How citizens can fight for road infrastructure in the city

A citizen's perspective on understanding the road infrastructure ecosystem and the methods one can adopt to demand better roads.

During monsoons, road infrastructure in Mumbai becomes a nightmare. Potholed roads are seasonal and don’t fail to appear after the first shower. Just before the monsoon set in this year, the Western Express Highway, SV Road and other major roads seemed to be in a better state, creating an illusion that they would survive the season. Within a few days of rains, craters and potholes appeared all over Mumbai. The Twitter timelines of MMRDA and BMC were filled with complaints.

Mumbai Traffic Police tweeting about slow moving traffic
Updates by the Traffic Police on traffic snarls on roads across the city. Source: Mumbai Traffic Police, Twitter

A distance that would take 30 minutes to travel took two hours due to the potholed roads. Even Mumbai Traffic Police realised the reason for traffic snarls and started issuing statements from their official handle.

Road infrastructure a problem everywhere

One may argue that highways are stressed; there is too much traffic and hence the roads are not able to sustain vehicular movements. But it is not just the Highway or SV Road or Linking Road that is affected; even the internal roads where the traffic movement is not very heavy face the same problem.

Malad potholes
Vehicles manoeuvre around potholes and uneven storm drains on a road in Malad. Pic: @AlertCitizen5

The lanes and by lanes have become a means for the Corporators to woo their vote bank. They promise their voters that they will build better roads, and bigger flyovers and ensure maintenance of roads. Roads in several suburbs get back breaking potholes year on year. But the BMC wards do not even take cognisance of citizens’ complaints. Once the monsoon is over, these roads are done up with Corporator’s funds. They spend heavily to advertise and claim credit for the ‘good work done for citizens’. These celebrations are short-lived as potholes start appearing soon after they’re repaired.

Is this a nexus between the administration, Corporator and the contractor? Is the Corporator ensuring that the contractor is getting business every year and he can ‘milk’ credit every year?

Passing the buck

At Mumbai North Central District Forum (MNCDF), we had raised a complaint regarding a road in Sunder Nagar; Malad West tagging P North Ward. P North passed on the baton to P South claiming it is their jurisdiction. P South passed on the responsibility to BMC Roads Department. The Roads Department has neither acknowledged the issue nor resolved it.

SV Road comes under the jurisdiction of the ward it passes through. For e.g., Santacruz West comes under H West Ward. Now in parts where the Metro work is being undertaken, parts of SV road have been shifted to MMRDA’s jurisdiction.

Citizens get trapped in this game of being kicked from one department to another. Road infrastructure being handled by different agencies like MMRDA, MSRDC & BMC is the root cause as there is no accountability.

Role of BMC in road infrastructure

MMRDA & BMC have gone digital and have sought grievances on the MTP App, WhatsApp helpline or Twitter. People are hesitant to use the mobile app as its functioning is not up to the mark. Also, these apps ask for personal information, which can pose a risk to privacy. The WhatsApp number of MMRDA acknowledges the complaints related to potholes but leaves them with no response. Twitter handles of BMC wards are by far the only effective mediums, albeit only for some wards. Most of the handles are non-responsive.

Read more: BMC will cement roads to avoid potholes. Is it a good strategy?

Interventions by the High Court

In 2018 the High Court directed the corporations to repair potholes in the city and devise a uniform mechanism for grievance redressal towards better road infrastructure.

A petition filed earlier this year brought up the issue of non-compliance of the High Court order by the BMC. In response to this petition, the High Court asked the government to appoint a nodal officer to oversee the compliance of the 27 corporations concerning the roads and the filling of potholes. 9 out of these 27 are in the MMR region.

During this proceeding, it was brought to the court’s notice that the 27 corporations have not filed the compliance report for the last quarter. This is a complete bureaucratic failure. They are not following and adhering to the honourable High Court’s judgement. It is a classic case of the ‘Hand in Glove’ act of the administration.

Road ahead for citizens

Many civic groups, celebrities and influencers have raised concerns over the pitiful state of the roads. There have been suggestions to privatise the entire mechanism of maintenance of roads. But it seems to be a non-achievable wish. So, what are our options as citizens? Do we live with the potholes in Mumbai?

Mumbai North Central District Forum (MNCDF) is a citizen welfare & grievance redressal forum working on civic accountability. MNCDF motivates citizens to take up issues with the relevant authorities through lawful means. MNCDF has a group of like-minded citizens who operate as ‘MNCDF Flying Squad’ & ‘MNCDF Collective Network’. If these citizens notice potholes, bad roads, garbage, etc. around their area of work or residence; they click pictures and upload them on Twitter and tag relevant handles of BMC, MMRDA, etc. Constant follow-ups are done if the issue is not addressed. Many of its members have ensured that authorities address civic issues.

MNCDF regularly tweets about traffic related complaints of citizens
Mumbai North Central District Forum has raised several civic issues, including road infrastructure. Source: MNCDF, Twitter, December 2017

The High Court Bench during the petition hearing said that ‘You may not be able to prevent potholes, but when a pothole’s existence is brought to your notice; it is the responsibility of the corporation to address it.’ Hence as citizens, we should try and bring these issues to their notice via various channels; primarily social media where they become liable to answer due to the public eye hovering over them.

Read more: The easiest way to fix Mumbai’s potholes is to complain on Twitter

The lackadaisical attitude of the authorities towards road infrastructure is demotivating. But persistence is the key to getting them to work. There have been instances where after consistent follow-up the authorities have been compelled to address the issue.

There is an argument where citizens feel that we should not tell the BMC or MMRDA about what their job is. As a civic activist, I would say the corporations and authorities are entangled in bureaucratic jargon but we as citizens should exercise our right to awaken them from their slumber. It should not be an act of a few people, but a citizen-led movement. With BMC elections on our threshold, the citizens should be proactive and push the local wards and Corporators to get to work and address road infrastructure.

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