Thursday, December 23, 2010

Restoration of a city's roads - is it asking the civic authorities too much?






After the rains, the roads in Chennai have become a nightmare for drivers and pedestrians. The topping has eroded completely in many places, the number of potholes, like the 2G Spectrum scam (spectrum has become a bad word these days, hasn’t it?), have too many zeros to really count. New places are being dug up but no real intention is being shown to level areas that lie battered and to make it a little easy for drivers and pedestrians.

This is not something new to Chennai. It happens every year, and you can predict the state of roads better than you can the monsoon. You can also now predict with reasonable accuracy that nothing much will be done for quite a while to improve the pathetic condition of roads. After all, how much does the civic administration really care? If they did, the scene on the ground would have been different. So, while politicians, administrators, civic officials and staff and all those who matter in government travel in chauffeur-driven cars, those who are not as fortunate, and they constitute the majority in the city by far, have to grunt and groan as they try and find their way in the midst of potholes, gravel, large stones and clumps of mud and sand.

The surprising part is that despite reports about all this appearing in the newspapers almost on a daily basis and some television channels showing footage of the terrible condition of roads, the civic authorities do not appear eager to do anything. For example, the terrible state of most of the roads in KK Nagar, Arcot Road, Valsarawakkam and Alapakkam have been written about in local papers and even in the mainline newspapers.

Local or neighbourhood papers may not have much of an impact unless copies reach people in government who matter. Distribution has always been a problem for local newspapers and I’m not quite sure whether these papers actually reach the hands or tables of the local councillor the Corporation commissioner, the Mayor, the ministers in government and the offices of the Chief Minister and Dy Chief Minister etc. A few of the papers regularly report about the abysmal civic conditions, with pictures to boot, and it will be good if the publishers and editors of these papers ensured that copies reached the right places.

Coming back to the point I was raising, of media reports failing to stir civic officials into speedy action, NDTV Hindu had recently run a two-minute clip on the bad conditions of roads in KK Nagar; the clip appeared during the news programme through one whole day. It even showed the concerned councillor ensuring the reporter that restoration work would start once the rains stopped.

Now, it’s been a while since we’ve had heavy rain and many weeks have passed since that clip was telecast. But what has been the action on the ground? The pictures will tell you the story. In some parts the roads have got worse. I could have taken another 20 or 50 pictures like these but I really didn’t have the enthusiasm or courage to drive through Nesappakm, Valsarawakkam, Arcot Road and Alapakkam. It’s like a boat ride in many of these places. And I pitied my car tyres as well.

I think there is a strong need for follow-up stories by media on civic issues. Unfortunately, thanks to pressures and competition, newspapers and television are not finding the time to do that. But if they did, things might be different.

The first is a picture you will see these days – of a cart laden with mud and broken bricks, pulled by an ox, passing by some streets and workers dumping clumps on the battered parts; the second is one end of R.K. Shanmugham Salai – now how on earth are you going to drive past that? The third is a portion on Alagiriswamy Salai I passed just after the workers had done their bit – so who is going to even this out? The next one, if I had a better camera or had spent more time over taking the picture, I probably would have won some award – two craters and a heap of mud and broken bricks right outside the gate of Padma Seshadri School. And the last one is a scene at the junction of Lakshmanaswamy Salai and Alagiriswamny Salai. Yes, the workers must have come later to do the patchwork but for long hours the heap remained.

Is this the way the crores of rupees allotted for restoration work are being or will be spent? I hope not.

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