The local newspapers have gone hoarse crying about the condition of the city roads. This happens practically every year as the slightest of rainfall damages them. This year, however, the story was entirely different. The rainfall in the city broke all records set many years ago. Not only did it rain to complete the quota fixed by the weather men taking into account the average rainfall of pre-determined number of years, it rained and rained to register an excess of more than 160 cms – the average being just about 100 cms. The month of September was the wettest in many years. The sun hardly showed up as the weather men said multiple (monsoonal) systems were operating to shower rain and thunder on Central India.
The heavy rains came in very handy for the road building agencies of Bhopal to explain away the broken down roads practically all over the town. True, it rained much more than it does every year but that cannot explain the mess that the roads are in all over the town. Even in the years the rains are not as much as it was this year roads are always a casualty. What probably is true is defective road building, improper mix of material, lack of proper supervision, corruption, etc. These factors take centre stage when the road building agencies come out to build roads. If these factors continue to play the same kind of role as they have been doing so far, the citizens of this town can forget about good and durable roads anytime soon.
If the new MP government is serious about remedying this chronic problem it will have to bypass the usual corrupt officials – elected and/or permanent – and change the very defective culture of building roads. Currently, roads are built where text book methods are hardly ever used. As long as this is not done roads will have to be laid and re-laid after every monsoon. Despite availability of a huge bank of engineers our governments are not able to build world class roads. Can it all be blamed on the politician-bureaucrat nexus? Perhaps so, but only partially. The rest can be blamed on wrong technicalities involved in building roads and endemic corruption.
Curiously, heavy rain is not a factor for deterioration of roads in heavy rainfall areas in equatorial South-East Asia. One can recall even around forty years ago roads in the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur and outside were remarkable for their quality as also durability. When we as trainees from the Indian Institute of Public Administration had an interface with Malaysian officials we were told that roads were built in accordance with the text book principles of building roads. Besides, before commencement of road construction all utilities were asked to dig roads for cable/pipe laying to their hearts’ content as for twenty years after the road is built none would be allowed to dig up the roads regardless of any reason and even those that happen to be compelling. Corruption was not a factor as road building was a nation-making enterprise.
Something like this needs to be done here also as roads are laid and re-laid periodically without providing any relief to the tax payers whose moneys are repeatedly used to lay and relay the roads. This, coupled with the use of ideal mixes of material, observance of proper process in road building and elimination of corruption will yield better results by way of satisfaction of the road users, construction of durable roads without requiring frequent re-laying of roads saving tax payers’ money on building of roads that do not last even a season.
Now that a highly educated minister is helming the Department of Urban Administration one can reasonably hope that things in so far as road building is concerned will improve appreciably. Nothing is beyond Indian engineers. They have after all built such good roads under the sharp supervision of Highways Minister Nitin Gadkari that even the Leader of the Opposition in the Parliament, Sonia Gandhi, had an occasion to praise him for his good work.
An initiative in this regard is called for from the minister. The roads are in terrible disrepair all over the city where, the newspapers are crying, they have disappeared and in their place only craters have appeared which have turned out not only as vehicle wreckers but also as bone breakers. Money should not be a problem as there is enough liquidity in the country. The government needs to take a bold step to take loans to build this infrastructure that will help in boosting the state’s economy providing large scale employment to the youth who are now sitting idle.
One needs to recall that to get out of the Great Depression of 1930s the US took the Keynsian way out to increase government spending and started building, inter alia, the highways to boost the economy and slackening employment. The MP government needs to do likewise though currently there is nothing parallel with the US effort of 1930s. But road building has its own advantages for the economy particularly when these last a generation and not just one monsoon. As a bonus, it boosts employment for the youth who are now idling away.