Sunday, August 31, 2008

Only good roads mean good govt

Only good roads mean good govt

Good roads make a good city. Visit any top city of the world. Your eyes will first feast on its well-maintained roads. Why can’t our cities be like them? We have the expertise. We have funds. Road-users are taxed heavily. Why then is the condition of our roads so pathetic? Why are we not able to prepare roads that last long? Why are our city fathers blind to this basic requirement?
Take Bangalore. It’s a global city. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh once said that people across the globe knew more about Bangalore than India. Thanks to the strides it has made in information technology. The city has grown leaps and bounds in the last decade. It generates bulk of the state’s revenue. Our politicians bask in its glory but fail to provide infrastructure that can match the city’s growth. Roads are narrow and poorly maintained. Unable to withstand the burden of growing vehicular population. Chock-a-block with traffic throughout the day. Imagine the fate of smaller cities.
Our netas and babus keep going on foreign trips, at the cost of the exchequer, ostensibly to study the condition of roads there. They do come back enlightened. Address press conferences to announce their intent to change Bangalore into a Singapore, a Shanghai, a Tokyo... Only to forget about it till they embark upon another such junket. No effort is made to find out where the problem lies. Why do roads crack so soon? Is there a check on the quality of work? Is there no accountability? The Times of India’s campaign on crumbling roads threw up some startling facts:
Quality of asphalting is not monitored. Contractors do shoddy work so that they keep getting work after every few months. Obviously, they are hand in glove with officials. Taxpayers’ money is thus siphoned off. Why are the culprits allowed to go scot-free?
There is no coordination between civic bodies. Each works independent of the other. Rather, they keep blaming one another for the ills. The BBMP asphalts a road — usually a thin layer. Within days, the BWSSB digs it up to plug a leak or lay a new pipeline. Once the work is done, it doesn’t care to patch up the stretch. BSNL follows suit. That’s why we find perennial digging on our roads. Why can’t these agencies work together?
A number of innovative ideas, proposed time and again by some bright minds, have remained on paper. For instance, whatever happened to the BBMP’s tall claims about installing ducts to curb road-digging and ensure that all service providers use them to run their lines? Why is no follow-up action taken on such ideas?
Resident welfare associations are willing to act as watchdogs — be it in execution, planning or supervision of road projects. Their members are ready to physically inspect work and see that asphalting is done according to norms. But civic authorities are reluctant to empower them. Is the contractor-official lobby afraid that its corrupt ways will be exposed?
Here is an opportunity for the BJP, which is running its first government in the state, rather the entire South, to prove that it is citizen-friendly and proactive. It should take quick measures to widen and build roads, ensure that quality is maintained, encourage public-private partnership, crack the whip on lethargic and corrupt staff, unleash efficient and hands-on officials, blacklist erring contractors, set up monitoring cells, and involve RWAs. It should earmark an engineer for a set of roads. Make him accountable — for quality, maintenance, coordination between various agencies, involvement of RWAs, etc. Punish him if he errs. Things will definitely improve.
Why only Bangalore? Roads in other cities of the state too should get this attention. And, as promised, urban facilities should be given to rural areas. Empty promises or lip sympathy won’t do.
After rain misery, vicious whirlpool
One downpour, and you see storm water drains in Bangalore overflowing, inundating roads and low-lying areas. Citizens are put to a lot of misery. Year after year, we have been witnessing this. Each occasion, the authorities promise to set things right. But nothing happens. Civic agencies resort to blame game. Politicians try to derive mileage against opponents. Tax-paying citizens remain helpless. What is the disaster management cell doing? Does anyone in power care for the people?


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