Roads to Hell: The crumbling state of roads in India

Traffic is a synonym of Mumbai. Coupled with narrow roads and the potholes, which now I am beginning to believe are a part of an idea to help people save a trip to the moon or perhaps Mars.

What is it about the financial capital of India that the basic infrastructure of roads is in such a state? And if this is the state of roads in the so-called ‘best urban centre in the country’ I can’t even begin to imagine the state of roads in other parts.

The blood-boil is coupled by the fact that the moment you step out of the cities and hit the highways the roads are butter-smooth, although still dangerous. Our roads are such beautiful pieces of gems that they deserve to awarded the ‘best imitation of the moon’s surface’. And the irony that the minister for road transport and highways is Mr ‘Oscar’ Fernandes is just not a coincidence.

Just for the sake of the tone of this column, I decided to check the website of this ministry. Describing itself, the ministry states, “An apex organisation under the Central Government, is entrusted with the task of formulating and administering, in consultation with other Central Ministries/Departments, State Governments/UT Administrations, organisations and individuals, policies for Road Transport, National Highways and Transport Research with a view to increasing the mobility and efficiency of the road transport system in the country. e Ministry has two wings: Roads wing and Transport wing.”

Nowhere the epitaph speaks about the basic task of building roads. Unless the government believes that our roads are already built and are in order. Just like how the government has brought down poverty in India to 22 per cent by formulating an ingenious policy of lowering the Below Poverty Line (BPL).

Also, read the last sentence of ministry’s self-description closely. The first word is ‘e’. I believe they wanted to write ‘The’ but ‘Th’ must have fallen in the depth of the potholed roads.

Now let’s read what the “Road Wing’ of the ministry actually states as its objectives: ‘Deals with development and maintenance of National Highway in the country.’ The road to development manoeuvres through the highways, touches the cities, misses it till it catches the next highway. After all, India lives on the highways. Cities and villages are too hipsterisque.

The main responsibilities of the ministry again begin with the importance given the national highways through planning, development and their maintenance. By now I am hoping the government should also form a ministry to look into a direct helicopter services from cities to these highways because clearly those are only roads the government is interested in.

The second and the only point that talks anything about the roads that makes our insurance premiums payments cry, it says, “Extends technical and financial support to State Governments for the development of state roads and the roads of inter-state connectivity and economic importance.” If the conditions of our city roads are anything to go by, then NASA should contract the Indian government to supply the technology to recreate the moon and its craters on Earth.

As you can read in this  article of 2010, Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh outlined the spending on India’s infrastructure to the tune of $1 trillion in the 12th five year plan currently underway.

In the current and the second year of this five year plan, Singh finalised a spending of Rs 1,15,000 crore on the infrastructure sector, or roughly one-fourth of the total target of $1 trillion in these five years.

However, the impetus, as you can see, is not on the roads sector.

The road ministry had set an ambitious target of building 20 km of roads a day in 2009. However, in 2011-12 the average road construction, as this  story suggests, was just half of it.In 2012-13, the road ministry failed to even meet the half way mark of 4400 km in awarding road projects.

Even in the current fiscal, the bickering between the ministry and the National Highway Authority of India (NHAI) continues on the model that the government should adopt to award the road projects. As per this story, a ministry official commented, “Just because PPP projects have not taken off in the recent past doesn’t mean we junk the model and switch over to cash-contracts. We need to innovate and try all options before taking such a step.”

This indicates, if nothing else, continued delays in the road construction in India. And if this is what is happening to the government’s blue-eyed highways which are just a tiny fraction of India’s vast road network, us city dwellers and village folk can continue to save our amusement park money by enjoying the bumpy ride every day.
 
(Shubhashish is a journalist who is now pursuing Masters in International Studies and Diplomacy in London. Email: shubhashish@msn.com)

 

This column originally appeared in DNA on October 12, 2013. 

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