The monsoon’s devastation of New Delhi’s roads – with vast sections disintegrating into rubble – provides a different interpretation of road rage altogether. The pathetic quality of these roads entails heavy congestion and slow traffic movement, a problem that is not going to go away with more flyovers coming up ahead of the Commonwealth Games in 2010. Given the rampant corruption in road construction projects, isn’t there a warrant for a policy that ensures that proper, all-weather roads are built? Do more flyovers eliminate traffic jams? Or do they simply increase the number of vehicle owners who use them? The Capital’s woes are indeed emblematic of a nationwide problem. An automobile revolution has triggered an exponential growth in vehicle ownership that has far outstripped the growth in road length in urban India. And most of it cannot last a single downpour.
The quality of roads and their (lack of) maintenance across the country leaves much to be desired. Rural connectivity remains a chimera. Only 12 per cent of the national highways are four-laned. Phase 1 of the National Highways Development Programme (NHDP) that entails the construction of the Golden Quadrilateral linking the four big metros is not yet complete — despite the government’s claim that 97 per cent is over. Reviews indicate that only 49 per cent of the four-laning work was done last year. Of the 7,498 kms to be covered under the first phase, 443 km are yet to be four-laned.
The general sense is that the NHDP has lost momentum. If road development doesn’t keep pace with the vehicle boom, sluggish traffic movement is inevitable. Unless they are built with materials like concrete, roads will crumble, as they have in New Delhi. A World Bank study indicated that on heavily-used roads, concrete made more economic sense than asphalt. The compelling need is for the government to press ahead in this direction and override powerful lobbies that have a stake in the shoddy building of India’s roads.