How one man became the founder of an industry

D&Ri sits down with Mohan Ramanathan, commonly referred to as the ‘father of India’s demolition industry’, to discuss the current state of the country’s dismantling industry and what he hopes the Indian Demolition Association will achieve. 

Mohan Ramanathan, Managing Director at Advanced Construction Technologies and co-founder of the IDA. Mohan Ramanathan, Managing Director at Advanced Construction Technologies and co-founder of the IDA. (PHOTO: IDA)

“95% of demolition work is not carried out by demolition professionals,” begins Mohan Ramanathan, the founder and former CEO of the Indian Demolition Association (IDA).

“It’s just contractors that are, you know, more of a ‘man with a hammer’ sort of outfit.

“So, that’s 95% of demolitions done manually. And it’s unsafe.”

As a developing country, while there are regulations governing construction works in India, according to Mohan, none of them specifically relate to demolition.

“I think the priorities of government are very different. On a segment like demolition, they have not even looked at it.”

With this being the case, it’s no wonder that when it comes to the legislation and regulations that the country does have, Mohan says: “Our rules stay in the rule book, people are not practising them. People just ignore them.”

Needless to say, it’s a massively complex situation to address. But despite this, Mohan and the IDA are determined to improve things.

“I’m part of the Bureau of Indian Standards committee, which brings out codes like the Eurocodes and the British Standards (BS) codes.”

“They [the Standards Committee] came to me and said, ‘We have an old safety in demolition code written in the 1990s, can you work on a new version?’.

“I guess because they thought I would know better than others.”

How one man became the founder of an industry

And for good reason. Mohan’s career is one built on a series of ‘firsts’.

He has been credited with facilitating the first blowdown in India – a project that was carried out with the expertise of United States-based contractor CDI.

He was the first to bring a high reach excavator to the country, the first Indian contractor to carry out a deep drilling project for the government, and the first in the country to add a hydraulic crusher from Atlas Copco.

Over the course of his career, Mohan’s penchant for learning and taking on challenges – often ones he had little to no previous experience of – also led him to become a mentor to others in the field.

Whenever Mohan had a new job, he invited other contractors to come along and see the site, so that they could learn. 

“I sort of became a mentor to them,” he laughs. And from there, “I found a whole lot of people following in my footsteps, getting into this as a business and, of course because I had a big head start, I had the rates.

“The demolition rates were high, and it benefitted them that they could start off with a good return.”

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How the IDA was established

Having been at the forefront of the country’s demolition industry for over a decade, Mohan then found himself seeking a new challenge.

“Somewhere down the line, in 2010 or 2011, I decided to quit,” he says.

“And to get involved in only highly specialised contracts, where I could use my experience to help the industry.”

Becoming a consultant was the natural next step for Mohan. However, over the next few years, it became obvious that his industry lacked the same high level of professionalism that he had experienced when working with contractors based in other countries.

“In 2019, I said to myself, ‘why can’t I bring a little bit of that professionalism?’

“Because most of these contractors got into demolition by just following in my footsteps – they had not travelled, they were not seeing machines, they had not been to exhibitions, etc.”

This led him to the idea of forming an association to bring the industry together.

He called upon the leaders of seven contractors, “[who] because they were all mentored by me, I knew they would at least listen”, to co-found the country’s first association for the sector; the Indian Demolition Association (IDA).

“All of them are competitors when it comes to a job,” says Mohan. “But there was no ulterior motive here. It was just about improving professionalism in the country.”

With the contractors on board as the association’s committee members, Mohan sought to address some of the key issues facing the country’s demolition sector.

Bureau of Indian Standards: demolition and dismantling regulations

In recent months, Mohan has been working on the new IS4130 code, which is primarily focused on safety in demolition, rather than on specific demolition methods.

“The code is almost ready and it is the only code in India that mentions the word demolition.”

Currently in the review process with the Bureau of Indian Standards, when the code does come into effect, Mohan says it will provide the safety guidelines for all future demolition projects in the country.

“I’ve also asked for permission to write the Indian Code of Practice for demolition.” Mohan adds.

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“But it’s not easy to write a new code. It’s easy to update a code”, says Mohan, who is hoping that he may get to work on the code of practice for demolition – one that includes provisions for construction and demolition waste recycling - in the near future.

Of course, having a code enshrined in law and getting people to follow it are two very different things.

Trying to persuade anyone to do something that they haven’t had to do in the past, especially if it involves extra cost, is not easy.

But Mohan and the IDA believe that education is the answer.

Education and training for demolition contractors

To improve safety awareness and encourage adherence to a good standard of practice, and ultimately to reduce to the number of onsite casualties, the IDA has committed itself to developing a range of educational resources, such as safety guides and video tutorials, for contractors to use.

This too is a daunting task, admits Mohan: “We have 18 official languages. It’s not just English.

“We have to translate every single video or animation into those 18 languages, to make sure that all workers can understand them. And that’s an enormous challenge.”

Mohan continues: “But we also need trained workers and trained operators. Every contractor and every project owner needs to realise this, and must refuse to let untrained operatives on their sites.”

He adds, “We at the IDA also want to educate people on recycling. Demolition and recycling; the two run in parallel.

“And now the government is talking about sustainability and carbon neutrality, which construction and demolition waste contributes to, so we need to move on this.”

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Improving safety and professionalism

As for what needs to happen to help improve India’s demolition industry, we asked Mohan what three things he would tell contractors to prioritise.

“First, contractors need to avoid manual risks. And to use more mechanised methods of demolition. They should learn what equipment can do.”

“Second, educate yourself on all the demolition methods. If a building has to go down, it can go down by any number means and the contractor should be able to give the best to the client. So educate yourself on all the demolition methods.

“The third thing is that there is money in demolition,” says Mohan.

“Don’t drop the price, at which I have set the bar very high, just to get a job. This way you can make money.”

Currently the IDA is aiming to have at least 20 to 25 contractors - that are both well equipped and well trained - that they can recommend as companies that can carry out large projects safely.

Through its DemTech conference, which attracted over 400 delegates last year, it is also working to promote a more collaborative and professional industry environment.


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Andy Brown Editor, Editorial, UK - Wadhurst Tel: +44 (0) 1892 786224 E-mail: [email protected]
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