When road quality is compromised

The reasons for the poor state of city roads are coming to light through several RTI petitions filed by The Hindu. Last week, we focused on the tests that exposed road quality. Today, we go into the contractor-quality conundrum.

Updated - March 26, 2015 11:49 am IST

Published - March 26, 2015 09:31 am IST - CHENNAI:

Zone 1 Tondiarpet Photo: Special arrangement

Zone 1 Tondiarpet Photo: Special arrangement

In 2014, the city engaged more than 90 contractors to build roads at a cost of over Rs. 2,000 crore.

In comparison, the city of London, in an average year, hires less than 20 contractors to maintain and, if necessary, relay its road network.

Despite their numbers, individual contractors almost never figure in any debate about the state of Chennai’s roads. They are never named or rated. Honourable exceptions are there. But, potholed roads have never affected the business of incompetent contractors.

That changed for a brief moment in December 2014 when, in response to a public backlash, the Chennai Corporation blacklisted six contractors for the first time (see box).

But The Hindu’s analysis of records relating to the 1,300-odd road quality tests undertaken last year shows the Corporation’s action doesn’t even scratch the surface of the problem.

Of the 90-odd contractors involved, 10 failed to meet the Corporation’s own standards every single time their work was put through a quality test. A further 30 contractors failed more often than they passed, meaning, the quality of their work is worse than the odds of a coin toss.

“Knowledge of road engineering is very poor among contractors,” says A. Veeraraghavan, a professor of Indian Institute of Technology-Madras. “They use arbitrary designs and oversight too is completely lacking most of the time. There is also the spectre of corruption,” he says.

Despite their sub-standard work, many of the city’s contractors have been getting away with it for years, shows The Hindu’s analysis.

In the midst of the monsoon in 2014, the Corporation conducted a pothole survey and pulled up several contractors whose work in previous years had been suspect. Interestingly, many of them also figure in the 2014 list of contractors whose road samples have failed the quality test repeatedly and frequently.

Clearly, the same mistakes are being repeated every year, says Mr. Veeraraghavan.

“We cannot settle for this year after year. Every councillor should be rated based on the roads in his area. For that, we need an objective standard, which is why the quality tests have to be made public. The city should also have a public affairs committee, similar to the one in Bengaluru, so citizens can audit public works,” he says.

In the absence of direct citizen involvement, every single move within the Corporation, towards accountability and reform, has been circumvented, watered down, or ignored, says a senior government official.

“Corruption is entrenched in the system. The quality control initiative will work only if there is transparency,” the official says.


Chennai's road network: Bus routes 471, roads - 387 km, Interior roads 32385, roads - 5300 km

Reality check:

Roads tested in 2014

Roads that failed

Failure rate




The Road Ahead: Suggestions for Change

1) Implement Bengaluru's 'Tender Sure' model

India spends over Rs.9 lakh crore each year replacing recently paved roads, according to the National Transport Development Committee. In order to break this cycle of spending, Bengaluru has radically altered its roadway tender structure, making contractors responsible for the road for a period of five years.

2) Create a public affairs committee

The garden city has also begun to place emphasis on public participation in civic governance. The public affairs committee has eminent citizens and experts on its panel and they bring out frequent reports evaluating the work of the municipal corporation.

3) Public disclosure of data

Now that the Chennai Corporation has begun to collect data on the quality of road laying, this information has to be made public as close to real-time as possible so that citizens can offer informed oversight and feedback. Global cities like New York already do this [see nycdot.info].

Contractor quote:

Newly paved roads have to be protected from traffic for at least a few hours if we want top quality roads. The traffic police as well as residents must cooperate with us. Contractors are also a bit scared since the Corporation has started doing these quality tests. They want to deliver good roads.

S. Pandian, president, Road Builders' Association

Contractors blacklisted by Corporation

*Somasundaram & Bros.

*Gokul Enterprises


*Om Sakthi Constructions

*Sri Venkateswara Road Construction Pvt. Ltd.


(Source: Chennai Corporation)

ContractorTotal roads testedFailure rate
Sendurmurugan Construction 19 79%
Jenefa Construction2752%
SPL Construction4141%
Babuji Construction1331%
Sri Venkateshwara Construction1086%
0 / 0
Sign in to unlock member-only benefits!
  • Access 10 free stories every month
  • Save stories to read later
  • Access to comment on every story
  • Sign-up/manage your newsletter subscriptions with a single click
  • Get notified by email for early access to discounts & offers on our products
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide by our community guidelines for posting your comments.

We have migrated to a new commenting platform. If you are already a registered user of The Hindu and logged in, you may continue to engage with our articles. If you do not have an account please register and login to post comments. Users can access their older comments by logging into their accounts on Vuukle.