Safety, not a walk in the dark

Safety, not a walk in the dark

At nightfall, darkness engulfs many City roads since streetlights are either completely absent or non-functional due to poor maintenance. Bangaloreans, on their long walk back home, are increasingly at the mercy of anti-social elements.

During day, many city roads evoke images of a war-torn, distant nation ravaged by potholes, trenches and a thousand humps designed to cause accidents. At nightfall, many of these stretches take a dramatic, dangerous turn for the worse as streetlights fail. Lit only by the high beams of vehicles, these dark roads wait ominously for a victim. Lurking around the corner is an accident, a robbery or abduction.

Thousands of Bangaloreans heading back home face this dangerous challenge every night. Poorly maintained roads and stray dogs are bad enough. Imagine negotiating these dangers, with antisocials on the prowl, at every corner. In areas on the City outskirts, this scene is common. Of course, the dark alleys within the City’s core areas are a “class apart”.

Darkness breeds crime and the city police will vouch for it. “There are several poorly lit stretches and unmanned border points in Bangalore where crimes like chain-snatchings, robberies, molestations and thefts take place. Darkness and the geographical location of poorly lit roads are ideal for criminals,” says a crime branch police officer.

While patrolling every street might be tough considering the perpetual staff shortage in the police department, ensuring proper infrastructure through adequate lighting and signboards could go a long way in preventing crimes and accidents, the officer notes.

Confront the Bruhat Bangalore Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) with testing images of the City’s dark, dangerous streets, and the  officers are quick to inform that Bangalore’s roads are lit by not less than 4.5 lakh streetlights every night.

But there is a problem - maintenance. A senior Palike officer admits that. “Yes. There has always been a problem with maintenance contractors failing to check faulty lights. Neither they do it, nor allow the BBMP to make any technological improvisation,” explains the officer.

The implication of an acute lack of maintenance is there for all to see. From parts of Bellary Road to long stretches of Old Madras Road, darkness has engulfed every arterial road. Despite spending close to Rs 12 lakh every month on electricity bills and a whopping Rs 40 crore on maintenance, the BBMP has evidently failed to address the problems of the citizens.

“Each day when I take the BDA flyover, I am amazed by the fact that there is very little effort in maintaining the streetlights. On most occasions, streetlights along the entire stretch between the flyover and Cauvery theatre junction are switched off,” points out Dhiraj Kumar Bhandary, a commuter.

The Palike says its efforts to innovate and improvise on maintenance of streetlights are being thwarted by the BBMP contractors’ lobby. “We tried every trick in the book to ensure that the maintenance of streetlights is mechanised and centralised. But the current ad hoc system prevails thanks to the contractors’ lobby,” explains an officer.

The biggest worry for these contractors has been the proposed mechanisation and centralised structure of streetlights. “If these are introduced, then most small-time contractors will not be able to bid for packages,” says the officer. There are as many as 44 packages for the electrical contracts within the BBMP jurisdiction.

Consider, for instance, the BBMP proposal for a project to provide ‘streetlights with energy-saving mechanisms by having a timer control.’ The contractors’ lobby reportedly thwarted it successfully for two years.

In the Palike budget for 2011-12, Rs three crore was allocated for the project. Yet, the BBMP could not spend a single rupee. As much as Rs 2.5 crore has been considered as spillover for the year 2012-13, with another Rs one crore as current expenditure for the year.

Considering the enormous growth of the City and the amount required for maintaining streetlights, the BBMP has decided to move ahead with better lighting systems. A ray of hope has been ignited with the Palike introducing a mandatory clause of installing light-emitting diode (LED) lights instead of the conventional sodium vapour lights in every street under the new tenders which have been issued after three years. “Sodium vapour lamps burn out fast. LED lights last long and their maintenance cost is low,” an officer pointed out.

The BBMP proposed in its 2010-11 budget to introduce LED lights in two wards in the City on a pilot basis.BBMP Commissioner Rajneesh Goel says the new tenders, which have already been finalised, will cut the maintenance cost by 40 per cent. “We are looking at a better and efficient way of maintaining streetlights at a lesser cost,” he says.

But is the Palike also looking at increasing the number of streetlights within the BBMP jurisdiction? Goel says it depends on the individual corporators to propose any project that involves illuminating streets in their wards.

Until that happens, accidents - fatal and non-fatal - will continue to happen, besides crime. Police say as road-users do not spot traffic sign boards on dark roads, they tend to head straight to accident-prone obstacles such as unscientific humps. Many of these humps are constructed with no regard for the standards set by the Indian Road Congress. It is on such dark stretches that nearly 60 per cent of accident-related deaths and injuries occur, say the police. With rains, the hazards only increase as the quality of roads deteriorates further.

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