All of us may have cribbed about the poor condition of roads in Bengaluru at some point or the other, but one man decided to stop complaining and actually do something.
Prathaap Bhimasena Rao, a former pilot, had heard of plenty of cases of people dying or getting injured in accidents on the city's roads. But it was the tragic death of a friend’s daughter in a pothole accident in Bengaluru two years ago that pushed him to act.
Prathaap started the PotHoleRaja initiative through his company Ground Reality Enterprise not just to fix potholes, but to also increase public participation in managing the city.
Now, nearly one-and-a-half years later, Prathaap claims to have filled over 300 potholes in the city.
"People blame the government, or the BBMP or road authorities for the poor condition of roads. They crib saying we pay taxes. But hardly anyone does anything to solve the issue," he says.
Pothole fixing in Whitefield
Prathaap had started the initiative by building a mobile application that would ask people to click a picture of a pothole and upload it with the location.
While identification is key, he soon realised that there were a few other sites that served a similar purpose. "These functioned as platforms where people could mention their complaints. They were more like grievance platforms. But no one was actually solving any problem here," he says.
Eco-friendly, less labour intensive techniques
The next step was to come up with a technique to fix potholes that would be quick, eco-friendly and would not be manpower intensive.
Prathaap begun research on the different kinds of initiatives taken around the world to make roads safer, focusing on public-private partnership. He also wanted to start by busting "a basic myth" that road work is solely the government's responsibility.
After proper assessment, he zeroed in on using cold asphalt. Cold asphalt, unlike the regular one, does not need to be heated, explains Prathaap. "You don't need large machines or too many workers. It is more eco-friendly. You don't need to patch up the entire road to fill up one pothole and block traffic. It is less expensive. And it can also be stored for several months."
PotHoleRaja had started out with a focus on private roads. "Initially, the most of the support came from private groups. These include IT parks, educational institutions, hospital campuses and large gated communities who wanted potholes in their campuses fixed since those do not come under the BBMP's responsibility. 20% of roads in the city are private roads and the repairs are also funded by them," he notes.
After the initiative was highlighted in the media, public interest in the project grew and PotHoleMan started fixing public roads too.
"People started calling saying they would like to contribute their time. Some wanted to send their children. Private companies also picked it up for team engagement activities where they collect the funds and fix potholes in and around their campuses," Prathaap says.
Filling a pothole of 1 sqmt/50 mm depth costs Rs 2,500 and it comes with a six months warranty. Currently, while private groups fund their repairs, the ones on public roads are done through CSR funding or volunteer donations.
Pothole fixing on Bannerghatta Road
Prathaap says they also wanted to help more people through the initiative, especially those from disadvantaged communities, and that most of their repair work till now has been done by men and transgender persons.
"I want to do whatever is within my scope to influence a few people who can come along and take this up. What I have noticed is that you can afford to buy a Rs 1 crore car but you won't spend Rs 1,000 for the very road that you will drive the car on. I have to break that kind of mentality," he says.
But shouldn't the government also be held responsible for its shortcomings? "I am sure they have their own restraints and we want to see if we can be an additional support to the government. I am not pointing fingers here and it has nothing to do with competing with them," he states.
For now, Prathaap is working with labs and is in talks with academicians to develop DIY kits that citizens can use easily to fix small potholes.
"We are checking to see if individuals can fill a pothole by themselves. They can spot potholes near their office or house and can then use the kit to fill them," he says.
People who spot potholes can WhatsApp them a picture along with the location on 814 POTHOLE (+918147684653).