, she has worked as a site engineer and site manager for various building construction, building rehabilitation, and real estate evaluation projects.

Tabitha is also certified as a Primavera project management professional and is well versed with Auto CAD. In her spare time, she does private consultation for small-sized home builders and assists with plans and permissions.

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