It is a familiar experience for all regular travelers along the national or state highways. The smooth road suddenly degenerates into potholes and craters each time one’s vehicle reaches a roadside village. But once human habitation is left behind, the road turns smooth again.
“Water is the main culprit,” said SM Sarin, former director of the Central Road Research Institute (CRRI). “It softens the bitumen and then under the weight of heavy vehicles that pass, the road crumbles.” Typically, village residents carry out many of their household chores – washing clothes, utensils, etc - by the roadside, at hand pumps that have no drainage facility, lead to water clogging, and soon after, road disintegration.
The same happens in a metropolis. The roads of Delhi too suffer the pressure of secondary use and incessant traffic. Add to this the new weather pattern of an extended monsoon and you can almost explain why our rides within the city are getting increasingly bumpy.
If only it were so simple.
Why weren’t our roads built well enough in the first place to withstand the traffic they have to carry? In USA, even construction tycoons are sent to jail — a recent case in Florida saw a three-year term — for faulty construction of roads. Here, the maximum penalty a contractor faces is forfeiture of his deposit amount or, in the extreme cases, of his company being blacklisted by MCD or PWD panel. But nothing stops a blacklisted construction company from setting up another and bidding under a new name.
If there is no effective means to ensure quality during the construction process, there is little to hold the contractor accountable if the road gives in prematurely. “There is a five-year maintenance clause in the contracts with the builders. But it includes only normal wear and tear. Erosion due to stagnant water is not covered,” explained MCD spokesman Deep Mathur.
So even if the use of substandard material leads to potholes appearing soon after, the contractor can always blame the water logging caused by a leaking DJB pipeline or some roadside establishment for causing it.
The best solution, experts argue, is mixing plastic waste with bitumen for high durability. In 2004, a pilot project took off here in Rajpur road and the stretch is still in a good condition. But while Bangalore took less than three years (2000-2002) to implement a policy shift in favour of ‘plastic’ roads, the capital’s five year long wait to do so continues.