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Monsoon rains problems for motorists

Ajai Sreevatsan
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The additional expenditure collectively incurred by vehicle owners is whopping, according to an estimate

Forty-four-year-old Abdul Rahim dreads the arrival of monsoon every year. A resident of T.Nagar, these days he spends nearly 15 minutes each morning deciding the route before starting for his workplace in Padi.

“I just do not understand why the top layer of the road surface comes off during each monsoon. Most roads have become unmotorable. There is no accountability and all that motorists can do is pray for the rains to get over.”

That has become the inescapable reality in Chennai and many other Indian cities, with brief spells of rain being enough to ravage the road network. But it is far from inevitable, say experts.

Each year, the additional expenditure collectively incurred by the city's 33 lakh vehicle owners as a result of bad roads is a whopping Rs.2,135 crore, according to an estimate made by IIT-Madras. To give a comparison, the Chennai Corporation spent over Rs.126 crore on a special road laying programme immediately after last year's monsoon. The city's residents spend 20 times that sum each year for the privilege of being able to drive on the roads during and immediately after the monsoon. Bad roads force each two-wheeler or car owner to spend, on an average, an additional Rs.6,400 annually on fuel and maintenance expenses. Frequent road users, such as Mr.Rahim, say that vehicle mileage drastically drops during the monsoon. “During the two to three months when the monsoon lasts, I spend an additional Rs.2,000 on fuel cost alone each month for my car,” he adds.

There are also health costs, which are harder to quantify. However, it is quite evident that the cost of poor quality roads is much more than the money spent on paving them.

Shoddy work

As per the Corporation's own quality standards, each newly paved road has to last for at least three years.

Yet despite spending over Rs.120 crore last year, another road laying package, estimated to cost Rs.110 crore, is set to be announced this year. Corporation records show that no contractor has ever been penalised for shoddy work.

Chennai Corporation Commissioner D.Karthikeyan said that during the monsoon, a certain amount of damage to the roads is inevitable.

“Complaints about specific roads can be registered by calling 1913 helpline and we will take up relaying of every affected road by mid-December.”

Despite any amount of road relaying, Chennai would continue to face similar problems every year, says Mark Selvaraj, an urban planner associated with the City Connect Foundation.

“Assuming adequate quality monitoring mechanisms was in place during road construction, the road surface would still disintegrate if water is allowed to stagnate for long periods. Bitumen loses its adhesion when it comes in contact with water. The problem is that the city's stormwater drain network was not conceived or designed well. Unless that is fixed, any amount of expenditure on road laying is money down the drain.” Chennai still does not have a stormwater drain master plan.

“Even the new stormwater channels being built using JNNURM funding do not have the capability to protect the roads. They are not extensive enough,” says Mr.Selvaraj.

In the meantime, laying of roads each year has proved to be such a profitable business that the number of registered contractors with the Chennai Corporation has risen from just four in 1989 to over a 100 by 2010.

R. Sivakumar of the Chennai Road Pavers' Association says: “Some contractors do cut corners, but the larger problem is that there is no concept of maintenance contract. Contractors should be informed of road cuts so that repair work can be immediately undertaken. Local Corporation engineers should be held responsible for delivering poor quality roads.”

A former Chief Engineer in the Highways Department, T.T.Kesavan, says that most of Chennai's roads also do not follow specifications stipulated by the Indian Roads Congress.

Raw materials

of poor quality

“The roads do not have a water protective coating. Poor quality raw materials are used to cut cost. The roads should be undulating to direct run-off towards the nearest stormwater drain. None of this is being done and there is absolutely no monitoring. The city deserves better. We should not be made to suffer every monsoon.”

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