Thursday, April 21, 2011

The nightmares that Kashmiri roads are

If the state of our roads were an indication, we are soon to have one more summer of protest against the mis-governance

Saima Farhad

When the previous summer’s unrest broke out, many people tended to cite unemployment and misgovernance as important issues and factors responsible. Their argument was that a sort of anger and rage has developed amongst the common people, because of their frustration with the slow pace of development, which has made them to come out on the streets to protest.

Lets for a minute believe them. If that would have been the case then the government should have taken its cue, used the money flow from the ‘packages’ that came to prevent the unrest, and gone in for speedy development on all fronts. But is that the case.

If the state of our roads, which all of us ply on everyday, were an indication, then we are soon to have one more summer of protest against ‘the misgovernance’. And this time around no one would need to search for stones. The streets have no dearth of them.

Every single day, due to the dismal state of our roads, every single person here, loses time as well as money.  Be it a student, employee, a businessman, a hospital going patient, a doctor, a job seeker who has to go to an interview, everyone is losing time. Those who travel by bus get their journeys delayed because of the numerous potholes, and unplanned excavations where-in every government department is in a race to make a drain or lay a telephone cable or a water pipeline as soon as a road is repaired or completed. The roller coaster ride through the numerous bumps and the potholes sets the mood for the day for the commuter in the bus. And if he is in the overload, as most of us are, it sets a day for back ache too.  

A car owner’s nightmare is more fuel consumption, more loss of money and more damage to the car. The car mechanics in Srinagar are the happiest lot, because thanks to the government, they are making a quick buck.
The condition, our roads are in is worsened whenever there is even a drizzle, forget about moderate or heavy rain, or snow. The absence of a proper rain water drainage system, only adds to the situation, since the water stagnates on the road, leading to more damage to the roads.

The potholes become cesspools and the roads rivulets during rains. The potholes continue to store water long afterwards. Thus the government ensures that those who have to walk the road face the utmost difficulty. There is probably no one in Srinagar whose day has not been affected by the splash of muddy water from the pothole or the road, when a vehicle passed by.

The unrepaired roads are even unwalkable in the dry season because of the dust. You have to keep a handkerchief to your nose to walk even a small distance. But the handkerchief does not solve the problem completely. The occasional spec of duct finds its way into the eye, leading to a sordid time. It is not late for doctors to have a study on the prevalence of lung diseases and eye infections in Kashmir, due to the ever increasing dust on the roads.

At many places the roads have caved in. And this does not apply to mountainous terrain where there are natural reasons at work. These cave-ins instead of being repaired have been left as such, waiting for unknowing victims.

It is no surprise that the condition of roads has greatly increased the risk of accidents. The two wheelers face a particularly difficult plight where they not only have to protect themselves from the dust and mud, but also curve around potholes. Lives put intentionally at risk.

 Whenever a road is repaired elsewhere out of the state it is expected to have a particular time span. Let’s say, a year at minimum. But the repaired rod here reverts back to the state from which it was repaired in just two months at maximum. The contractors, fleeced by the government officials, assure that the worst quality product is put into road building and road repair. The money spent finds its way into the coffers of engineers, politicians, and contractors, and the common man suffers. Only if 40-50 percent of the approved money for each project would have been spent on actual work, things would have been much different. It is not as if people are demanding for American or European standards. Even standards employed elsewhere in the country would do. But in the face of an almost non-existent quality control mechanism, this can never happen.
Even if luckily a road gets repaired, soon some government department or agency finds it appropriate to start work on a new drainage project, and the road digging starts again. This happens so often, that there can be no co-incidence to it. There is no co-ordination among the various govt departments is an accepted fact, but there seems a deliberate attempt to start digging work as soon as a road is repaired. During the digging process, no care is taken of traffic diversions. Even if there is another road from inside the colony or the mohalla which commuters put to use, as an automatic diversion, somehow at the same time out of all the other places, digging starts there to undertake a long overdue public works project.  A comedy of errors, some would say. But it is too planned to seem random.       

And this digging and then reconstruction is a long long wait. The biggest problem with road projects, be it repair or construction, here is that they take ages and generations to complete. What should have been completed in a week, takes months, what should have been completed in a year takes decades. A mohalla road takes around the same time taken to complete a new metro lane in New Delhi.  

More so, even to the common eye the techniques put into use to construct and repair roads, seem right out the stone ages. There has lots of smoke, lots of dust, lots and lots of labour, and so on.

All this seems to be a deliberate and planned effort at failure. A calculated effort to steal public money and let it flow into coffers of those who know how to extravagantly overspend.

But since everything is supposed to be complicated in Kashmir, it may not be so simple. Maybe this is even a form of long and protracted community punishment being put into effect, to frustrate and slow down-greats achievements for those who have these goals in sight.

So, if we go by the state of our roads, then we are on the road to another summer of protest. Till then let the mechanics, the engineers, the politicians, the ministers-the odd and the even make merry. As someone pointed out, they make merry even then. It is always the commoners who suffer.

Author is Assistant professor, Department of Sociology and Social work University of Kashmir and can be mailed at