Civic Issues
There are alternatives that the GHMC has considered that might increase the longevity of the roads, but no action has been taken yet.
File photo

Hyderabad witnessed heavy rainfall this week, clocking 114 mm on August 26 alone, which left the city with a rain surplus of 16%.

However, as the rains receded, the water also took large chunks of the road that it had inundated along with it.

Over the past few days, commuters in the city have been faced with the familiar sight of pothole-ridden stretches that make riding and driving in the city a nightmare.

The roads most affected by the rain were Bituminous (BT) or 'blacktop' roads, which begs the question, isn't there a better alternative? 

BT or CC?

One of the most common suggestions is the Cement Concrete (CC) roads, which also has the approval of the Indian Road Congress (IRC), an apex body of engineers that works towards better roads in India.

"CC roads are much better than BT roads. There is no doubt about it. Once a CC road is laid, there is no need of maintenance for at least the next 20-25 years. On the other hand, blacktop roads need mandatory maintenance every year, and get washed away. Nowadays, with global warming in the summer, the roads are melting too," says Dr L H Rao, a Hyderabad-based civil engineer. 

"In the earlier days, CC was 1.6 times more costly than BT. However, today the cost is almost equal. The only disadvantage is that a CC road requires a time of one week to settle, which will result in traffic diversion. It is a temporary inconvenience to commuters, but it would provide long-term relief," he adds. 

Rao says that there is technology available to make the cement set even quicker without compromising on quality.

"The government should convert all roads in the city to CC roads, one road at a time. It will not only save time but also a large amount of money spent on repairs," Rao adds.

Meanwhile, others suggest a slightly different approach. 

Suresh Raju, from the Vaada Foundation, says that both CC and BT roads have their pros and cons, which depends on parameters like usage of the road and the traffic load that it expects. 

However, he too agrees, that massive change is required.

"For example, take the Outer Ring Road (ORR). It has been several years, but no re-carpeting has been necessary, barring some minor maintenance. Such roads are built by large contractors like GMR or GVK. On the other hand, city roads are managed by small scale contractors," Suresh points out. 

"These contractors violate several guidelines laid down by the IRC. When a new road is being laid, one of the first things to do is to scrape the old layer off, because that section of the road has become weak, Instead, they just add layer after layer, which eventually only ends up making the newly-laid road weaker,” says Suresh.

He suggests interlocking tiles as an alternative to BT or CC roads.

"They have tried it in a few places in Hyderabad, especially where the metro stations are coming up, and it has had good results. It can be done overnight, and the road can be thrown open by the morning. There is no need for concrete work. The road has to be levelled, and you lock the tiles manually," he says. 

"The maintenance is also cheap and repair is easy. You just remove the tile needed, resolve the problem, and fit it right back," he adds.

Suresh also points out that bad roads are taking a toll on vehicles, as people spend more on repairing the suspension and tyres while also burning more fuel. Additionally, the risky roads could also take people's lives. 

"If we are able to build an ORR and maintain it, we should be able to do it inside the city too. Make the contractors legally responsible for at least five years after laying the road, and the quality will automatically get better," Suresh suggests. 

Meanwhile, the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC) states that it is actively considering 'white-topping' of roads.

"White-topping will be superior in quality to a CC road. Heavy duty machinery will be present that will do the compacting and levelling while laying the road itself. Additionally, within 3-4 days, the road can be re-opened to commuters," says Mohammed Ziauddin, GHMC Chief Engineer (Maintenance). 

"Since the equipment is costly, the GHMC has given the project to a contractor who possesses the machine," he added.

However, this is not the first time that the state has said that it would take up ‘white-topping’ on a large scale. In 2015, Telangana Municipal Administration and Urban Development (MAUD) Minister KT Rama Rao promised to convert all BT roads in the state to CC roads, but the plan is yet to take off.

Better planning

While experts agree that CC roads and 'white-topping' are better than BT roads, there are also several other problems to be addressed.

"We have to use the correct grading, mixture and depths. We are doing a 'jugaad' job most of the time. There is no plan to drain rainwater at all. The IRC guidelines should be the bible for builders, but that has been shelved and they do not follow it," says Malcolm Wolfe, the president of Roadkraft, an NGO that works on road safety.

Malcolm feels that this happens presumably because the IRC guidelines are stringent and cost more money.

"The roads have to be built for the needs, convenience and understanding of the driver. Whereas, the people building the roads just blacktop the road from point A to point B. There are no lines, no lanes and very little guidance for the public," Malcolm says.

"Even when they lay a new road, they dump rubble on the sides, blocking half a lane with rubbish. They have to ensure that they make the roads usable for two-wheelers, four-wheelers, and pedestrians. Once that happens, hold the commuters responsible for road safety," he adds. 

When asked about the potholes in the city, Ziauddin says, "Main roads are mostly pot-hole free now. After the heavy rains on August 26, we received around 1,900 complaints of potholes and we have addressed 1,200 of those. The remaining 700 will also be resolved within a day or two." 

Saying that most of the problems were with by-lanes or interior roads, the GHMC official said, "Internal roads are harder to manage during the rainy season because people will be letting out water on the road in many residential areas. Everything that overflows in residential areas during the rains overflows on the road."

"We are lagging behind where internal roads are concerned, but we have a big plan in place after the monsoon. The Municipal Administration and Urban Development (MAUD) Minister, KT Rama Rao, has also given us the task of maintaining road history so that we record when a road was laid and when it is due for maintenance. This will greatly help in ensuring longevity", Ziauddin added.