We don't need band-aids for fractures

Why I want BBMP to stop fixing Bengalurus potholes
Blog Sunday, October 04, 2015 - 20:31

Last night when I got home, I saw some of the potholes near my house had been fixed. Small shiny black patches stood out on the road that had been dusted brown. My first thought was, ‘Wow. They even got to my area. BBMP is really trying to shore up its image’. When I got thinking about it, I realised that I did not want those goddamn potholes fixed.

I’m well aware that three people died last month in separate incidents after their two-wheelers hit potholes, causing them to lose balance. Those deaths were preventable, and I know that filling up potholes is likely to prevent more such deaths. Let me explain my position.

The area I’ve been living in for the last one-and-half years is a part of the city, like many others, where water supply is irregular. When I leave for work in the mornings, I often see women dressed in nighties queuing up with brightly-coloured plastic pots near the public tap. They live houses so small that some of them even cook outside the house. 

When it rains heavily, the road that you see in the image above, can collect with water that reaches half a foot in height. A kilometer away, BEML gate resembles a small lake that you do not want to venture into. This description will fit countless parts of the city.

So should we be flattered, feel important, that even this unremarkable corner of the city has received the attention of the BBMP? I’m damn insulted. The patchwork on the road is a band-aid for the city’s fractures, and it’s not acceptable, not by a long shot.

At this point, I suppose the reader might ask: Are you a voter here? I’m not, and I’m not going to be one either. Like many others who’ve made Bengaluru their home, I too have another home, and I’m not willing to give up my rights there just yet. Given my position, are my complaints and claims over the city now invalid?

The 2011 Census shows that the preceding 10 years have seen the highest ever wave of rural to urban migration since the exercise began. Reasons for this include lack of economic opportunity as well as economic activity made unviable.

Bengaluru too has seen its share of inward bound migrants – the thousands of labourers whose hands are literally building the city’s roads, metro and real estate boom. Some of them are dying for it. Several, have spent years in the city, living in brick-and-tin-sheet sheds behind construction sites earning a few hundred rupees a day. Every fifth person in this city is that invisible category of persons called “slum-dweller”. That is almost 33 lakh people living in terrible conditions and on whose work the city and its residents thrive, even if they do not vote here.

Of all the tragic lives that are lived out in this city – whether migrant, or local, or IT person – the three deaths that occurred have caught public imagination the most. So much so, that soon after these accidents transport minister Ramalinga Reddy took great pains to tell people that he found only one pothole on a 25-km stretch of a road.

Why does the state government think it necessary to respond at all? It was just another typical day of freak deaths in the city. Hardly out of the ordinary. The city’s mega infrastructure projects have killed dozens of workers, manual scavengers die in the underground drainage after they are sent in despite such deaths in the past, children fall into open drains when it rains heavily. It happened last year. A child was washed away, and nothing happened.

BBMP has not developed OCD over pothole-repairs out of a sudden desire to carry out its duties. There’s a very simple reason for it: Road trouble is something that the city’s elite and well to do people can understand because they commute by private vehicles or company cabs every day. It is because of this factor that the story made it to the national media too.

I don’t want BBMP’s cellotape, and neither would my neighbours, regardless of whether they vote here or not.

The three people who died recently did not die just because of potholes. They died because year after year, councilors and local body bureaucrats have presided over a system that exists to serve them.

Every few months, media reports the numerous financial irregularities in the BBMP’s finances unearthed by investigative reporting, RTI activists or CAG reports.

In a series for The News Minute, Subir Ghosh says that the CAG’s indictment of the BBMP’s financial irregularities was so severe, that the BBMP stopped sending its accounts to the watchdog for auditing. Even the Bangalore Metropolitan Task Force was nothing but a paper tiger. When Rajvir Sharma came along in 2011, the BMTF had registered 32 cases in 15 years. Under Sharma, the BMTF registered 208 cases in 2012 alone. As for punishing officials who are negligent, nothing happens.

Despite this state of affairs, if the same people are voted back into the council year after year, well to do and elite residents, who are more influential than other city-dwellers, must take some responsibility for the state of affairs.

The city’s elite and well to do, who have the clout to get the government to listen, do not really speak of systemic overhaul because they are part of the reason that Rs 200 crore gets sanctioned for one road while the rest of the city has to make do with whatever is left.

There are numerous individuals and groups who are working hard to make this city liveable not just for the rich, but also for the poor. 

The Indian Constitution gives us citizenship, which even the city’s poor including the migrants have, and this entitles all of the city’s residents to clean drinking water, houses, electricity, education and health.

I don’t know who that pot on the road near my house belongs to, but I’m sure that that woman would want to live in a house with drinking water supply, power and other amenities and where she and her family have enough space. The BBMP should start with this and go upwards to ensuring that money meant for roads goes into building roads of good quality and not to someone’s greasy palms.

Anything less than this, are the cosmetics nobody needs.

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