Mumbai city has often been plagued with shoddy roads, missing manholes and a host of other civic issues. All of this is despite the Brihan Mumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) being the richest municipality in the country.
One of the biggest problems that the city and its people face is pothole-ridden roads. The potholes are ubiquitous and with the monsoons at full-force, the problem worsens. Keeping that in mind, Moneylife Foundation had invited Dadarao Bilhore, founder, Prakash Foundation and Mushtaq Ansari, founder of PotholeWarriors to speak at an event, educate the attendees and perhaps find a winning solution.
The seminar began with Sucheta Dalal, founder-trustee, Moneylife Foundation speaking about how a traffic cop had recently lost his life trying to avoid a pothole.
She posed an important question to the audience asking whether citizens should do anything about the potholes or leave it up to the authorities. “We are paying our taxes and the municipal corporation is supposed to take care of things. It is not supposed to be our job to fill potholes, but people are still going out there and doing it,” she observed.
Although citizens taking matters into their own hands is fine temporarily, how long are they expected to keep this up? The municipality is quick to penalise people but nothing is done about encroached roads and shoddily constructed pavements.
Dadarao Bilhore, one of the speakers for the day began by sharing his story and how he came about filling potholes across Mumbai. For Mr Bilhore, the loss of his son in a bike accident that occurred due to a pothole was the turning point. From that moment onwards he pledged his life to filling one pothole at a time, in order to save lives in Mumbai. He explained in his talk that, “(I) was often badgered by people – friends, acquaintances, relatives – who always questioned (my) motives on why (I am) doing BMC’s job.”
But it never stopped him as he believes that “even the government commits small mistakes from time to time, but it is our duty as citizens to rectify these mistakes and work towards a better and safer society.” Mr Bilhore has recently established Prakash Foundation, in memory of his son and, with the assistance of volunteers, continues to fill potholes in Mumbai.
Mushtaq Ansari, founder of PotholeWarriors with his colleague Irfan Machhiwala have been doing similar work in Mumbai. He shared his experience of living in Mumbai and observing numerous accidents and deaths directly as a result of potholes. Understanding how roads are extremely important as everyone uses them, he started PotholeWarriors with Mr Machhiwala and used the social media to educate and reach a wider audience.
Through their social media page, they take photos of wherever they go and tag the concerned authorities so that necessary action can be taken. He also shared how they are also focussing on open manhole covers and how to resolve that issue.
While citizens are filling potholes and putting in their efforts, he did show his disappointment that the BMC is not working in the most efficient manner.
The materials they are using are not of the best quality and the argument that the roads are spoilt because of monsoons is nothing more than just an excuse as their work is not up to the mark. The roads being built are not made of concrete but of substandard material.
He claimed that concrete roads are better as they do not undergo the same process of degradation as asphalt roads do.
Talking about how bureaucratic issues also come into play, Ansari observed, “When an accident takes place and when people file a complaint with the BMC, they say it’s not in their jurisdiction but that of the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA). But when they approach the MMRDA, they say it’s not their jurisdiction but the BMC’s. There is an internal blame game being played between the authorities themselves.”
Present in the audience was senior transport activist and former road monitoring committee member Sudhir Badami. Mr Badami started by sharing how there are problems even on concrete roads like the Jogeshwari-Vikhroli Link Road (JVLR) and Thakurli. He said, “This is a wrong notion that concrete roads are the only solution. If you don’t construct anything to a specification then you end up having major problems coming out from time to time. While concrete roads are a little better than other roads, they too need to be maintained and that doesn’t happen.”
He said that the base of a road is an important aspect to pay attention to and if it’s neglected, then both concrete roads and other roads as well would be fraught with problems. Emphasising on the specifications, he said every detail regarding constructing a road is important.
Mr Badami ended his talk by saying, “We need not stick to the material per say, but what is required is we must identify these fixed specifications and what we had suggested almost 13 years ago.” While it is the job of the municipal corporation to maintain these roads, it is the job of the citizens to monitor the civic body’s work in a systematic manner.
Also present during the session was Bhagwanji Rayani, a senior activist who has filed over 100 PILs. Speaking of how bad the roads are and how huge the traffic, he said that it took himan hour and a half to reach Dadar from Vile Parle and that the potholes are not in hundreds but in thousands.
Speaking on his 2007 judgement regarding a PIL he had filed relating to roads, Mr Rayani offered several suggestions and recommendations. But he observed that while all of this is happening, this is not going to entirely solve the problems of Mumbai. Mr Rayani added that he is always at hand to help anybody who wishes to file a PIL. “I will help prepare a petition but you have to file it and get it argued.
This will solve at least 50% problems. And this requires three-four other citizens coming together to take up the matter to the court,” he said.
“While zero potholes would be an unreasonable expectation, we must aim at a realistic solution,” he concluded.
Adv Trivankumar Karnani, who also works with the municipal corporation informed the audience of the rules and regulations which prohibit citizens from carrying our filing of potholes on their own. Speaking on the legal aspect he said, “It is not legal, nor is it advisable to fill potholes yourself of your own accord or to tamper with any public amenity or utility.”
He said, debris material that is mixed with cold-mix have a life-span of hardly a few hours. The most important fact is that it is a job for experts with the knowledge of materials and the technique, not for lay people.”
“By filling these potholes ourselves, we are facilitating the BMC to evade their legal obligation and they treat the problem as resolved. When the annual BMC budget is Rs30,000 crore, why should we let them evade their responsibility since it is all out tax-payers’ money?” he further remarked.
While there were many activists present, Nandkumar Salvi, a retired engineer from BMC and a member of Mumbai Vikaas Samiti pointed out that nobody from the BMC was present.
Being an engineer from the BMC, he shared some details as well. He said, “Once a pothole occurs if you dump pieces of bricks in it, you are not helping the situation as it is only a temporary stop gap measure. In my opinion, pothole prone roads should be repaired and maintained at least 10-15 days before the onset of monsoons.”
He concluded the session by stating, “The only solution is to build proper roads. Why do potholes occur on asphalt roads? It's because we don't construct them properly. There are quality specifications, asphalt has to be of the proper grade, the mix has be right and most importantly, rolling temperature has to be as per specifications. Even after initial rolling, there has to be a period of at least 12 hours of no physical intervention to allow the material to set. Work on asphalt roads should stop in the monsoons and yet we all know they continue to work on such roads in heavy rains.”