Plothole: More money for fewer craters in Mumbai?
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Plothole: More money for fewer craters in Mumbai?

Why has the BMC kept aside Rs1.57 crore more to fix potholes this year, if their numbers have come down to 1,433 so far from last year’s 4,044?

mumbai Updated: Jul 27, 2018 17:22 IST
Steffy Thevar
Steffy Thevar
Hindustan Times
Mumbai,Mumbai roads,Mumbai potholes
Potholes at Suman Nagar flyover in Mumbai.(Kunal Patil/HT Photo)

Here’s a trick question – How can the amount of money spent on filling potholes go up year after year, if, going by the claims of the civic body as well as chief minister Devendra Fadnavis, the number of potholes is on the decline?

In the past five years starting 2014-15, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) has spent ₹68.31 crore on 29,726 potholes that appeared on the city’s 1,941km of roads under its jurisdiction. In the past three years, the number of potholes recognised by the civic body dropped to 1,433 till date in 2018-19, from 4,044 in 2017-18 and 4,478 in 2016-17. The budget to fill potholes is ₹9.3 crore this year, compared to ₹7.73 crore in 2017-18 and ₹6.95 crore in 2016-17. What makes solving this inverse proportion problem tough is the civic body has changed the way the potholes are counted over the past two years.

THE CLAIMS

The civic body’s logic is while the number of potholes is on the decline, their size is increasing. “The expenditure is related to the size of potholes, not the number. If a pothole is bigger than two potholes combined, the material needed to fill it will be more than that used for two potholes,” said Vinod Chithore, chief engineer (roads).

While answering a question during the recently concluded monsoon session of the state legislature, the CM said the number of potholes has dipped by more than half in the past four years. He said that of the total length of roads in Mumbai that come under the BMC, 605km is in the defect liability period (DLP) (which means the contractors are responsible for their upkeep). Effectively, BMC is responsible for the remaining 1,336km of roads, but the complaints they register include the entire 1,941km stretch.

THE COUNTER

Civic activists feel the logic is twisted. “BMC is probably the only civic body in the country that has a dedicated budget for potholes. It is a shameless thing. Even an illiterate person can say that if the number of potholes is decreasing, the expenditure should also decrease proportionally,” said James John, Action for Good Governance and Networking in India (AGNI) activist. “The civic body has no mechanism to file a complaint related to potholes. On most occasions, the disaster management helpline (1916) is busy, and the ward-level WhatsApp numbers don’t work. This effectively makes the number of complaints unbelievable.”

Blaming the traffic or potholes is not correct, he said. “Vehicle movement on Bandra-Worli sea link is quite fast and heavy. This stretch receives the same amount of rainfall as the rest of the city. Why doesn’t the sea link have even one pothole? How are the roads in Marine Drive smooth? This is because they are all VIP roads,” said John.

CONTRACTOR NEXUS

Rakesh Mishra, town-planning expert, Fellow Member of Institute of Town Planners India (ITPI) for 25 years, said, “The main problem is the nexus between contractors who make the roads and the engineers who approve it. The roads are not being made according to the standards dictated by the Indian Road Congress.”

The IRC is an apex body of highway engineers in the country. It was set up in December 1934 on the recommendations of the Indian Road Development Committee, best known as Jayakar Committee, set up by the Government of India with the objective of road development in India. This year, BMC has reserved ₹9.3 crore to be paid to the seven contractors who have been appointed specially for potholes in each zone, which means they will be paid ₹12,108 for a cubic meter for the pothole mix. Although there is no check on the material being used by them, the payment will be done after thorough checking of the potholes, insist civic officials. “We will make sure the potholes are filled properly and the material does not wear off. BMC will pay the contractors only after the monsoon to increase the liability of the mix,” said a civic engineer from the roads department said.

One of the contractors said, “We are mostly using cold mix, as hot mix can’t be used during the monsoon. We get cold mix from various companies outside the state. As we will get the payment only after the monsoon, it is our responsibility to keep the mix intact for four months.”

BLAME GAME

Civic officials feel they get flak for potholes that appear on roads maintained by other agencies, namely the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA) and Public Works Department (PWD), among others. Prashant Gaikwad, assistant municipal commissioner, K-West (Andheri) ward, said, “There are some patches of MMRDA roads in my ward. I get complaints regarding potholes on those roads too, but I sent them to MMRDA.”

DID YOUR RIDE GET SMOOTHER?
The civic body claims number of potholes have reduced in the past five years
The drastic fall in number of potholes between 2014-15 and 2015-16 was because of the change in counting system
Till 2015, BMC used a third-party app to register complaints. Engineers were given 48 hours to attend to the complaints or face penalty. The pothole tracking system started by BMC in 2011 was also stopped in 2015
2015 was also the year when the road scam rocked the civic body, following which contractors and engineers worked cautiously
Just before the 2017 monsoon, BMC stopped counting potholes, considering it a futile exercise
Currently, number of potholes is only determined by number of complaints made to the disaster helpline and individual ward numbers
HOT MIX VS COLD MIX
DEFINITION
BMC claims cold mix does not need heating up like the traditional asphalt hot mix which is used to make roads
Cold mix can be used during rains as it sets quickly and the road can be used immediately after the pothole is filled
Hot mix cannot be used during rains as it needs a few hours to set in and halts traffic for a longer timeCONTROVERSY OVER ₹125-CR WORLI PLANT
The ₹125-crore Worli asphalt plant has come under fire from councillors because it has yielded no results
BMC allocated the excess of ₹125 crore for the plant upgradation and raw material procurement, in addition to a separate pothole budget
However, cold mix being prepared at the plant is being used by the BMC staff to fill in small potholes
Contractors who have been appointed exclusively for potholes have been allowed to use their own material, irrespective of whether it is a hot mix or cold mix
After a visit to the plant and concluding that low-quality material is being used to prepare cold mix, councillors have now demanded a third-party audit for the plant
THE SOLUTION: WHAT IT TAKES TO BUILD A GOOD ROAD

₹2,0598.92 crore
amount allocated by BMC in 2018-19 for the scam-hit roads
57-km
good road (as mentioned above) can be built out of this budgetary allocation
BMC spends crores
on repair and maintenance work every year which can be spent on constructing good roads
"This quality of road can bear heavy traffic such as fire brigade tenders and huge trucks without any damage. The cost would be around.4,000 for each square metre. BMC should instead focus on building good roads than assign a budget for potholes. Corporate houses should donate funds for roads in Mumbai."
RAKESH MISHRA, town planning expert
Graphics: HITESH MATHUR

First Published: Jul 27, 2018 13:46 IST