The monsoons are yet to reach the Capital of India with full force. But people have already got a taste of what’s in store if that does happen anytime soon. Earlier this week, rains lashed the city for a short time and instead of enjoying the drop in temperature, all that most people were worried about was the impending traffic mayhem, the water-logged streets and the traffic lights going on the blink. Which is such a shame really considering that we pay our taxes so that we can outsource our worries about civic amenities to the appropriate authorities. But what does happen is that while our money goes down the drain much faster than the water on the streets goes down the stormwater apertures, the rains bring us many miseries and very little joy.
In Mumbai, the rains brought about a horrible tragedy. A newly married man on a scooter hit a pothole submerged in the waters on the road and lost his life. Some potholes in our metros are as wide as 20 feet. In many cities, including in the new millennium cities like Gurgaon, large tracts of road just caved in making it impossible for traffic to move and positively dangerous for pedestrians. Cases of people getting electrocuted when live wires touch the waters are not unknown. It is unthinkable that each year, crores of rupees are spent on laying down new roads which do not seem to last even one monsoon. As usual there are a multiplicity of authorities in charge of amenities like roads. So if a road falls apart, it is highly unlikely that the poor citizen will be able to pin the blame on any particular agency. In this context, and given the problems of constructing and maintaining roads, it becomes imperative that there is at least one nodal agency in our metros and smaller towns which can coordinate the work of the agencies involved in road construction. For a start, with all the new tools of transparency that we have been empowered with, it is the duty of everyone to work to break the cosy contractor-bureaucrat-politician nexus. The work should be time bound and there should be severe penalties for shoddy execution. In fact, there should be a guarantee that the road will be able to withstand natural and routine phenomena like the monsoons. Maintenance work should be undertaken at regular intervals and any lapse must be penalised.
In 2010, McKinsey Global Institute report ‘India’s urban awakening: Building inclusive cities, sustaining economic growth’ came up with interesting and alarming statistics. By 2030, the report said, 2.5 billion sqm of roads will have to be paved. This seems an almost impossible task given that even projects like the prestigious Golden Quadrilateral are still lagging far behind schedule. Our attitude that roads are public property and therefore, nobody’s responsibility has to change. If not, we will really be on the road to perdition and not just during the monsoons.