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Mumbai: Get cuss words ready, pothole days are upon us again

by Mahesh Vijapurkar  Jun 4, 2013 15:32 IST

#Civic body   #Ganapati festival   #Mumbai   #OnOurMinds  

Here’s some good news on the civic front for Mumbai residents.

The Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai has now announced that it would map all roads with potholes before Ganapati festivities so that the idols can be brought to the pandals and then taken for immersion without hurdles.

The not so good news part is that Ganapati festival which grips the city and the state is a good three months away – it starts on 9 September. Before that, in a matter of days from now, monsoon is schedule to arrive and play havoc. It can, as it does, worsen potholes into trenches and adds new ones.

So what is the city government trying to accomplish? Try to shift the schedule so that the citizenry remains satisfied that something is far ahead instead of something just round the corner to hide its usual poor governance? Poor roads, year upon year, are a sign of bad governance and also Exhibit One of corrupt practices.

AFP

AFP

Here is the bad news we get every year, as routinely as the monsoon’s play on the city.

An item in today’s The Indian Express also lists a few alibis for why the roads could be poorly managed. “Though the civic administration claims to be monsoon-ready,” the newly appointed engineers tasked with road maintenance “still do not know how to use the pothole tracking system,” and hold your breath,” the website, www.viceofcitizens.com , which was launched in November 2011 to track potholes had cost Rs 60 lakh.

Some roads, already acned after the first weak showers, the civic body has conveyed, is so “because some road engineers are yet to be trained in using” the technology that the civic body employs to keep roads in good fettle.

Not trained with monsoon days away? You can laugh out loud (LOL) but the grim nature of the consequences would wipe even a smile off the face. Potholed roads don’t affect the motorists, a misplaced metaphor for the rich but even the autorickshaw and motorbike users who suffer spine injuries, and pregnant women worse.

And here it the crux of the civic establishment’s thinking: Since “potholes reported are deeper and wider than expected,” it would “require extra funds”. The implication, quietly slipped in, is evident. It is not inflation per say which push up costs of works. And yes, you have to blame the citizens: “They may find it cumbersome to load visuals on the website of the potholes they spot.

Excuses are already in place but there is not one which can explain why road maintenance has always received poor attention – not just in Mumbai but almost all cities – which can be acceptable to the biggest stakeholders, the residents of Mumbai. The tendency is always to weakly attempt bolting the stable doors after the horses bolt. The idea seems to help them bolt.

Fines, a measly Rs 1.8 cr, imposed on contractors last year for bad roads are yet to be collected and during the entire last fiscal, the civic body “failed” even to “reprimand anybody for bad roads while awarding new contracts to the same contractors”. In an Alice in Wonderland manner, contractors have been paid more, per sq m, to fill a pothole than it costs to build a road.

A few days ago, it was reported that despite the imminent monsoon, which in the civic body’s estimate – perhaps in consultation with the Met – would be around June 7, the list of contractors to fill potholes was not finalised. That clearly means sloth in doing routine selection process would ensue delay which ensues further damage by rains and terrible roads.

The report quoted an official: "We are in the process of tendering and 14 contractors will be appointed for seven administrative zones. After the first week of June, contractors will have to mobilise and start work”. But monsoon, give or take a few days, is expected around June 7, right? This kind of routine delays have to be explained, but have we ever heard one, even a lame excuse?

To strengthen citizens’ suspicion that road building and road maintenance is a racket, we have read of how the civic body’s own audit failed to give reasons for the poor state of the roads. A Swiss audit firm showed that contractors laid roads thinner by half of the approve specifications, used shoddy materials including the concrete mix.

So all this talk about pothole-free roads by September 9 can be discounted and the Ganapati festivity organisers can – as some of them do – lay layers of gunny sacks on the potholes to allow a smooth passage to Him to his nine day abode and then His immersion. Road users can brush up on the expletives to curse the civic body which can do no better.