I grew up in a small town, after India's independence. whose kings were known to take care of their civic facilities. One of the features of this town was its wide roads which were of good quality. It used to rain very heavily during monsoon but I do not remember the roads becoming water logged. The roads had manholes at equidistant in the center of the road and were covered with round manhole covers. What is important when I look back, was that they were at perfect level with the road. Practically all roads had paved pavements on both sides, where one could walk without fear of any sudden raised or depressed levels as is so common these days.

I left my home town for my college studies to a big city. Apart from the areas which were known as the old city or the walled city there was the new city which was coming all around. That is when the differences started coming out. Later on in life I had opportunities to stay and travel in various big and small towns and cities of India. I also had the opportunity of visiting a number of foreign countries in Europe, South East Asia and America. I have now settled in a city with a population of around 15 lakhs and is the third largest in my State.

I have uniformly observed and also confirmed with locals in many places that their is hardly any water logging during the heavy downpours during monsoon season in the older parts of our cities and towns. A famous example is that you will hardly hear that the their is water logging in the Colaba, Fort  or Churchgate area in Mumbai. These are the oldest parts of Mumbai and are very close to the sea. Similar is the case with areas of old Delhi. or Chennai or even Kolkatta which has the Ganga flowing across it. Take the oldest city of Varanasi, there also no water logging in old city areas. If at all these areas suffer from water logging, it is the backlash of some modern day negative intervention.

In cities like New York, London, Paris, Zurich where it not only rains for more periods than in India they also face heavy snow. Yet one does not face water logging unless it is exceptional rains or heavy snow once in a few years. Even Asian cities like Seoul, Beijing, Shanghai, Bangkok, Hong Kong, Taipei or Singapore do not suffer from water logging. It has become a uniquely Indian phenomenon and of a few countries which are economically down the scale. It is water logging that is one of the main causes of potholes developing on the shoddy roads.

From many decades now building a road in our cities and towns simply means laying a road. No accompanying pavements or parallel drainage channels are provided. It seems this aspect has totally been discarded by our town planners. It is by now, often seen many a times that roads are laid a few days before the onset of monsoon. They get washed away or develop pot holes and need to be repaired after the monsoons. The contractors are having it both ways. The quality of the roads is so shoddy that every two or three years a new carpet is laid on the existing road, thereby raising its elevation. This results is water entering many houses and shops and colonies adjacent to these roads as their plinth levels are now lower than the roads. I know of a main road in my city which in last thirty years has been repeatedly laid upon and has risen in elevation by about two feet and during every rain water gushes all over at great velocity and volume endangering the commuters even if they are in vehicles.

Worse is the development of small to large pot holes of varying depths all over vast stretches of the roads in almost all the towns and cities of India. We have developed a model where people are uniformly provided with bad infrastructure across the country. This is what we have achieved after managing our affairs since 1947. Neither can we lay a good road nor can we maintain one. 

Insensitivity towards people has now become the hall mark of our civic authorities. Projects are not seen as providing excellent facilities to the citizens but are mostly seen as how much can be illegally diverted to fill one's pockets and make a mockery of say a road. Same civic authorities consisting of same politicians and bureaucrats and contractors year after year repeatedly continue doing shoddy civic projects. However most of them allegedly become richer year after year. Vested interests see to it that this state of affairs continues.

It is not that good roads do not exist in our country. The roads built by the Border Roads Organization in hills and valleys at heights and depths are of a very high quality. The national highways are also of good quality. It is the municipalities that are not able to build good roads. Because in the mission of building roads is their self enriching vision. To hell with the public.

The response of the civic authorities to a complain of the poor facilities varies. If you say you are a simple citizen, they will promise to look into the matter. If you say you are a member of the ruling party they will ask someone to look into your problem by visiting the site. If you belong to the opposition party they will say go and see the pot holes in the states ruled by your party and then complain. In all the three cases problem will rarely be rectified to one's satisfaction. One has to use influence often to get the repairing jobs done in time.

There are stretches of roads in my city where every year at the same spots water logging and pot holes develop. Every one sees them except the city fathers and the contractors. Arm chair engineers and bureaucrats allegedly connive with contractors and bills are passed for shoddy jobs which give way at first sign of distress. 

It is unfortunate but true that someone has to get killed or severely maimed to move the civic authorities to act. The tragic death of a seventeen year girl who fell into a pothole and a bus passed over her in Hyderabad brought forth allegedly a guidance from the Municipal Commissioner that citizens should drive carefully and avoid potholes when they see one and not drive into it. No word of sympathy or apology.

Many years back I remember reading a judgement where the judge passed an order dismissing a victim's plea for compensation on the ground that the person who was driving a two wheeler agreed that he saw a big pothole but at the last moment and could not stop his vehicle from going into it and suffering many injuries. That he saw the pothole before falling into it was his mistake and not that of the authorities. What can one say?

No one in power is ever punished for such lapses and negligence in supervision. The brunt is borne by the common citizen who by now feels that if he wants to drive on good roads within cities then he should migrate out of India or live next to the houses of the topmost authorities and rich persons. The common man pays his civic taxes to get insulted in return by being offered shoddy and life threatening infrastructure.

As someone in one of the TV channel discussions put it very aptly that potholes are the ATM's of vested interests. Nothing could be far from this truth. How long will we be a tolerant society. At least let the potholes should unite us into action. If not then our lives are at stake.


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