Residents in Hyderabad are heaving a big sigh of relief as several roads in the city were recently repaired, following months of public wrangling over the issue. But almost as soon as the problem was fixed, the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC) has already cleared proposals to dig up thousands of kilometres of road.
The GHMC has officially given permission to authorities to dig up 3,572 km of road across the twin cities of Hyderabad and Secunderabad in the next few months.
Elaborating on the permissions, GHMC Commissioner Janardhan Reddy called the digging 'unavoidable', as all the projects involved important infrastructure works.
Out of the 3,572 kms, Reddy stated that 2,700 km will be dug up by the water board to lay pipelines, while 588 km will be dug up by Reliance to lay optic fibre cables.
Another 84 km will go for power lines, while 40 km will be used by L&T for CCTV cameras under the 'Smart City Project'. BSNL will dig up around 18 km for telephone cables.
Hyderabad has been plagued with bad roads ever since heavy rains lashed the city in September last year, leaving many roads crumbling and several stretches ridden with potholes.
The rains effectively exposed the bad and aging shape of the city’s roads and public spaces.
The ongoing work for the Hyderabad Metro Rail is not of much help either. Many roads have been narrowed down and cordoned off for construction.
Following severe criticism from people on social media, the GHMC sanctioned Rs 75 crore to repair roads in areas like Banjara Hills, Jubilee Hills, Madhapur, Punjagutta and parts of Secunderabad late last year.
However, roads in those very same areas are expected to be dug up again.
There is also the problem of road cave-ins in the city.
In December a road caved-in on the busy Sarojini Devi Road opposite Kamat Hotel, making it the fourth such incident over the last few months.
The cave-ins have mainly occurred due to sub-standard restoration work when relaying roads, after the HMWSSB completes its pipeline laying.
With another 2,500 kms of road being dug up for pipelines, urban planners are worried. However, they say that the work can be carried out without problems, if proper planning is undertaken.
"If the digging is absolutely necessary, then they have to ensure that they do it right. They need to have a detailed master plan for the project. Even before they start digging, they should know exactly what they want and have their plan laid out. Everything from the design to the repair, and then the restoration, has to be done strictly adhering to the original plan," says Vedakumar Manikonda, an urban planner and President, Forum For A Better Hyderabad.
"There has to be a long term plan. They should ensure that they don't have to dig again for decades, except in special situations where maintenance is needed," he adds.
While Vedakumar feels that the digging for cables and power lines is justified, he disagrees with the digging for the pipelines.
"Hyderabad's drainage system is old and archaic. If we are planning to replace the pipes, then we have to ensure that we do it properly, so that several generations don't have to dig it up again. Even whatever road widening works need to be done, should be finished now, complete with road markings, accessible footpaths for pedestrians, a 'slow lane' for cyclists etc," he says.
If this is not done, and only a perfunctory patch up job done on roads that have been dug, the next rainy season will once again make things worse, and all the work will just be more of a waste of time and money, he adds.
The GHMC has assured the public that the digging work will be taken up on a priority basis, and have asked engineers to complete it by May 31, so that the roads can be relaid before the monsoon.
“Before permission is granted for digging works by the GHMC, tenders for road restoration have to be finalised by the engineering wing and the dug up roads have to be recarpeted immediately,” Janardhan Reddy was quoted as saying.
The corporation is also considering 'white topping' roads, that is, laying an extra blanket of Portland cement concrete on existing asphalt roads.
After experimenting with it in Banjara Hills, the GHMC is reportedly considering relaying many roads with this method as it is cheaper and easier to maintain, while also being more durable during monsoons.