Explainer: White-topping of Bengaluru roads and why there’s a probe into the project

BBMP has pushed for white-topping, stating that is the ultimate cure for the pothole menace.
Explainer: White-topping of Bengaluru roads and why there’s a probe into the project
Explainer: White-topping of Bengaluru roads and why there’s a probe into the project

That Bengaluru’s roads are in bad shape is not news anymore – it’s become more of a long-running joke. Election after election, every party that has formed the government in the state has promised lavish roads and proper infrastructure for the commuters of the city. One such grand plan was the white-topping of the streets in Bengaluru to make sure the roads are long-lasting and lesser prone to damage. However, the Karnataka government has halted all proposals for future white-topping and has ordered a probe into the previous projects in Bengaluru.

White-topping is a process where the normal black-top roads or the bitumen asphalted roads are cleared and the roads are given a layer of concrete on top. The concrete used is considered more long-lasting and is believed to prevent the formation of potholes. 

“It was seen as a solution to the bad quality of the roads. Former Karnataka Minister KJ George suggested the proposal. The reason given was that because the vehicular density is very high in Bengaluru, that is why we are getting frequent potholes and the road damages,” says activist Srinivas Allavalli.

BBMP has pushed for white-topping, stating that is the ultimate cure for the pothole menace, since concrete roads have a lifespan of around 30 to 50 years, unlike asphalt roads, which need to be tarred every three to four years.

“White-topping basically means cement and concrete on the roads, instead of putting tar. Though it costs more money to put the cement on the road, the idea is that over the years, there will not be potholes and the maintenance of the tar roads is more than the cost of input of the white-topping of roads. It is a one-time high cost versus a recurring yearly cost,” says Srinivas.

TenderSure roads are roads designed by Jana Urban Space, a non-profit, that has also designed spaces for utilities such as power, water, sewage, drainage, telecom and gas lines. According to the BBMP website, there were 12 roads allocated to TenderSure works under two packages and about 50 other roads, a total of 103.60 km, that were to be upgraded to TenderSure standards.

The TenderSure project was designed to address issues that have made Indian roads so notorious for their chaotic traffic, potholes, broken footpaths, overflowing drainage, poorly placed power transformers and their hanging, tangles of electrical wirings and telecom fixtures. Till date, several roads in Bengaluru's Central Business District have been renovated under TenderSure – Church Street, Richmond Road (General Thimmaiah Road), Residency Road (Field Marshal Cariappa Road), Commissariat Road, Museum Road, Nrupatunga Road and Kempegowda Road. 

The cost of white-topping

Sounds economical and ideal, but critics allege there is more to this story. 

In the year 2016, under two different packages, the BBMP decided to take up white-topping of a total 94.5 kilometres of road length in Bengaluru. The estimated cost of the project was Rs 986.64 crore. Phase 2 of the white topping project was for a stretch of 63 km, at a cost of Rs 709 crore. 

In February this year, as part of Phase 3, the then JD(S)-Congress government approved the white-topping of around 123 km on around 89 roads in Bengaluru – that too at a cost of Rs 1,172 crore. 

While Phase 3 was eventually halted, multiple delays and terrible planning by BBMP has delayed the overall project and has added to the costs. Out of the 35 km in the first package belonging to the first phase, reports say only 22 km has been completed. Phase 2, meanwhile, is still pending.

The project has also caused immense inconvenience to commuters and the citizens – the roads that are under maintenance are left dug up, it becomes a mess in the monsoons, there is a huge amount of dust, and worst of all – constant traffic jams and chaos. In many places, cement has been arbitrarily put on pothole-ridden roads, making the height of the roads higher than the pavements. Improper planning also affected the drainage systems of these roads – there was no exit for the rainwater to go on white-topped roads. 

Speaking to TNM, traffic expert MN Sreehari alleged that a lot of black-top roads that were in a good condition in Bengaluru were white-topped without proper insight and was a waste of money. 

“Now in Bengaluru, there has been white-topping on the roads that did not need it. A good road was removed, that too, just the top surface was removed and white-topping was put. That was not required. Only the road is beyond repair, white-topping makes sense. What is the point of taking off a good road? This is just waste of money,” Sreehari alleges. 

The expert adds that many areas in Bengaluru do not need white-topping at all. 

“White-topping is required in places that have heavy rainfall – like Goa and Kerala, where the life of the roads needs to be very good and blacktop or bitumen roads do not have a long life. In Bengaluru, we have an average rainfall of 90-135 mm. We don't really need white-topping. Instead, BBMP can use better and not bad material to construct the blacktop roads,” MN Sreehari says. 

Srinivas agrees with Sreehari, stating that the project has seen a lot of waste of public resources. 

“Personally, I think they should have done white-topping on one or two roads, waited for two-three years to see whether the theory holds out and then maybe you have a case for it to see whether this is a better approach. Instead, they have spent hundreds of crores of rupees everywhere and left things in the middle,” says Srinivas. 

He also alleges, “In many places, the height of the roads is more than the pavement and then there are sudden dips in the roads because some roads are higher and some roads are lower. It is not uniform. It is dangerous and inconvenient. It comes across as a project more inclined towards spending money than on fixing the roads.” 

This aspect seems to have caught the attention of the BJP-led government in Karnataka. Last month, Chief Minister BS Yediyurappa halted Phase 3 of the white-topping project and ordered a probe into the alleged irregularities of the first two phases. The probe will look into the use of public money for two phases of white-topping and TenderSure works on Bengaluru roads as well.

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