‘The facilities coming up under NATRiP are the best in the world.’

by Shobha Mathur , 30 Dec 2015


Sanjay Bandopadhyay, the CEO of the National Automotive Testing and R&D Infrastructure Project (NATRiP), and the former joint secretary of the Union Ministry of Road Transport and Highways, speaks to Shobha Mathur on benchmarking new projects with global standards, undertaking crash testing in India, building roads scientifically and a scrappage scheme. 

You have recently taken over as the head of NATRiP. What is the current readiness of the safety and testing infrastructure under the organisation?
We are developing the automotive design and testing centres but many of the centres are already operational. There are different timelines for different facilities. Many arms of the centres will get completed in December 2015 and some in June 2016 like the infotronics laboratory and crash testing labs. The high-speed testing track will come up in two years.

NATRiP has seen a lot of time and cost overruns and spillovers in completion of centres and labs. What is your view on this?
This is the first project of its kind being set up in the country and there are no such facilities in the countries around us. When I met our consultants Applus+ Idiada in Barcelona, who are considered to be one of the best in Europe, they said they have faced this problem of their contractors not being able to understand the construction. They had a problem with the building, test surfaces and other stuff. 

This was the first project of its kind for us and at the time the detailed project report which was prepared missed certain facts. They could not foresee the actual conditions on the ground which delayed construction but now activities have been put on the fast track. Many of the facilities have come up and are available for use.

Have the facilities under NATRiP been benchmarked against those built overseas?
Facilities coming up under NATRiP are the best in the world. With time, technology evolves and involves changes in basic design, development and testing. We were leveraging the best in technology, regulation and equipment available and used at that point of time both for R&D and testing. It served the purpose but as technology takes a generational leap over time, the old ones become redundant and have to be replenished.

At the tendering stage, the authorities found that in the DPRs the older generation technologies and products were listed, so newer processes were brought in. The basics of electronic engineering, mechanical engineering and electric engineering cannot change overnight. But we can upgrade to the generational advancement changes and have accordingly upgraded the technologies. So basic testing can be done using them.

To what extent will the NATRiP facilities be beneficial for the automotive sector?
Without the facilities, many types of testing cannot be undertaken. For example, crash testing was not available in India which meant there were no crash testing standards in existence. Now with new safety norms coming, vehicles have also become safer. Similarly for emissions and other safety equipment like brakes, stability, noise, electro-magnetic radiations and others norms are being formulated.

Will NATRiP follow the European crash testing norms?
We are signatories to the 1998 agreement of UNECE World Forum for Harmonization of Vehicle Regulations (WP.29) that establish regulatory instruments concerning motor vehicles and motor vehicle equipment. The invention of vehicles started in Europe, so therefore these norms have developed there and India has adopted the European model in most areas. For instance, prototype testing is performed both in Europe and in the US, so there are two models. Under the European model, prototype testing is undertaken before start of manufacturing. In the US, it is self-certification, followed by conformity of production wherein samples are collected from the field and tested.

Since most of our vehicle manufacturers were drawn from Europe and were the earliest in the industry, we have followed their method of testing for prototypes and the subsequent COP. The UN minimum standards of safety regulations are common, so we adhere to them.

At what speed limit will crash testing be carried out in India under NATRiP? Europe tests at 64km while in China it is 56km.
First is the adoption of the minimum standards of crash testing and the UN regulations have been adopted by the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways (MoRTH). NATRiP provides the facility for undertaking those crash tests and our facilities can also test at the same speeds as in Europe but the minimum regulations we  follow are stipulated by the UN. Beyond that, in Europe they have the NCAP (New Car Assessment Programme) that adopts a higher standard of crash testing as they started earlier. We have notified the crash tests recently. As we graduate, we will improve upon the standards but let the system first start.

So if carmakers conduct crash tests at ICAT Manesar where the crash testing facility is coming up, will those norms be adequate even for cars that are exported?
No, for exports they will have to meet a higher standard. Our facilities are available for higher standards of crash tests as well. But in India a speed limit of 56kph has been mandated as the requirement for a crash test as a higher speed test is not a requirement in India.

Some countries are adopting a higher speed crash test requirement because cars travel at a very high speed on their highways. But in India we are starting crash test facilities for the first time. Let us see how people and the industry respond as everything is finally being done for the safety of the people. 

