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The big pothole scam

delhi Updated: Aug 12, 2008 00:04 IST
Neelam Pandey
Neelam Pandey
Hindustan Times
Highlight Story

Here are some statistics that will shock you. In one year, a 1.5-kilometre stretch on Sewa Dham Road has undergone eight rounds of repair. The Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) spent Rs 25 lakh to lay the road and Rs 40 lakh on repairs. The dense-carpeted road that opened in June 2007 was designed to last five years.

"Each time it rains, the road is washed off. Why don't they fix it at one go? I am sure they have a solution but it is probably more lucrative to keep our roads in a bad shape," said Ramlal Sharma, grocer from Nand Nagri who often drives on this road.

Area councillor Manoj Tyagi said absence of drains was disintegrating the road. But he had no answer as to why the civic agency was taking so long to built storm water drains. "Surely, it will cost less than the Rs 40 lakh the corporation has spent on repairs," said Sharma.

Even an average Delhi resident knows it requires no rocket science to fix potholed roads. "There are enough funds and technology available to make durable roads. But potholes are a huge money-spinner and road agencies won't give up something so lucrative," said KK Kapila, vice chairman of International Road Federation.

The costs and cuts involved

Constructing smaller stretches at a point of time: Rather than carrying out construction on a longer stretch, say 3-kilometres, the MCD usually divides it into smaller stretches of one kilometre or so. This patchwork means good money and bad quality repair.

"Commissioning smaller stretches keeps big companies out. It is easier to make money when you are employing smaller contractors. Also, if you engage a contractor for work that costs up to Rs 2 to 5 lakh, you don't need permission from the MCD commissioner. An executive engineer can commission such work. And you can start immediately," explained an MCD officer, who didn't want to be named.

MCD Commissioner KS Mehra confirmed such practice was prevalent. "It has been brought to my notice. I am trying to ensure that all forthcoming projects and repair works are for longer stretches."

PWD's engineer-in-chief NMD Jain, however, denied any corruption. "We have a transparent system where tenders are called, measurements are taken, estimates are made and contracts are awarded accordingly. Corruption does not exist," he said.

Using traditional technology

Latest technologies are available but road agencies have been using the same old method of constructing roads.

Plastic Roads: According to Central Road Research Institute (CRRI) research, plastic would not only reduce environmental pollution but would also double the durability of the roads. "Water corrodes a bitumen road in three years. However, a road made of plastics can last up to six years," said a senior CRRI scientist.

MCD and PWD, the two road agencies in Delhi, spend about Rs 30 lakh on constructing a one-kilometre bitumen stretch. A plastic road can be made with the same amount.

However, the civic body is yet to take a policy decision on using this technology. "The proposal to extend this technology to other roads in Delhi is pending with the Indian Road Congress. Till we get this approval, we are stuck with old technology.

Concrete roads: Cities like Mumbai and Kolkata, which receive high rainfall, have switched to concrete roads that are long lasting. But Delhi is still waiting and watching. "It makes so much sense to have concrete roads in Delhi. It rains throughout the year now and concrete roads are perfect for such conditions. The initial construction cost is 30 per cent higher than asphalt-bitumen roads we have now. But their life span is much longer so you cover the cost in few years," said KK Kapila, vice chairman, International Road Federation.