It has happened once again. A few days of continuous rain and consequently our roads have given up. Wide craters, deep ruts, cracks and potholes have resurfaced, putting paid to the Corporation’s claim that it had relaid 10,000 roads at a cost of Rs 400 crore. To what purpose this expenditure if the surfaces cannot withstand a few days of rain?
It was early in February this year that the Corporation formed a quality control wing comprising 21 employees. They were sent around in vans to collect samples from roads being laid. It was discovered that around 85 per cent of the thoroughfares failed the quality test. The parameters tested included temperature of the bitumen and aggregate mix when poured, the quality of the bitumen used, the level of penetration, and the road thickness. The Corporation then declared that it would ask the contractors to relay the roads or withhold their payments.
What happened after that is not known but it is a well understood reality that contractors operate in cartels when it comes to dealing with the Corporation. They claim that they need this protection as they have to deal with corruption and also political interference. What they earn at the end of the day is always less than what was promised on paper, they claim. It is their view that if they were to be asked to adhere to all quality norms, they would go bankrupt! One way to break the cartels is to go for global tenders. But then no international bidder will want to deal with the tortuous ways of our bureaucracy. These companies are also invariably interested only in large projects. The Corporation has for years broken up its roads into small stretches and allotted them to various contractors. This will never do if global tenders are to be invited. The civic body is clearly caught in a bind of its own making.
That the much-touted panacea of concrete roads has also failed was more than evident. This was despite the Corporation claiming that the number of areas that experienced flooding had come down by half thanks to the use of concrete. The lack of quality in the way the concrete was laid has led to the creation of permanent bumps and potholes that nothing can now remove them. Added to this was the problem of junctions where tar roads met their concrete counterparts. Huge craters had opened up at these places, causing accidents as well.
The quality of road laying apart, the very methodology that is followed appears flawed. For years, we have seen that fresh layers of tar are poured on to earlier road surfaces, thereby increasing road levels arbitrarily at various places. Ours being a flat city, even small alterations in gradient can cause flooding. This has been completely overlooked, resulting in side roads becoming higher than main roads if covered in concrete. The water then pours out and floods the arterial roads. The rising road levels have also resulted in buildings being constructed on high plinths. With most modern constructions having largely concrete covered surfaces, there is no water absorption capacity and the surface run-off has no option but to flood neighbouring areas.
It has also been noticed that, for several years now, road digging for underground activity such as drain-clearing or laying, ducting and cabling gathers momentum just when the monsoon is around the corner. This year has been no different. The Corporation claims that it has very little to do with road-cuts. Its web site blames TANGEDCO, the CMWSSB and the PWD for these things. But surely it has the influence to ensure that these bodies complete their activities well before the monsoon?
With such a mixture of malpractice, poor quality, dysfunctional departments and administrative sloth, it is no wonder our roads are in such a mess. With one more month of the monsoon left, our problems can only worsen.