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Higher cost fails to curb digging

Since January,when the Pune Municipal Corporation raised the road digging charges per kilometre from Rs 19 lakh to Rs 44 lakh,many utilities have made clear their unwillingness to pay these rates.

Written by Ajay Khape | Pune |
May 16, 2009 12:00:11 am

Since January,when the Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) raised the road digging charges per kilometre from Rs 19 lakh to Rs 44 lakh,many utilities have made clear their unwillingness to pay these rates. Yet,there is hardly any let-up in digging.

Though only the first three months of the calendar with the new rates were considered,the last fiscal saw the PMC’s revenue from road digging fees actually rise — to Rs 9 crore from Rs 8.75 crore the previous year.

The PMC has been collecting around Rs 8 crore a year from companies for digging roads. The charges were increased to discourage unnecessary digging. “The increased charges have decreased the number of applications seeking permission for digging roads,but the revenue has not dropped. It was Rs 9 crore in 2008-09 and Rs 8.75 crore in 2007-08,” said additional city engineer (roads),Vivek Kharwadkar.

The civic administration’s decision to more than double the rates seems to have led to illegal digging and the PMC has been clearly caught off guard. “There have been complaints about illegal digging of roads being carried out across the city. In fact,we have filed police complaints against two contractors for digging up roads without permission”,he said.

Public sector utilities like BSNL have made it clear they are in no position to shell out Rs 44 lakh per km and hence limited their digging work to only maintenance and not fresh laying of cables. According the PMC,it is private companies that have emerged the main diggers,a few by paying this astronomical amount and many more by working around the system.

As per rules,public sector utilities such as BSNL and MSEDCL seek permission directly from the PMC for digging roads; in the case of private sector telephone companies,it is contractors appointed for the work who seek such permission.

The PMC is of the view that punitive action is the best way to check illegal digging; a mere fine will not work. The PMC has set up a squad for monitoring city roads in coordination with the respective ward offices,Kharwadkar said.

However,the PMC sees no merit in getting roads reconstructed by companies that currently pay a certain amount in lieu of covering the dug-up portion. The reason cited for this is that “specifications and quality of the road have to be maintained”.

Not many are willing to buy this argument,given the PMC’s record of doing shoddy road repairs for years on end. “The PMC follows no proper specification while building and repairing city roads and hence there is no quality to speak of. Roads are uneven,with very little alignment and the PMC keeps repairing the very same stretches many times over throughout year across the city,” said Amit Kadam of Better Roads Group.

According to Vivek Velankar of Sajag Nagrik Manch,the civic administration has been unable to keep a check on digging of roads by various service providing companies. “The increased charges have led to private contractors illegally digging the roads by joining hands with local corporators,” Velankar said.

The PMC seems oblivious to all this criticism and is making a showpiece out of the month-long non-digging window that has been put in place,starting today.

“The civic administration has made it clear to all telephone and electricity supplying companies that permission will not be given for digging roads for any development work in the next one month. A decision regarding permission for any emergency repair and maintenance of cables will be made after looking into the matter,” said Kharwadkar.

The PMC will take a decision whether to extend the no-digging season by June 15 depending on the intensity of the monsoon.

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