Financial Daily from THE HINDU group of publications
Friday, Jul 19, 2002
Logistics - Roadways
Columns - Slowburn
Timeri N. Murari
A FRIEND said to me the other day: "Why don't you write about the Chennai roads? They are worse than cart tracks. Our Chief Minister talks a lot about infrastructure but does nothing about it. Just look at the Bangalore and
I did point out it was a waste of time writing about Chennai roads as others have also written, photographed and done everything else short of re-laying the roads themselves. He jumped on that one to say: "Remember the Bangalore-Hosur road some years ago was so bad that local industrialists got together and paid to re-lay that road. That shamed the Karnataka government into improving their roads."
So, I went to visit the Road Expert in Rippon Buildings. He is a small, old babu tucked away in a musty dungeon, surrounded by road maps of the city.
I got straight to the point. "So why are the roads so bad?"
"What roads are bad?" he countered indignantly. "Drive along the road from Poes Garden to the Secretariat. You will see how excellent Chennai roads are. Smooth as an American highway without even a road cut."
"But if you turn off any of those roads you hit cart tracks."
"Why would you want to turn off?" he asked. "No one turns off those beautiful roads. You should stay on them all the way."
"They only run between Poes Garden and the Fort. Not everybody wants to go in either direction. I mean some of them live in Anna Nagar or Adyar or Kodambakkam."
"Well, that is their fault," he snapped. "They should not live in those areas if they want to drive on good roads. They should move to a good road area."
"Anna Salai is a good road, excellent road," he said proudly. "Admittedly, it is maintained by Highways Department but still it is within Chennai."
"Any others, this is to help people move you know? They are fed up of broken shocks, cracked springs, loosened teeth, shattered spines driving along your Chennai roads."
"We are passing the buck," he said proudly again. "That is what we in Chennai are excellent at. So we are passing the buck to the Highways Department to maintain a few other roads. In this way, you will not blame the Corporation for
those bad roads under their care. We cannot give them too many," he added quickly. "How else can we get kickback money if all our roads are given away? We have to keep a few for ourselves. Roads are big bucks to certain political people. The worse a road gets the more they make from repairing it."
"No one has repaired a road for years," I protested.
"Now you see what I mean?" he shuffled through his files and pulled out an accounts book. "See, we have spent Rs 30 crore last year on road repairs in Chennai in order to keep them in exactly the same condition before we spent the Rs 30 crores. There is an art in that which is why I am the road expert. No one can repair a road more invisibly than me and my department."
"Every time a road is damaged you people blame the private company laying cables."
"Definitely, someone has to be blamed so we blame them. They dig their trenches and then just leave them for our citizens to fall into."
"I thought your department was meant to repair them. After all, the cable company claims they pay for the road repairs."
"Of course they pay us," he said indignantly. "Otherwise no permission is granted." He opened the account book. "See, received payment from Cable Company for repairs."
"So how come they are not repaired?"
"Your eyesight is bad. They are all repaired. We fill in the mud, do we not? That is where all the money goes buying mud and more mud to fill in trenches and holes. Mud is very expensive nowadays."
"What about iron stones, tar and all the rest like road rollers?"
"These Chennaites do not know the difference between a tarred road and a mud road," he laughed.
"They are just happy to see even a lane because they live in such difficult places in the city. They do not whine and make a big fuss about their roads like the people in Bangalore and Hyderabad."
"Now a final suggestion. Suppose, say, on Haddows Road which has a number of banks and other companies all these private concerns got together and chipped into rebuild and maintain Haddows Road. Would that be acceptable?"
He was astonished. "Privatising a city road? Impossible. You have to look at the ramifications of this suggestion.
"If private companies and people maintain their own roads, how do we all get our kickbacks, you tell me.
"Our political leaders would starve to death; we in the Corporation would starve to death. We depend on our luxurious life styles on the contractors who build our roads, and they would be forced to build good roads, so they will not get money annually to repair the roads. No, it is a terrible idea.
"Now please leave. I have many roads to repair."
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