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Come on, let us all dig ditches together!

  By Vijay Darda | 26-10-2016

Only a few years ago an anecdotal joke was in circulation. The driver of a car while being on the road suddenly encounters a notice board. Written on it is the message, “Please use the main road, the repair work of the diversion road is in progress. Thank you”!

Today this joke has become a reality. Go anywhere in Maharashtra and you will realize the truth of this statement. Modes of transport have become very important in the modern world and they have gained paramount importance in the fast paced world we live in today and roads are considered as one of the most important aspects of facilitating transportation. Is the government or local self-government doing nothing to build a network of roads? They do indeed, but how? As per statistics released by the Union surface transport minister Nitin Gadkari, government has decided to build at least 42 km roads every day, but only 21 km roads are actually being built.

 If you consider the case of Maharashtra, the state has made provision of Rs 350 crores in this year’s budget for Gram Sadak Yojana and the next year the provision will go up to Rs 1,000 crore. It is about planning. Considering the present state, there are 18 national highways in Maharashtra. There are 130 state highways which are ready and 63 are incomplete. After taking all this into account, we can safely say that there are 33,705 kilometers of useful roads in the state today! Reading this statistics anyone will feel that at least in terms of roads, Maharashtra has become self-sufficient. 

But is the situation really like it? It is one thing to have roads and quite different to have useful roads. Since agriculture is the economic backbone of the state and the country, many plans were announced to link rural talukas with district headquarters. Even the present CM has announced such plans but the tale of woes does not stop and the farmers continue to suffer.

The road is not the only means of traffic but the highway of any country’s prosperity. Today, America is most prosperous because that country’s roads are good. A former president of America had announced that after election, he will only build roads. Are India’s roads given that much importance? Once former President APJ Abdul Kalam had asked me whether this region has roads which are workable all the twelve months of the year. I was nonplussed.

National Highway 44 is known as the most important highway in the country because it connects Srinagar directly to Kanyakumari. The editorial team of Lokmat recently inspected the road in two stages. The length of road between Nagpur and Kanyakumari is publicly called ‘Black Butter’! If some parts of Telangana are left out, there are impressive marks of prosperity alongside the highway. But exactly opposite of that is the condition of Nagpur-Srinagar patch of highway. Here you will find heaps of stones bang in the middle of the road. This underlines the importance of good road. Recently, Lokmat had organised a seminar in Mumbai to discuss the state of infrastructure and there I had expressed regret about the poverty of infrastructure.

The condition of roads in the cities is very alarming and it further deteriorates during the rainy season. Upset over the growing potholes in the roads, the citizens of Nagpur had recently rechristened the city as ‘Khaddepur’. But even the condition of the roads in the international metropolis like Mumbai is horrible and the use of this adjective seems gentle! Even light showers are sufficient to cause potholes on the roads, making one wonder whether there are potholes in the road or road in the potholes. When potholes surface, the opposition leaders cry foul and the ruling dispensation mounts counter attack on them. The blame game continues but there is no change in condition of roads. 

Those who travel by vehicles along these bumpy roads suffer lifelong damage to their vertebrae and become victims of interminable back-pain. These potholes deteriorate into small ponds that provide fertile ground for mosquito-breeding that cause the spread of dengue, malaria and other infectious diseases. Again, it is the responsibility of the local government to protect the citizens from the outbreak of diseases. But less said the better about the preparedness of the civic authorities to check the spread of rain borne diseases! The outbreak of rain borne ailments happens every year. There is hue and cry and even the court issues order. The court says that the names of those responsible for the construction of the road should be put up on a board, but this does not happen. It is nobody’s responsibility. 

There is a simple solution. Roads should be built using sophisticated technology as per international standards. But this is not done because if this is done there will be no potholes and no repair work will have to be carried out, and if repairs are not carried out, the pockets of contractors and the officials awarding contracts to them will not be lined. The reason is that there is more money to be made from repairing the road than building a new one. 

According to my information, most of the land on which the roads are built in India is black soil and tar does not easily blend with the black soil. The best way out is to build cement roads. But then again the same question crops up; if the cement roads are built, how often will road repairing contracts be awarded? But the cruelest joke is that while we cannot provide good roads, good health facilities to the citizens and cannot check the growth of the dirty slums, we dream of developing the smart cities of international standard!

In my opinion if the present condition is to be improved at least two things should be done. The machinery that is responsible for the road and dam construction should not be allowed to be headed by the engineer of the same department but its honcho should be from the Indian Administrative Service (IAS), so that corruption could be checked. I have made this suggestion by writing letters to almost all chief ministers of Maharashtra so far. Prithviraj Chavan was ready to do it but the NCP prevented him from doing so. But Devendra Fadnavis has acted on the suggestions.

It has received a lot of enthusiastic response and the authorities concerned have got galvanised into action. Lokmat provided the initial momentum and it was expected that the people should provide the back-up because the media has its own limitations. But this could not happen. Therefore, now I feel like making an appeal, “come on, let’s dig ditches’. If we get response to that we will know to what extent the authorities are sensitised on the issue as all public pleas have fallen on deaf ears to. 

Before I conclude…

The Board of Control for Cricket in India felicitated all the former captains of Indian cricket team when it played its 500th match in Kanpur. The board needs to be congratulated for showing magnanimity by not leaving out Mohammad Azharuddin. This gutsy cricketer was thrown out of cricket team due to the charges of match-fixing but the cricket fans have still not forgotten his unique style of cricket, artistic use of wrist and his leadership.


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Come on, let us all dig ditches together!


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