There has not been much progress on the end of lifecycle work at NATRiP’s Chennai facility? How far has it been utilised for scrapping old vehicles?
We will now expedite work at that end. The end of lifecycle criteria is through writing a roadworthiness test. That regime has to be strengthened and the regulations are being developed by MoRTH.

Since you were earlier with MoRTH, we would like to know what are the guidelines for the development of roads and highways over the next five years?
In the ministry there were limited people to frame the regulations. Therefore, MoRTH had taken a decision to bring a National Road Safety Authority into the ambit that would have verticals on vehicle design and crash investigation. In all developed countries, there are authorities responsible for safety.  This is now coming and the Road Transport and Safety Bill is also ready and has to be approved by Cabinet and Parliament. When the new reforming regimes come into power, this authority will become official under the Act and will have more resources at its disposal to take action.

There are some road spots which are accident prone or suffer from poor maintenance. What initiatives are being undertaken by MoRTH to improve construction and reduce fatalities?
MoRTH has a scheme of identifying black spots based on the number of fatalities and they have identified both short-term and long-term measures required for reducing the prevailing fatalities. They are implementing it as well. Short-term is almost complete but for the long-term that will require financial investments, a three-year plan has been prepared.

Is a scientific method being followed for constructing roads under the infrastructure development roadmap?
Of course, it all involves design engineering. There is a full-fledged standard design and research wing in the Indian Roads Congress which goes into the design and maintenance of roads. Their speed of accepting and bringing the new standards into force may be deficit in terms of shortening the time line as a lot of consultation takes place but they have a good handbook on standards of designs and these are being followed.

What will be the highlights and benefits of the Road Transport and Safety Act? Will it be passed in the winter session of Parliament?
The benefits will be that vehicles will become safer, roads will become safer and people’s movement will also be safer. There will be controlled economic liberalisation, the bottlenecks in the transport sector will be removed, penalties will be increased due to which drivers will have to be more careful and cautious while driving.  I cannot say if the Bill will be passed in the winter session of Parliament.  

It is understood that heavy penalties imposed under the Road Transport and Safety Bill are an irritant due to which there were lobbies against its enforcement?
That is incorrect. That was in the earlier draft but now the present draft is very flexible. The rule making power that will hand out the final penalties will rest with the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways and after taking the views of the people they will be finalised. Most agree that the penalties have to be raised from the present level, otherwise the shoddy enforcement of traffic laws will not stop.

Volkswagen was recently involved in emissions violations. Are the government authorities taking any steps to ensure that such a violation does not happen in India again?
The Automotive Research Association of India (ARAI) has tested those vehicles and has found that road standards on the roads are much more stringent than those required in the labs. So they have written letters to Volkswagen and to other manufacturers asking them to furnish all the details of whether they are using that software that loads the catalytic converters or the pollution emission reduction devices in testing and removes them while they are driving on the roads as detected in the US. So the manufacturers will be giving a reply to ARAI and then the Ministry of Heavy Industries will take necessary action on it.

From the safety and emissions perspectives, what are the changes that the government is mulling?
Finally you will see that IC engines cannot go so easily as they have served humanity and the volumes have expanded as the number of people have multiplied. So we have to reduce the carbon footprint to save the earth. From IC engines we will go into other forms — hydrogen, hybrid and electric vehicles — the numbers for which will scale up in the long term. Finally, technology has to be economically viable as well.

How do you visualise the future for scrappage of vehicles and what are the guidelines in this context?
It is only a matter of developing a system that will come soon. In the last 10 years, the growth in the number of vehicles has been vast so now the issue of scrappage has become significant. About 30 years ago, no one spoke about scrappage as volumes of vehicles were limited. Now economically people have improved in status and per capita income has also increased which has facilitated purchase of vehicles. With the number of vehicles on the roads escalating, scrappage is becoming necessary and now norms are being framed for it. There will be an open policy on scrapping vehicles and many more centres for scrappage will come up across India in addition to the Chennai facility.

Today the priority is vehicle maintenance involving service and repairs and installation of safety gadgets. The capital costs for it may be high but companies should invest in safer and more efficient vehicles that use better tools including navigation devices. Over the lifetime of the automobile, that saves a lot of fuel and reduces the carbon footprint for the next generation. Manufacturers should give a clean environment to the future generation.

This interview has been published in the Decmeber 15-2015 issue of Autocar Professional