LAST YEAR, just days before the visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the Mumbai Police Traffic department worked itself into a state of panic over some unpainted pedestrian crossings on the Western Express Highway. Six letters to the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) regarding the urgency of the matter had gone unanswered. A day before the visit, it took a phone call from a senior police official to an IAS officer in the BMC for zebra crossings to be painted in time.
Poor upkeep of city roads, the responsibility of various government agencies, including the MMRDA, MSRDC, PWD, but most importantly the BMC, contributes significantly to traffic pile-ups across Mumbai. Personnel manning traffic police stations and busy junctions reiterate that while very serious concerns are resolved by senior officials making calls to senior officials, smaller and more local issues are on very low priority for the civic body.
During the monsoon of 2017, traffic department officials recall spending all night on August 29 pumping water from under the King’s Circle bridge. The city recorded its fiercest showers of the year that day, and large portions of the area were under several feet of water. “We spent all night pumping out water even as it rose to more than four feet. But there was nowhere for the water to drain away,” a traffic official posted in central Mumbai recalls.
With a 30-year-old lawyer losing his life in that deluge, unable to open the doors of his car and eventually suffocating to death, the police wrote several letters to the BMC to raise the height of the roads in the low-lying Sion area. “The answer we received from the BMC was that they do not have funds to carry out the work. Now, the monsoon is nearing, and the area is bound to flood once more,” the official added.
The police claim they are now left with little choice but to ring up the BMC’s Disaster Management Control Room to register complaints. “After complaining to the control room, we dispatch a letter to the BMC. Sometimes, they run out of material, which is understandable. But sometimes they are too lazy to come and repair these potholes,” said an officer.
Like common citizens, traffic police personnel have resorted to taking pictures of potholes and texting them directly to civic officials. “Sending pictures of potholes via WhatsApp gets the work done a lot quicker then writing letters these days,” said a senior traffic police official.
On an everyday basis, it is the state of the city’s roads during the summer, when the civic body sanctions road works, that has the police scrambling. “There seems to be no common sense applied when digging up a stretch of road for utilities,” claimed a senior police official. Contractors who are awarded tenders to carry out roadworks and other repairs can only begin work after receiving a go-ahead from the traffic police. “We inspect their plans, how much area the work will occupy and how it will affect vehicular movement before issuing a no-objection certificate. Blocking even a single lane can result in massive jams,” the official added.
He added, however, that there are times when the civic body simply assumes that it has been granted permission to carry out a project. “Because it is a government body, the BMC assumes that it doesn’t require an NOC from traffic,” he said.
The BMC refutes allegations that poor road maintenance is a major cause for traffic congestion. Vinod Chitore, Chief Engineer (Roads) of the BMC, said, “Whenever we receive a complaint from the police or general people there is a mechanism to take care of it. There is a time limit of 48 hours in which the problem has to be resolved. There are engineers at the ward level who attend to these problems. I don’t think there is any delay on our part.”
A spokesperson for the MMRDA said that issues flagged by the police are resolved swiftly. “With regards to the Metro, which is our largest project underway currently, all permissions were taken from the police before beginning work. Our priority has always been to not cause inconvenience to commuters. Our response to the police has always been prompt.”
On the arterial LBS Marg in the eastern suburbs, in the absence of any signages, cars and trucks are parked, sometimes double-parked, along long stretches despite it being a no-parking zone. “Whenever we charge fines to these illegally parked vehicles, their owners claim there are no signboards on the road,” said a traffic police official posted in Kurla.
In a bid to cut down on illegal parking, the BMC is currently widening the pavement to 12 feet. “The ongoing work has decreased the width of the road even further. People continue to park on the road and traffic jams are worsening,” the official added. The situation is similar on the Jogeshwari Vikhroli Link Road, where commuters are unaware that they are prohibited from stopping in the absence of signboards.
The state of the New Link Road in the northern suburbs leads regular commuters to seek out detours instead of risking a drive through risky territory. “On the new link road, certain stretches have paver blocks that have come out of their grids. Drains have been cleaned and the dirt stored in mounds on the road. I prefer taking the back road, which at least helps me avoid spots plagued with perpetual traffic,” said Allwin D’Silva (31), a Borivali resident. Tomorrow: The worst stretches of the financial capital.
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