AFTER a five-part series carried by The Indian Express on pothole-riddled roads and bridges in the city, the commissioner of the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation, Ajoy Mehta, addressed some of the concerns. In an interview with this paper, Mehta discussed the changes introduced to plug loopholes in the existing system of road repairs and the monitoring process.
With the unearthing of the `2,000-crore roads scam, what are the measures the BMC is taking to improve the quality of roads and ensure potholes don’t surface again?
We have revamped the entire vigilance system. The emphasis is that the engineer tasked with getting the road constructed has to be responsible for its quality as well, and cannot push the responsibility on to the third-party auditors. We have also come up with the process of sampling the material.
We are going to profile contractors and engineers. We will maintain a record and will identify the engineers showing poor quality of work. Instead of taking up a shotgun approach, we will adopt a rifle approach and will identify the defaulters based on the history we collect while the project is being completed.
Despite spending crores on the projects, potholes have come up on roads and bridges within a few years of being constructed. They are unable to withstand the rains. Why is this happening across the city?
It is important that the initial quality of the material for any road is good. If the quality is not up to the mark, then the product, regardless of what it is, is bound to be defective. For a good road or bridge, the work has to follow specifications like the depth of digging and has to be done in a manner specified in the tender. The material has to be of the specified quality. The process of the work has to be correct and this time we are ensuring that these three things fall in place.
In two of the roads that we took up as part of our campaign, P D’mello Road and King’s Circle, we found that there is a lack of coordination over the filling of potholes between the roads department and the ward offices. What is the reason behind this gap in communication and how can it be improved?
Yes, there is an issue of coordination between multiple agencies within the corporation working together on this, and I cannot do away with any of them since they are specialised departments. However, to overcome this issue, we have decided to make the deputy municipal commissioners (DMC) responsible. If there is a pothole to which nobody is owning up, the DMC will step in.
There are four agencies involved with road repairs and it is a reality that coordination becomes an issue. The road could be within the defect liability period or the contractor could be starting work after monsoon or the road could be under the bridges department or the ward office. I have thus, issued directions that in such a scenario, the DMC of the zone would be responsible to ensure coordination. He will identify the agency and his decision will be binding in the matter.
For the past week, the BMC has maintained that between 35-40 potholes are left to be filled while in reality, there are hundreds of potholes across the city in need of urgent attention. What is the reason behind such a large difference in the number and how can it be dealt with?
There is no point of getting into the numbers since it doesn’t make sense to do so. A pothole is a pothole and it has to be attended to. I have given clear instructions to the ward officers and road engineers to carry out inspections. If a road is not up to the mark or has potholes, repairs are to be mandatorily carried out.
Given its geographical location, Mumbai receives heavy rainfall every year. However, this year, the condition of the roads has been at its worst in comparison to the past few years and the cold mix used to fill the potholes was washed away in most of the spots. Why were there so many potholes this year and despite being used last year, was the cold mix material not good enough?
The cold mix material needs a dry spell to be allowed to set and effectively repair the pothole. However, this year, the city has received the highest amount of rain — twice the amount last year. The number of days of rain this year was higher as well. Thus, the period available to carry out the repairs was very short. We are now getting a dry spell and are working on it.
The BMC has always maintained that cement concrete roads are less susceptible to potholes. However, during our campaign, many potholes were seen on two concrete roads — P D’mello and Andheri Kurla. What is the reason behind this?
I will reiterate what I said earlier. If your construction on the first day has not been good, then the road will not stand. A bad quality road reflects immediately in the form of potholes. So whether it is a concrete, mastic or asphalt road, if the quality is not good, potholes are bound to come up.
About 80 per cent of the road works, set to begin soon, have been given to contractors who have been implicated in the roads scam. Apart from introducing the new system of improving vigilance of the engineers, what steps are being taken to keep the contractors in check?
The law of the land gives us enough power to punish people who don’t perform correctly. Laws allow us to blacklist, suspend and to file FIRs and we shall use the powers. All we are saying is that, public money has to be used prudently and there is no way around it.
After going through the inquiries, the processes are in place and we have learnt our lessons.
We have relaxed tender conditions that were earlier not conducive to competition and were cornered by a few people. Within a few days, a model tender document will be out, including tightening of registration rules.