Bad roads make Maharashtra worse than ‘Bimaru’ states
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Bad roads make Maharashtra worse than ‘Bimaru’ states

Accidents and deaths in Maharashtra are high because of rash driving, compounded by poor supervision

mumbai Updated: Sep 22, 2017 00:32 IST
Ayaz Memon
Ayaz Memon
Hindustan Times
Maharashtra saw a seven-fold increase in deaths owing to potholes in 2015.(HT File)

A bereavement in the family compelled us to take a sudden trip to Pune last Wednesday. Given the typhoon-like weather conditions in the city and state, well-wishers advised against travelling by road. But what’s life without some risk once in a while?

Driving in Maharashtra, once outside city limits, can be captivating. In the monsoon particularly, the splendorous, lush green countryside is a feast for the eyes, and mentally soothing too.

My favourites journeys are to Pune and Alibaug. The distances are short and non-taxing. The two terrains are dramatically different — one goes over the ghats, the other towards the coast via the magnificent Karnala forest — offering different challenges and pleasures.

In the past few years, however, I’ve taken the drive to Alibaug only under duress, simply because the road from Panvel right up to Murud (towards the south) or Mandwa (at the north end) along the coast is in shambles.

A large section from Panvel to Vadhkal is also the old highway to Goa, though it is difficult to believe today. Repairs and widening work have been going on for more than five years, but completion still seems eons away.

The road is profusely potholed, leading to massive jams and several accidents that can take forever to clear. The 100-odd km from Mumbai to Alibaug, which shouldn’t take more than a couple of hours, takes at least four — if you are lucky. Driving on this nasty road can tie your intestines into reef knots or have you chomping your own heart. Those weak of nerve could suffer a breakdown. The hapless car, of course, gets knackered out of shape.

The Mandwa-Alibaug-Murud belt has been touted as a priority sector to develop tourism and has even fast-tracked a ‘Roll On-Roll Off’ ferry project for passengers and their cars from Bhaucha Dhakka to the Mandwa jetty.

Laudable as this is, the roads from Mandwa to Murud are hardly better than the drive from Panvel. In fact, these are so badly maintained that there is literally no road worth the mention.

I’ve dwelt on this at some length because statistics show Maharashtra in terrible light — even compared to ‘Bimaru’ states — where roads and highways are concerned. For instance, the state has the second highest number of road accidents (63,805) and the third highest fatalities (13,212).

More pertinently, Maharashtra saw a seven-fold increase in deaths owing to potholes in 2015. Uttar Pradesh is no. 1, but reported 50% less deaths from potholes than in 2014.This is a terrible comment on the country’s most advanced and progressive state.

The drive to Pune, however, still retains its original charm though a lot has changed over the past few decades. It is pleasantly motorable. Yet sadly, accidents and deaths are high because of rash driving, compounded by poor supervision.

In the old days, our trip to Pune would begin with a ‘kheema-eggs ghotala’ breakfast at one of the ‘Chiliya’ or Irani restaurants in south Mumbai, a pit stop for lunch at Taloja or Khopoli before we steeled ourselves for the haul up the ghats.In the cool, hilly climes of Khandala or Lonavala, there was time for some rest and repast: tea and toast for passengers, water to cool the car engine, and then onwards to the capital of the erstwhile Peshwas.

The winding roads on the ghats are now a memory from the distant past. The hairpin bends that kept you tense are gone, the tiny waterfalls gushing through ferns are unseen.

The smooth, straight Expressway, cars without carburetors and high speeds have changed all that. Even as you applaud change and convenience, some part of you yearns for the old quirky experience.

But the Expressway has been a terrific boon, and if you are not in a tearing hurry, the drive is still mesmerising, especially when the fading monsoon plays misty with you on the ghats.

On Wednesday, there was not much traffic, which made the journey even more enjoyable as one could drive at a languid pace. Even so, I was at Wakad just outside Pune in a little over two hours. Getting into the city, however, was a different proposition. The 16 to 18 km distance to Koregaon Park took more than an hour. The traffic was choc-a-bloc, the smooth passage marred by debris from several construction sites right through, not to mention several garbage dumps. “Pune is fast becoming like Mumbai,’’ said my relative. I don’t know whether he sounded happy and proud or wistful.

First Published: Sep 22, 2017 00:16 IST