With the onset of monsoon in the country, potholes not only create greater problems by slowing down traffic, they have also become the cause for a great number of accidents and deaths. According to 2015 data of the Ministry of Transport and Highways, potholes contributed to 10,876 accidents on roads, out of which 3,416 were fatal. One of the states affected the most by potholes has been Madhya Pradesh with 3,070 accidents caused by potholes alone last year, followed by Maharashtra with 1,867. However, the number of deaths due to potholes — 812 — has been the highest in Maharashtra. The figure in Delhi is comparatively much lower, with 14 accidents in which two persons lost their lives.
T.K. Malhotra, president of the Automobile Association of Upper India (AAUI), said that if an independent survey is conducted, it would reveal that, if not all, a majority of the roads in India are not in shape. “Every day, we witness serious mishaps when roads are flooded in the rainy season and traffic crawls through flooded roads. Motorists and pedestrians experience a harrowing time making their way back home.”
“Poor drainage systems, faulty geometry, unscientific designing of roads and use of substandard construction material are some of the factors responsible for potholes and fractured roads in the country,” Malhotra said and blamed the civic bodies and the Central and state governments for “failing to maintain the basic standards of roads in the country”.
Sanjeev Saxena, a member of Safer Road Foundation, an NGO working for road safety, lost his father in a road accident recently. Saxena told The Sunday Guardian, “Potholes are a recurring problem because of the inferior quality of our roads. This happens due to the nexus between road contractors and the persons sitting higher up.”
Saxena said that stagnation of water on roads is one of the major reasons for huge potholes on roads, rendering the average life of a road in India at just six to eight months. “If we can construct drains on both sides of the roads, they would stop the water from collecting on roads and half the problems will be solved,” Saxena said.
Malhotra said: “The bureaucratic set up has no scope to fix the responsibility on a single person. Callers of tenders for road construction, those responsible for awarding the work, for stage-wise inspection and progress of work, persons responsible for processing and release of payments to contractors, are all responsible. The ineffective system will continue until audit is done by an independent agency of international repute such as iRAP (International Road Assessment Programme) which will be responsible for the release of payments too.”
The activities of iRAP include inspecting high risk roads and developing “Star Rating Roads” (based on the quality of the roads), as well as providing training and support to build and sustain national, regional and local capability.
India has the third largest road network in the world and the aggregate length of roads, which was 0.5 million km in 1950-51, has increased manifold to 4.7 million km. The demand for road transport is expected to grow by 10-15% in the next five years.
Malhotra said that with the growing road network in India and the increasing number of accidents on Indian roads, the country needs to seriously focus on innovating ways to ensure road safety. “We are aware how in major metros, even newly carpeted roads cave in, causing serious traffic hazards. We need a high level of political commitment to launch an accelerated ongoing programme for not only upgrading roads, but also adopting an independent audit of existing highways and city roads. The audit may also include the arterial roads or thoroughfares,” Malhotra said and suggested the adoption of iRAP which can be used to support the development, implementation and monitoring of road safety strategies.