Stuck in a hole: The sorry state of Mumbai's roads

Legal tussles with corrupt contractors and a lethargic civic body have meant that most Mumbai roads are lying in a state of disrepair since 2013. With the rains less than four months away, officials fear many potholes and roads won’t be mended on time this year, too

It rained last week. It didn’t pour. Yet, commuters were shocked to see hundreds of puddles, many of them several inches deep all across the city’s roads.

Last week’s rains left several potholes on the LBS Road at Bhandup. Pic/Sameer Markande
Last week’s rains left several potholes on the LBS Road at Bhandup. Pic/Sameer Markande

Or perhaps they weren’t shocked, as citizens have almost resigned themselves to the fact that corporators and contractors will pocket all the cash and potholed roads will continue to be a regular feature through the year in Mumbai.

And while some arterial roads in south and central Mumbai such as the Ambedkar Road have been dug up for repairs in the last two weeks, about 80 per cent of the roads in the suburbs still remain as pockmarked and damaged as they were last October, after the Monsoon receded.

In its annual budget, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation had earmarked Rs 2,000 crore for the repairs and rehabilitation of the roads last year. But thanks to unscrupulous contractors and vacillating corporators, much of the work is yet to begin.

Ironically, the civic body boasts of various ‘latest technologies’ in its armory such as mastic asphalt machines, which would create long-lasting road surfaces and cold mix technology machines to fix potholes. But with various contractors holding the civic body to ransom, work remains incomplete.

Bumpy eastern suburbs
Residents of the eastern suburbs would be feeling particularly let down. The tenders floated last year are all embroiled in a legal mess. One case is now in the Supreme Court over the asphalting of roads in the eastern suburbs.

Two contractors, Mahavir Roads and Infrastructure and J Kumar Infraprojects, have appealed to the Supreme Court for relief after the Bombay High Court ordered that the BMC should cancel their contracts.

J Kumar, for instance, was accused of submitting fake experience certificates. Similarly, Mahavir Roads and Infrastructure (MRI), too, have moved the High Court.

They had lost the contract worth Rs 168 crore for asphalting roads in the eastern suburbs to J Kumar Infraprojects. After the court ordered the cancellation of the latter’s bid, MRI wants the contract for itself. Civic officials now say work will only begin when fresh tenders are floated.

No better in the west
A tender of Rs 800 crore that was floated in December 2013 for the concretisation of 25 roads in the western suburbs, shockingly found no takers. Contractors had claimed that the tender conditions were difficult. The BMC issued fresh tenders. The tender packets are yet to be opened and work orders yet to be given.

“It’s because of the contractors’ lobby that roads remain in disrepair,” alleged an official. When contacted, SVR Srinivas, additional municipal commissioner, in charge of roads in the city, said, “With the new budget provisions we are sure that such problems will not recur in future. This financial year though was a bad one as most of the work was delayed.”

However, Opposition leader at BMC, Devendra Amberkar, said, “Even if the work starts now, completing so much would take another year. The rains would be here in four months and work will again be affected.” Back to square one, then, for Mumbai’s commuters?

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