Going by newspaper reports this week, Justice Vidyasagar Kanade, senior judge of Bombay High Court, has some advice for Mumbaikars: don’t commute from Sobo to the burbs on weekends.
While hearing a petition by tourist bus operators against cops who had cracked down on them for obstructing traffic on DN Road, Palton Road and surrounding areas, Justice Kanade was unrestrained in expressing this opinion.
“The situation is very bad as all roads are dug up. I don’t travel to the suburbs in the evenings on Saturdays and Sundays as it is impossible to travel,” the judge said, which clearly went beyond indicting just tourist bus operators.
One can detect both lament and admonishment in his remarks on the prevailing situation. But if I may be so bold to point out to Justice Kanade, the problem is not restricted to weekends; nor is it only from south Mumbai to the suburbs, but inevitably also the other way around.
I had some experience of this recently when travelling from Bandra to the Wankhede Stadium for an IPL game. The match was scheduled to start at 8 pm, and I left home around 6, just in case.
It wasn’t Mumbai’s notorious vehicular traffic, however, that became the big hurdle. Waterfield Road, not far from where I live, has been dug up for weeks, and it took almost 40 minutes to traverse 200-odd metres to get on to the main arterial road that connects Bandra with the Sea Link. The Link was a breeze, but anticipating heavy rush towards the stadium on the Peddar Road and Chowpatty route, the app cab driver advised going via Worli Naka, Mahalaxmi Station to Byculla, VT and then to Churchgate.
But the road just beyond Worli Police Station was dug up. As was a portion past Saat Rasta and yet another on Dadabhai Nowroji Road approaching Hutatma Chowk, all of which consumed precious minutes.
In fact, the journey took over two hours and I managed to enter the stadium after three overs had been bowled. Cricket diehards will aver how painful missing even the first ball of a match can be. I was angry. And chastened, as a friend, also from Bandra, told me he had reached the stadium in 45 minutes flat by train.
The point, however, is not whether train travel is better (depends) and faster (undoubtedly) than vehicular commute in Mumbai. Rather, how long should it take to cover a 17-18 km distance? More than two hours is colossally wasteful. And could be seriously damaging. Think of a medical emergency.
A teeming metropolis, will have heavy traffic and jams to challenge the best thought-out time schedules. But it becomes even more unsettling when several roads _ main and adjuncts _ are perennially in a stage of half excavation, or half completion. Obviously there will be regular need for repairs and improvements in roads. Cities are constantly evolving and so will the support infrastructure. But unless the quality and logistics of these are managed with precision and commitment to time, mayhem lurks.
Of course, this is a national problem for there seems to be some kind of fetish to NOT complete infra work in time. For instance, realtors hardly ever construct buildings within the time frame stated by them, causing great emotional and financial hardships to those invested in the project.
Where roads are concerned, the trauma is more collective than individual, but no less worse for that. This gets more pronounced in a city like Mumbai where the BMC, despite being the richest corporation in the country, has remained a perpetual defaulter.
Roads repair go on for weeks, even months! A slothful attitude and corruption go hand-in-hand. Both stem from lack of accountability. Even if for political one-upmanship, bickering between the BJP and the Shiv Sena on issues of propriety shows how deep the malaise runs in the BMC.
One of the strongest lobbies for better and cleaner roads should be the auto industry. Sadly, it has settled for pursuing car sales and bottomline (both important) rather than convenience of commuters and car buyers, which is no less important.
What Mumbai’s hapless citizenry has lacked is a solemn voice of authority to seriously question the indifference of the BMC. Justice Kanade has now set the ball rolling. How much support and clout it gathers traveling from the High Court to the BMC headquarters remains to be seen.