All dug up and nowhere to go

It has almost become a cliché to talk about the pockmarked roads in the city, especially the way in which practically every ward at present has several disfigured roads which gape like open sores. It seems that different civic and some private agencies have decided to take on a mind boggling array of projects — for arch drains, for new roads, for sewerage, for water supply, for laying of gas, phone and other utility lines — all at one go, and are all digging with furious simultaneity. While such a logistical nightmare throws up important questions about the civic body’s organisational acumen, officials are still dragging their feet when it comes to penalising their contractors, many of whom flagrantly violate the road safety norms that have been laid down for them.

Even the fact that the roads have claimed several lives isn’t enough to wake up the civic body from its deep slumber and push the nose of its contractors’ to the proverbial grindstone. Mumbai has a 1,900-km long network of roads, of which 500 km is concretised. The remainder is made with asphalt, tar or paver blocks.

A senior official from the BMC said, “Digging of roads usually commences after the monsoons, and this year extensive work is underway. Many roads are being concretised and asphalted, work that cannot be done during the rains. We are also digging roads to fix leaks, plant new water or sewage pipelines, and place storm water drains. It is true that commuters are being inconvenienced, but we have asked contractors to clear the debris and put up barricades and signboards alerting pedestrians.”

The civic body is reconstructing 161 major roads and 250 minor roads in the city, which explains their present condition. And it’s not just the roads that are being overhauled. 12 kilometres of arch drains will soon start being repaired in the city proper. “Proposals for contracts worth Rs 250 crore will be submitted. In total, there are 58 arch drain projects, of which 48 have been completed,” said Chief Engineer (storm water drain) L S Vhatkar.

Work in progress: A BMC official revealed that around 100 projects are being undertaken by the sewerage department across the city, for which two to three roads have been dug up in each ward. Pic/Suresh KK

He further added that 54 works are being overseen by Brihanmumbai Storm Water Disposal System at the ward level, and 45 works are in progress. “Once repaired, the drains would prevent rainwater from accumulating in the city streets. Three to four minor drains are under repair in each of the BMC wards,” said Vhatkar. As if this wasn’t enough, around 100 projects are being undertaken by the sewerage department across the city, for which two to three roads have been dug up in every ward, revealed an official. “Sewer lines are old and in need of replacement. Some have leakages. Some areas are in urgent need of more sewers,” he said.

The water department has 14 projects for the purported purpose of augmenting the city’s water supply, seven of which are to fix leakages in pipelines. “The other seven projects are for setting up new pipelines, replacing old valves and pipes,” said an official. Hydraulic Engineer
R Bamble said, “Three major projects are being undertaken to set up new pipelines in the city. These may take a year to reach completion, without counting the monsoons.”

A slew of agencies, such as telecom operators, BEST and gas companies, are also happily digging up the roads in the city to lay lines for their respective utilities — optical fibres like telephone lines, gas supply lines, cable lines and electricity wires. While each work should ideally be completed in about three months, poor organisation and lack of overseeing in most projects means that they take inordinately long. “They should remove debris and put up barricades. They are penalised if they fail to follow these norms,” informed a road official from BMC. BMC has no provision in place to compensate victims who have been affected by bad roads, nor is it liable to pay restitution to the kin of those who have succumbed to pothole-related mishaps. As per the Standing Technical Advisory Committee (STAC) report, it is the duty of the civic body to keep a check on contractors to ensure that they are keeping the safety of pedestrians in mind.

STAC chairman N V Merani warned that work on minor roads would not be completed in time if the civic body didn’t get cracking on the project immediately, saying, “They should at least concentrate their efforts on some selected roads, finishing work on them before the rains start. That way their efforts will not go to waste. They can work on the remaining roads after the monsoons.”

He added that the BMC should monitor the quality of materials used to repair potholes. “The mixture should be tested before it is laid, so as to prevent craters from appearing later. If found violating any of the rules laid down for them, the contracts of the civic body should be terminated, and payment for the part of work done should be forfeited, instead of penalising them with meagre fines. And if the BMC does not have time or skill to test the samples, they should rope in another institute for the job. In this way, an effective checking mechanism can be put in place.”

Former Chief Engineer (storm water drains) and engineer in the BMC’s road department, Nandkumar Salvi, said, “There are specifications made in the tender about the conditions that the contractors are to maintain to ensure pedestrian safety and vehicle safety. Even the High Court had pointed this out after the Road Monitoring Committee sent its report in. Every year there are 2-3 deaths and accidents due to the negligence of contractors. The BMC should take action immediately when any contractor is found violating norms. The BMC should monitor and become stricter with the contractors.”

Safty measures
Here are some of the dos and don’ts recommended by the STAC to the contractors
>> Markings, signs, reflectors, arrow displays, and information on the kind of work underway are to be displayed for vehicle safety.
>> Pedestrians and vehicles should be separated physically with the help of barriers.
>> Debris, mud, construction materials and equipment should be removed from roads and walkways after work is concluded.
>> All ditches, trenches, and excavations near walkways are to be clearly delineated with help of boards or other notifications.

Taken by the roads

Case 1
Victim: Mariamma Naidu
Spot: Nityanand Nagar, BPT Gate no - 04

In January last year, 60-year-old Mariamma Naidu died after falling in a ditch, leading to a Facebook campaign, in which Naidu’s kin warned of other dangerous spots. “Construction work was on for weeks, and the ditch, which was six feet deep, was not covered. While trying to cross the narrow stretch, she slipped and fell,” said Neelakandan Naidu (32) Mariamma’s son. The woman’s family has lost hope of justice, as the contractor is out on bail. “My father is in a critical condition. I don’t want to take this forward because the turmoil could harm my father. He has lost his life,” said Neelkandan. The family still hasn’t received the compensation of Rs 50, 000 that it had been promised. “We have not received the compensation yet. Instead, I got call from the contractor who offered me some money and in return asked me to settle the matter out of court, claiming that he didn’t want his promotion to be affected. Can he compensate for my mother’s life?” added Neelkandan. Police Inspector (Crime) Ramesh Sonandkar, of the Wadala police station, said, “We don’t have any more cases of people falling in dug-up roads. BMC has many loopholes in its system. We have registered cases against people and action will be taken as per the law”.

Case 2
Victim: Jepamany Varghese
Spot: Rathodi Church at Marve in Malad

In March 22 this year, a 65-year-old Jepamany Varghese lost his life after he fell into a ditch on his way to Church at Marve in Malad. Around 8 pm, Varghese fell into the ditch that had been dug up as part of reconstruction for the road. The street was mired in darkness, preventing the elderly man from noticing the ditch. John Varghese (35), Jepamany’s son, said, “The BMC should make it a point to light up such roads under construction and install properly lit sign-boards in order to instruct people about the work that is going on. Also, in a developed city like Mumbai, do we need to dig up roads each and every time some utility lines are to be laid? Is there no infrastructure wherein the service lines can be laid through a main channel on the edge of the road? This is the prevalent practice abroad.” John is in the process of filing a defamation case against Aseem Gupta, the additional municipal commissioner and the BMC. “The Additional Municipal Commissioner made an irresponsible statement that my father was drunk at the time the accident happened, while the true story is that that the accident occurred because the area was not lit up,” said John, who is also documenting dug-up roads which are left unattended in the city, to strengthen his case. Richard Johnny, a resident of the area, said “Even school children had fallen into the ditch some months ago and we had complained to the BMC. They could have been drowned because the ditch was full of water. Not action was taken after that, and then we heard of Varghese’s death. What is the authority for?”

— Inputs by Nivedita Dargalkar, Mustafa Shaikh

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