The Bombay high court on Wednesday came down heavily on government agencies responsible for maintaining the city’s roads and said pothole-free roads are a “fundamental right of citizens”. The court ordered the authorities to ensure all roads are repaired before the monsoon, which is set to hit Mumbai in a month.
“The right to have roads in reasonable condition is a part of fundamental rights guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution of India,” observed the division bench of justice Abhay Oka and justice CV Bhadang.
“Travelling by public transport vehicles, such as autorickshaws and buses, on poorly maintained roads is a nightmare, especially for senior citizens and pregnant women,” said the bench, adding that the “common man is the real victim” of the apathy shown by civic bodies and other authorities.
The court directed all civic bodies in the Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR) — the municipal corporations of Mumbai, Thane, Kalyan-Dombivali, Navi Mumbai, Mira-Bhayander — and agencies such as the Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation (MSRDC) and the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA) to ensure that all roads are repaired before the onset of the monsoon.
The Hindustan Times has consistently highlighted the issue under the ‘Pothole Horror’ campaign, detailing the apathy of the civic authorities and the band-aid solutions they came up with.
The judges urged the authorities to use modern technology to ensure that newly constructed roads meet the expected standards. The court also directed all authorities to provide a mechanism to enable citizens to file complaints about poor condition of roads.
“You need to tell us two things. What is the mechanism to monitor the state of roads and what is the remedy available to public in case they spot potholes? You can’t deny that roads are riddled with potholes. Besides, who is responsible for this incessant digging all across the city? And who is supposed to fill them up?”
Referring to provisions of the Maharashtra Municipal Corporation Act, 1949, the bench said it was the statutory duty of municipal corporations to maintain streets, which includes roads, bridges, flyovers and footpaths.
The bench said that poor condition of roads, potholes, failure to level roads properly and the lack of proper amenities for pedestrians are factors responsible for large number of road accidents, resulting in loss of life or serious injuries to people. The judges expressed the need to maintain roads in good and proper condition, stating that poor condition of roads also adversely affects free movement of traffic, thereby causing delays, considerable damage to vehicles and huge waste of fuel.
The interim order was passed on a suo motu public interest litigation (PIL) based on a note forwarded by a judge of the court, justice Gautam Patel, to the chief justice, highlighting the pathetic condition of roads in and around Mumbai. In his letter, justice Patel had highlighted that potholes and ditches on roads not just result in causing hardship and inconvenience to the people, but also result in casualties, especially of those riding two-wheelers. The court is expected to hear the matter next on July 10.
Additional municipal commissioner SVR Srinivas, who heads the BMC roads department, said the civic body has already taken initiatives to ensure smoother ride for citizens. “Last year, we chalked out a master plan to ensure all roads in the city are improvised within a period of three years. In 2014-15, we took up around 700 roads for resurfacing as compared to the earlier practice of repairing only 150 roads in a year. Also, we have repaired footpaths outside major railway stations as part of our ‘Pedestrian First’ policy. We will abide by the High Court order,” said Srinivas.
Yashodhar Phanse, civic standing committee chairman and senior Shiv Sena leader, said, “We welcome the high court directive and the party is working on the same lines. Last year, there was a significant decrease in the number of potholes during monsoon. There are certain bad patches and rough footpaths, but they will be repaired too. It is a continuous effort.”