Gigantic craters on Jessore Road near the airport turn into limpid pools of shame under the glare of headlights. Picture by Sanat Kr Sinha
The good news first: the road that puts the moon to shame is going to be repaired. Now the bad news: Rs 3.43 crore for a badly damaged 11-km stretch is barely enough for patchwork that might not survive the next spell of rain.
The cycle of seasonal destruction and sham repairs is being played out again with the state government hastily cobbling together a patchwork plan for Jessore Road.
By the end of this week, the PWD will have chosen a contractor from among three bidders who have submitted e-tenders for the job of repairing the horror stretch that actor-turned-Trinamul MLA Chiranjit Chakraborty wants renamed Uday Shankar Sarani because of its ability to make people dance.
Sources in the PWD said work would most likely start early next week, though there’s no telling if rain might force a postponement.
“The government will add Rs 2.13 crore to the Rs 1.3 crore contributed by the National Highways Authority of India,” a senior government official said on Monday. “That should at least make the road motorable.”
But engineers questioned the durability of the patchwork being planned at a fraction of the estimated cost, and without any defect liability clause to make sure the contractor does a proper job.
The minimum requirement per kilometre is Rs 60 lakh but the road from the airport’s No. 2.5 Gate to Barasat would need to be repaired with a budget of around Rs 19.36 lakh per kilometre.
“For a road with heavy load, it is important to go for strengthening rather than superficial repairs. By NHAI standards, the top layer should have a thickness of anything between 40 to 50mm of bituminous cover. The base should have a bituminous layer of 100 to 120mm,” A. Ahluwalia, chief general manager of the NHAI, told Metro.
Experts say there are around 10 steps to filling a pothole or a crater, the final one being a thick coat of bituminous macadam. A shortage of funds means skipping the more important steps, leaving the cosmetic repairs susceptible to damage.
“If compaction is not done properly, water remains trapped between the original layer of the road and the done-up area,” said an engineer of the Hooghly River Bridge Commissioners. “When vehicular load is heavy, this membrane releases water that eats into the bitumen and the crater opens up again.”
Senior PWD officials said they arrived at the estimate of Rs 3.43 crore after a survey of the stretch. “We always knew that only patchwork would be possible. You can’t plan an overhaul with limited funds,” an engineer said.
So who would be held responsible if craters reappear within days, weeks or months of the road being repaired?
“When a firm is given a contract to build a road, there can be several terms and conditions regarding its longevity. But there is no defect liability clause for patchwork and hence no accountability,” the engineer said.
No wonder contractors look forward to doing patchwork on city roads ravaged by monsoon rain every year.
The damaged stretch used to be a part of NH-34 that runs till Dalkhola in north Bengal. The NHAI, which operates under the Union ministry of road transport and highways, had made several attempts to widen the stretch but gave up after the Mamata Banerjee government failed to remove encroachments on either side of the road.
In September 2012, the NHAI announced that it was returning a portion of the highway to the state — around 17km from the airport’s No. 2.5 Gate to Barasat. “We realised it would not be possible to convert this stretch into four lanes in keeping with NHAI norms,” chief general manager Ahluwalia said.
The state government had refused to take over the problem stretch immediately, citing the NHAI’s maintenance contract with a private firm. The handover was formalised only four months ago.
“The contractor hired by the NHAI was responsible for maintaining this stretch of road till December 2014 but failed to do so. So the agency decided to pay the government Rs 1.3 crore,” an official said.
District magistrates and representatives of the NHAI met recently in the presence of chief secretary Sanjay Mitra to discuss maintaining NH-34, a road that has never been in shape from one end to the other unlike highways elsewhere in the country.
hakim’s diagnosis: was Bad, is bad, will be bad
Municipal affairs minister Firhad Hakim on Monday rolled out one excuse after the other to explain why it was impossible to have decent roads in the city. “Roads were bad during my father’s time, during his father’s time. They are bad during our time and they could be such during our sons’ time as well,” he told reporters at Writers’ Buildings. Metro spoke to an engineer working on roads in the city and a professor of road engineering to find out if there was a way if the administration showed the will
Hakim: Nature is beyond our control. The inclement weather is to blame.
REALITY: There are cities in India where it rains more than Calcutta and yet they have better roads. Mumbai, for example, has concretised the roads in some of the most important stretches. Concrete roads are a must for areas prone to waterlogging.
TO DO: Involve specialists in road-making instead of relying on petty contractors and incompetent engineers.
Hakim: Water is an enemy of tar. If we pour tar over potholes filled with water, that would just be public money down the drain.
REALITY: He is right. Therefore, concrete roads. The initial investment may be higher, but annual repairs on bituminous roads cost more in the long run. Another alternative? A top layer of mastic asphalt, at least 40mm thick. This layer is hard and doesn’t allow raindrops to trickle through and create potholes.
TO DO: Proper planning. Poor drainage beneath the roads often causes waterlogging. So, an integrated approach involving engineers of roads and drainage departments.
Hakim: Patchwork is temporary, lasting four-to-five days.
REALITY: Even patchwork can last a few rains if it is done properly. But contractors often fill potholes with concrete rubbish and provide a top layer to hide the craters.
TO DO: Fill potholes with various materials at various depths depending on what has been used in the rest of the stretch. A mismatch can create a new pothole.
Hakim: Roads were bad, are bad, will be bad... from grandfather to grandson.
REALITY: What about Strand Road after being concretised? Or Red Road?
TO DO: Make such roads the role model and try to replicate their success story.
Additional reporting by Pranesh Sarkar