The BBMP project to lay concrete roads---‘white-topping’ in official parlance---has turned into a never-ending nightmare for citizens.
The 11-month deadline to complete two packages, at a cost of Rs 986.64-crore, lapsed in July, and only about 15 per cent of the work is done.
No end is in sight either, with the BBMP blaming the police for the delay, and the police saying the BBMP is blind to the city’s traffic problems. Deputy Chief Minister Dr G Parameshwara, meanwhile, says the government is negotiating rates with the contractor, and more roads will get the concrete treatment.
Vijayalakshmi, 90, is just one of the many victims of the government’s callousness towards citizen interests. The concrete road in front of her house is almost a foot higher than the existing road and makes it impossible for her even to step out for a stroll.
Last year, the BBMP decided to lay concrete roads on 29 stretches. The justification was that existing roads developed potholes easily, and concrete would fix the problem. Experts say the merits are exaggerated; and concrete roads---at Rs 10.44 crore a km in the present contract---are at least five times as expensive as asphalt roads.
Last year, with K J George of the Congress holding the Bengaluru development portfolio, the BBMP called for tenders and assigned the job to Madhucon Projects, a Hyderabad company.
The project is complicated as road projects go, with sites staggered across the city, but Kamma Srinivasa Rao of Madhucon asked no questions during the pre-bid meeting. He got the contract for two of three packages, the third going to NCC, also from Hyderabad.
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Work began, as specified in the contract, in August 2017. The project was to be completed by July this year. But what you see today, a good four months after the deadline lapsed, is ugly, dug-up stretches everywhere. The project is far from complete, and no one has a clue when it will be done either.
“Only eight roads are done,” admits KT Nagaraj, chief engineer, projects (central), BBMP. “The project was delayed because we could not find alternative roads to divert traffic, and also because of the election code of conduct.”
Both are dubious reasons: everyone knew Assembly elections were coming up, and the problem of alternative roads did not crop up suddenly out of nowhere. In other words, the BBMP went ahead with the project with the full knowledge that it would be delayed way beyond July 2018.
Public projects such as this one are usually given out with a penalty clause: the contractor pays if work is not done in time. But this contractor will get away, because, as Nagaraj says, “the deadline was missed due to departmental reasons.”
Citizens, meanwhile, are outraged at what has become of perfectly good roads.
The traffic jams have worsened, walking on the footpaths has become impossible, and motorists, especially two-wheeler riders, risk life and limb when they go anywhere near these sites. People living along the ‘white-top’ roads face daily inconvenience in a number of ways.
The BBMP claims it is saving citizens money by going in for concrete roads. “White-topping roads last 20 to 30 years and do not require any major maintenance. India spends nearly 70 per cent of its road sector budget only on maintenance of bituminous roads, which is a waste of taxpayers’ money,” says Nagaraj.
He says the project was taken up on the basis of a study by the Central Road Research Institute, Delhi. “We also studied similar projects in Pune, Chennai, Hyderabad and Mumbai,” he says.
Not everyone is convinced. The design is clearly flawed, says Saveri Rajai, well-known architect.
“The roads are a thick slab, about 20 cm higher than existing roads and footpaths, and block the shoulder drains. This is an invitation to water-logging and sewage blocks,” Saveri says.
A team of DH reporters visited Basavangudi and found ample evidence of the problems Saveri warns about.
‘White-topping’ isn’t helping a city grappling with monstrous traffic. Mysuru Road, already a busy and often choked stretch, is now beset with longer delays.
At the Satellite Bus Stand, the hub for all KSRTC buses plying towards Mysuru, people now spend longer hours idling in acrid smoke.
Ninety-year-old Vijayalakshmi has been a resident of Basavanagudi for as long as she can remember.
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She is now confined to her house because the concrete road that the contractor has built in front of her house is too high for her.
The otherwise normal road, along Krishna Rao Park, took on an abnormal height after white-topping began. Like at other places, no one has a clue when the work will be completed.
Dr Vikram Kashyap, retired neurosurgeon and her son, explains the ordeal: “If I have to take her out, I put a few stones near the road to make a sort of rough incline and then take out the car. There are so many roads with potholes in Bengaluru but Madhav Rao Circle was one of the good stretches.”
Problems have multiplied: citizens can’t take their vehicles out because of the mess the BBMP has created in one of Bengaluru’s best-planned, pre-Independence neighbourhoods.
Residents, motorists, traders and hawkers---practically everyone who uses the stretch that connects Basavanagudi to the rest of the city---tell you the concrete roads project has destroyed stretches that were in top condition.
“Now it is a financial and civic nightmare,” Dr Kashyap says. “The monumental incompetence of the people behind this exercise is to be seen to be believed.”
Another development that infuriates people is that the height of the concrete road causes flooding.
“Every time it rains, all the rubbish from the road flows into our house. During dry weather, the wind blows rubbish into these places which have turned into veritable ditches,” Dr Kashyap says.
With construction debris everywhere, walking on the road is not safe anymore. Dr Kashyap is afraid the hazards could kill.
“Could these people not have thought of these things? I feel there are more tragedies waiting to happen,” he observes.
Shops and establishments in the area say their business has come down by half. Kaushik Gopal and Chikke Gowda, employees SRS petrol bunk, vouch for it.
“Earlier, we used to have many customers come in on their way to work. Now, this road has been rendered one-way and so they skip coming here altogether,” says Kaushik Gopal, manager of the large fuel station.
Water from the concrete road flows in even there. “Traffic jams were unheard of on this road and now they are a permanent feature,” says Chikke Gowda. Dr Kashyap is livid at how citizens’ interests are sacrificed by vested interests. “This is not just an abdication of responsibility but conspiracy and collusion between politicians, bureaucrats and almost every single institution. I have seen an elderly citizen who was trying to park on the side of the road. His car got stuck in the gap between the road and the footpath and he had a very tough time getting it out,” he says.
Giving staggered permission: Traffic police chief
The traffic police had rejected permission for the BBMP to lay concrete roads, but after Additional Commissioner of Police (traffic) P Harishekaran took charge, he has given the green signal for work on five roads.
“I have given permission for work on 300 metres every day,” he told DH.
The BBMP never finishes work within the stipulated time, and ends up compounding traffic woes, police complain.
In August 2018, the Karnataka chief secretary intervened and got the BBMP and the police to the negotiating table.
The main reason for the police to reject permission is the lack of alternative roads. A police officer said, “The BBMP must show alternative routes, but they fail to show any.”
The BBMP says important stretches have no alternative roads, but the question remains: ‘Why didn’t it think of this problem before giving out the contracts?’
KT Nagaraj, chief engineer, projects (central), BBMP, says, “Diverting traffic in a city like Bengaluru is not possible. There are no alternative roads, for instance, to Mysuru Road.”
The traffic police had also written to the BBMP to even out the edges of concrete roads; they are a safety hazard, especially for two-wheeler riders.
“We are filling the edges and placing concrete blocks to prevent accidents,” Nagaraj says, but the DH team did not find evidence of any of it at many locations.
The BBMP has given contracts to Madhucon Projects, a Hyderabad company, to lay concrete roads on 94.5 km in Bengaluru. The deadline lapsed four months ago, but only about 15 per cent of the work is done.