Public anger over potholes in Mumbai, especially during monsoons, saw most local political parties promise smooth and smart solutions along with other grand promises for Mumbaikars in the 2017 urban local body elections.
But despite the umpteen electoral promises made by almost all political parties, most sections of the 2000 kms of roads under the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) continue to be plagued by potholes, before, during and after the monsoons.
Now it is time for another round of promises as the February 2022 Mumbai municipal elections nears.
Which party made what promises regarding roads in their 2017 manifesto?
The Shiv Sena promised to concretize or asphalt roads as a solution for potholes in Mumbai. It also promised to build a coastal road which would enable people to drive from Nariman Point to Dahisar in 20 minutes.
The Indian National Congress (INC) went further and promised to concretise (CC) all roads in Mumbai. It also promised to bring in modern pothole-filling machines and even assured that potholes would be filled within 24 hours of complaint. It promised a road audit and engineers at every ward to monitor road quality as well as implementation of an intelligent traffic management system.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) went even further and promised Mumbaikars that they won’t have to pay street taxes till Mumbai’s roads were not rid of potholes. In fact, the BJP promised a pothole-free Mumbai within five years. To top it all, the BJP promised that about 1000 kms of roads, ie. almost half of Mumbai’s road length, would be washed with processed wastewater to make them dust free.
Not to be left behind, the Nationalist Congress party (NCP) promised to invite international bids to build roads, flyovers, bridges, subways etc and promised to depute vigilance squads to ensure good quality roads were built. It promised to blacklist contractors responsible for shoddy road works and even promised to draft contracts such that contractors would be held responsible for potholes on the roads built by them. It too promised to fill up potholes in Mumbai within 24 hours and promised a masterplan to identify and clear traffic bottlenecks.
So, what is the status of these promises?
Potholes continue to be a sad reality of Mumbai’s roads even today, especially during the monsoons. The BMC spent over Rs 48 crores in filling up 31,398 potholes on the city’s roads in just five months between April-September 2021.
The NGO Praja, which works towards enabling accountable governance, in its report found that the BMC had received about 46,235 road-related complaints in the five years between 2017-18 to 2020-21. About 39% of these complaints were related to potholes in Mumbai roads, or bad patches of roads.
This despite budgetary spendings on roads almost doubling in the last four years. The revised budget estimate for Roads, Traffic Operations, Bridges and Coastal road department has doubled from Rs 2,149 crore in 2017-18 to Rs 4,361 crores in 2020-21.
The budget estimated for 2021-22 is Rs 6,520 crores, according to the Praja state of civic issues, 2021. The budget document did introduce new clauses to include provisions like improvement of footpaths, and even includes provision for augmentation of utilities like water mains and sewage within the scope of road improvements. And now, with the next local body elections two months away, the BMC in September officially announced that it would cement all roads to avoid potholes, a 2017 Congress manifesto promise.
What do activists say
Activists point out that the BMC’s insistence on using its cold mix formula for filling potholes in Mumbai, despite it not being effective enough, casts aspersions on the BMC’s real motives.
“The BMC spends almost Rs 18,000 to fill one pothole, which gets washed away, while we manage to fill up potholes much more effectively at just about Rs 1500-2000 per pothole,” points out Dadarao Bhillore, better known as pothole dada, an activist who fills up potholes on his own.
“When it is evident that the poor quality material used to fill potholes does not last long, then why doesn’t the BMC simply change the material or the company providing them? Why are no written guarantees taken from the contractors who fill up such potholes? One wonders about the intent of the BMC in filling potholes because they seem to deliberately wait and step in only after potholes become big,” says Bhillore.
“While deaths in Mumbai due to potholes may have reduced, and their numbers have come down, potholes continue to be an issue in Mumbai,” says Mushtaq Ansari, founder of Pothole Warriors, which highlights potholes through twitter. “The fact that Rs 120 crores continues to be allocated and spent annually just for filling up potholes in Mumbai says a lot about the state of our roads. The civic engineers should be held liable for the roads rather than place the blame on random contractors, who have no stake”.
What does the future hold?
“Every year, we will concretise about 150- 250 kms of roads and all the roads of Mumbai should get concretised in phases in about five to six years time, subject to budgetary allocations. About 800 kms of the total 2000 kms under BMC have already been concretised,” says deputy municipal commissioner (infrastructure) Rajendrakumar Talkar.
He explains that potholes develop since water percolation neutralises the binding factor of asphalted roads.
Besides promising to cement all major and minor roads, work on which is currently going on, the BMC says it has also synchronised road works with trenching work to minimise road diggings that mar the quality of roads.
In its Environment Status Report (ESR), 2020-21, the BMC stated that it has made its trenching agreements more stringent to reduce frequent diggings. It also affirmed faith in its own cold mix used to fill up potholes by pointing out that it was recommended by technical experts.
The BMC further says it has integrated all underground utilities below roads and is in the process of earmarking them on its own Geographic Information Systems (GIS). “We build box culverts in new roads to accommodate the cables of various utilities. Similarly pipe ducts are put in new concretised roads, to avoid diggings. All the BMC utilites running beneath roads like water, storm water drains, sewage etc are being earmarked on BMC’s own GIS systems by the respective departments. These mappings will subsequently be part of the city’s Development Plan (DP). We cannot map the cables of other utilities below roads like telephones or electricity though,” said Talkar.