Rs 15 crore spent on potholes over two years, yet Mumbai roads continue to be death traps

An RTI filed by a social activist shows that the civic body spent over Rs 15 crore to fill 8,879 potholes on Mumbai roads in the last two years; yet, accidents due to bad roads are on the rise, with three fatalities in October alone. Is citizen action the only solution?

October 11, 2019: Nida Shaikh, 25, died on the spot after she was run over by a truck. She was riding pillion with her cousin, and both fell off when the scooter hit a pothole causing her cousin to lose control of the vehicle. While her cousin was injured, Nida, a doctor, was crushed by the truck.

October 13, 2019: Ramprasad Goswni, 56, died on the spot after a truck hit him as the driver was trying to dodge a pothole. It was in the same place where Nida Shaikh lost her life.

October 29, 2019: Ranjendra Dongre, 42, was traveling from Bhiwandi town to Wada Tauka in Thane on his scooter. He lost balance when his scooter skidded over a pothole, sustained severe injuries in the fall and died soon after.

Road accidents are on the rise in Mumbai, caused not only by reckless driving or driving under the influence of alcohol and drugs. Potholes are now a major cause of death on Mumbai’s roads, as the three deaths in October alone indicate. In 2017, 3,600 deaths were recorded due to potholes across the country, taking almost 10 lives daily.

Taking cognizance of the matter, the Supreme Court said “We are surprised that state governments have disputed the data sent to them by the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways.” The bench comprising Justices Madan B Lokur and Deepak Gupta added that the views of the states on the same are ‘unfortunate’ and more people have been killed by potholes than by ‘terrorists’ attack. Compiling the data of 2015, 2016 and 2017, the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways revealed that 9,300 people lost their lives due to pothole-related road accidents in the country.

In Mumbai, there has been a 150 per cent increase in road accidents during 2014-2019. As per the data, the number of potholes reported was 7,775 between 2009-2014, rising to 19,957 in 2014-2019.

What causes potholes?

The reasons are the same everywhere. “Due to the stress of heavy vehicles (cars and trucks), the pavement (road) pieces weaken,” said a municipal engineer, who did not want to be named. “The first layer of the pavement breaks, which is called ‘hen-house wire damage’. As the layers weaken, stone pieces come to the surface which get carried away by vehicles, leaving potholes behind”.

The wear and tear of the road happens mainly due to the poor quality of materials used, heavy rainfall which washes away the topsoil, and increased traffic. “There is no city planning,” said Dadarao Bilhore, who is actively involved in highlighting the dangers posed by the potholes. “There is no proper drainage system, roads are narrow, haphazard dumping on the roads etc all take a toll on the overall infrastructure”.

Generally, a combination of cold and hot mix of minerals is used to fill the potholes. “Cold mix, readymade and easily available, is a mix of unheated mineral aggregate banded together by bitumen,” said the engineer, “while the hot mix is composed of 95 percent minerals, gravel and sand bound together using asphalt and crude oil. Cold mix is mostly used to fix the pothole as it requires little effort and is comparatively cheap, but it is only useful for roads with light traffic. Also, it erodes easily upon rainfall. It is like a do-it-yourself mixture. Using hot mix means digging up the pothole and cleaning it and then filled properly. It lasts longer,” added the engineer.

The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) primarily uses cold mix for the repair work. “They don’t even clean the potholes and remove the broken pieces before filing,” said social activist Shakeel Ahmed Shaikh. “Labourers are employed with no supervision by engineers. It is just a quick fix and hence, potholes emerge again and again”.

BMC’s response

As public outcry over the pothole menace intensified, the BMC recently launched a ‘hole’-some solution, by announcing that citizens who report a pothole would get a reward of Rs 500, with terms and conditions applicable. For example, the pothole has to be at least one foot in length and three inches deep. BMC said it would attend to the complaint within 24 hours.

Earlier this year, BMC launched an app ‘MCGM 24/7’ where citizens can report potholes. They also released a toll number and WhatsApp number where citizens could post their complaints about potholes. “Many people are not aware about these BMC measures,” said Shaikh. “Also, the BMC don’t do their own inspection.”

Surprisingly, the BMC standing committee chairman Yashwant Jadhav had said that there is no pothole in the city, even as the media published pictures of rutted and potholed roads from all over Mumbai. And corruption is not new to the country’s richest civic body.

Shaikh, in response to his RTI asking about money spent to cover potholes, found that the BMC had spent Rs 17,000 to cover a single pothole. “It spent over Rs 15 crore to fill 8,879 potholes in the last two years,” said Shaikh. “And many complaints are unattended. I personally enquired about the cost of filling the pothole and it is not more than Rs 3,000 per pothole.”

Citizens’ fight back

How are citizens dealing with this pothole menace? “I was devastated after my 16-year-old son died due to a pothole accident,” said Dadarao Bilhore, who has earned the nickname of ‘Pothole Dada’ with his relentless efforts to fill the potholes. “The accident happened in 2015 and since then I am filling the potholes.”

Dadarao Bilhore, Mumbai’s ‘Pothole Dada’, has been proactively working to fill holes ever since he lost his son to an accident.

Last year, actor Vicky Kaushal, inspired by Bilhore’s initiative, participated in filling the potholes on Mumbai’s Veera Desai Road. “The road is right behind my building and thanks to the untimely rains, Mumbaikars face the misery of bad roads every day, said Vishal. “It’s dangerous not just for those driving on these roads but also for pedestrians. I spoke to Dadarao, heard his story, learned how to fill potholes and felt good doing it.” Bilhore is now setting up an NGO ‘Prakash Foundation’ dedicated to the cause.

Similar individual initiatives are being seen in cities like Bangalore and Hyderabad, which too are facing the menace of potholed roads. Bengaluru’s ‘Pothole Raja’ is Prathaap Bhimasena Rao who started filling potholes from 2016 after he was affected by personal incidents. He claims to have filled 200 potholes a year. “After I started, volunteers joined me and it encourages me to do more,” said Bhimasena Rao. “Citizens need to volunteer or participate to fix the issue.”

In Hyderabad, people in Peerzadiguda area are ‘planting trees’ inside large potholes to highlight the issue. “Thousands use the road every single day,” said Prashanth Mamidala, a local resident.  “There are three schools in the area and hundreds of school children use that road. We can’t wait for a tragic accident to take place, before the authorities decide to act”.

A sentiment that Mumbai’s Pothole Dada Bilhore wholeheartedly agrees with.

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