Lindsay Pereira: On a dug-up street down a blind alley

The BMC likes digging up our streets for a very simple reason: Someone will earn a lot for the digging and haphazard cleaning up after

The street I live on was dug up in four places a week ago. No one knows why, because the men who did the digging didn’t bother with explanations. They were simply following orders, from a shadowy figure somewhere in the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), who had given them directions, marked out spots and asked them to dig holes there no matter what. So, that is what they did.

The BMC loves digging up roads: Experts have often pointed out that there are better options than digging up roads. Utility tunnels have been recommended, but not been implemented. File picture for representation
The BMC loves digging up roads: Experts have often pointed out that there are better options than digging up roads. Utility tunnels have been recommended, but not been implemented. File picture for representation

The street I live on has been paved once in nine years. It has been dug up three times each year during that time, for reasons my neighbours and I are unaware of. There are a few boards placed around these holes in a cursory manner, with details such as ‘Task,’ ‘Date of Commencement,’ ‘Date of Completion’ and ‘Supervising Officer’ conveniently left blank on every single occasion. What this means is, no one who lives on this street is ever given any information about why these holes exist. They are never, ever filled in properly either.

Naturally, holes at busy street corners lead to all kinds of problems. Traffic crawls, children are forced to pick their way gingerly around these hazards (and they are hazards, responsible for deaths every other year), senior citizens patiently try and figure out how to get across, while the diggers lounge around, safe in the knowledge that no one will bother to find out what they’re doing or when they intend to finish.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that the BMC likes digging up our streets for a very simple reason: While it always is inconvenient for citizens, it is always a guarantee that someone, somewhere, will earn a lot for the digging and haphazard cleaning up after. Experts have pointed out time and again that there are better options. Everyone with half a brain knows that paver blocks are a problem. Utility tunnels — passages built underground to carry utility lines such as electricity, water and sewer pipes, along with communications utilities like fibre optics, cable television and telephone cables — have been recommended for years, but don’t appear to have been implemented with any seriousness.

According to civic officials themselves, about 400 kilometres of road are dug up every year. In 2014, the civic body said it was considering horizontal directional drilling for laying cables to avoid digging of roads. It also decided to use a cross ducting system for various cable lines running under public roads, to avoid digging when these cables require repairs. If this was proposed in 2014, why is the street I live on still dug up every other month in 2016?

The official response to a complaint like this is, naturally, that the BMC has done the work, but we simply haven’t noticed it. How are we supposed to notice it when the digging is done in such an arbitrary manner, when the information that ought to be shared with us is constantly withheld, or when we are denied our rights as taxpaying residents to know why our money is being spent on roads that fail with the onset of every passing shower?

We aren’t the only ones suffering from our civic body’s complete lack of competence. In Pune, apparently, the Municipal Corporation intends to dig 1,800 kilometres of roads to lay special pipelines for a 24x7 water supply scheme. Interestingly, this digging will begin soon after the roads are concretised, work on which is currently on in several pockets of the city. Almost all roads across the city will be excavated for the project. Naturally, citizens’ groups have urged the civic administration to stop road concretising work till the water supply project is completed, pointing out that the money spent on road work now will be wasted. Naturally, this advice is being ignored because someone, somewhere, stands to earn a lot of money for resurfacing the roads again.

In December 2015, journalists found a long list of roads that the BMC was repairing needlessly. A major portion of these strips was used only by illegally parked vehicles, and crores were allegedly being spent on repairing them. Some activists pointed out that 82 roads and 33 junctions across the Western suburbs were used by two contractors to carry out an alleged Rs 700 crore scam. The BMC’s response, then as always, was to announce a probe. This may be followed by a committee, which may be followed by a second probe.

Unfortunately, the BMC never pays for its follies, its poor planning or outright dishonesty. The only ones who pay, consistently, are us.

When he isn’t ranting about all things Mumbai, Lindsay Pereira can be almost sweet. He tweets @lindsaypereira. Send your feedback to mailbag@mid-day.com

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