Monday, April 22, 2013

Roadways Noways- A summary of indian roads

“I’ll provide you roads that are smoother than Hema Malini’s cheeks” so went a famous quip by Mr Lalu Prasad, during the run up to the assembly elections in his state about two decades ago. Hema Malini, the actress of erstwhile, retired, was in her late thirties and hadn’t yet made a comeback in senior roles. So beautiful was Hema in her heyday that an entire generation was besotted by her and her skin, and so dismal was the state of the roads in the country, that such a quip found instant stardom. Fast-forward a decade and half and we have the golden quadrilateral project that has been largely completed, Mumbai-Pune expressway that has been functioning well and the Taj expressway has recently been opened as well. Hema Malini in the meanwhile has got comfortable in her aging skin and made a comeback in motherly roles and Kent purifier ads. A recent visit to East Asia however resulted in perspective change as far ‘counting my blessings’ with respect to state of Indian roads was concerned. Roads in Vietnam, a country that’s just 6 places above India in the UN Human development index, and a country that opened up much later to the world are way better than ours. It is here that I got to see what an art road making or patch repairing is. The ground is first evened up, and then a bed of gravel is laid to provide a foundation. Atop this gravel are laid about 5-6 layers of different material that when completed look like layers of ancient sedimentary rock. Even a minor repair on the road begins with all these deliberate and logical steps. A comparison with China always draws tut-tut but it is in china that one gets to see what is achievable despite a huge population. The roads are well laid out in Shanghai and there are at least 3-4 suspension bridges across the Huangpu river, under which freighters as tall as 45 m can pass. To put things in perspective, the infrastructure pride of the nation, the Bandra-Worli sealink, doesn’t afford this luxury even if the waters under it were deeper. There are also two tunnels built under the riverbed that connect the two parts of the city. The flyovers in Shanghai are constructed with more finesse than what we have here in Delhi and are much longer than those in Mumbai. The city has about 4 ring roads to cater to the vehicular traffic compared to one that exists in our capital city. Talking about developed world for us case is akin to talking about aliens and space. However talk we must. Japan and South Korea are the sole East Asian developed countries. The roads of Japan are made with more finesse and quality than possibly Mr Mukesh Ambani’s drawing room. Over 60 Km out of 80 Km journey from Yokosuka to Tokyo is elevated. These, state of art roads have noise dampeners all along. Lined on both sides along are miles of matte finished Aluminium baffles to protect the residents from Noise pollution. Now you don’t want the baffles to make the experience of driving dreary, so the baffles in the city limits are made of Perspex glass so that you can see through them. Their flyovers construction technology is about 50 years ahead of us. The concrete pylons, on which these towering 6 storey high compact flyovers rest, are cylindrical in shape with a diameter of couple of meters. The neat design is earthquake proof and doesn’t mar the greenery around. Back in our country, all these memories haunt me every day when I travel from one part of the city to another, and notice the pothole riddled road, which has these festering wounds of damage, waiting to go septic. One can almost trace the life history of a broken patch over a few days, as it gets from bad to worse. The pollution levels are so high that women in cities have resorted back to the purdah system that extends to their arms. Every morning, the men in my city, all resolute and prepared dress up in three layers of clothing like a Maratha warrior prior taking up their commute to work. The flyovers fare no better as their cheap construction technique results in a bump every few metres, thanks to the seamed expansion joints. A lip service is paid to road making every few months, when they ineptly cover up this undulations on the road with fresh tar. The undaunted undulations reappear within a week without fail. A nation’s infrastructure must first cater to the weakest and poorest. If that’s done, the rest automatically gets taken care of. 2009 statistics of road accidents shows that the number of pedestrian killed almost equals those killed in two wheeler accidents. Pavements, footpaths and walkways are nonexistent even in developed cities such a Mumbai and the stats are a stark reminder of official apathy. A holistic approach to resolution of transportation safety is must. It begins with the quality that’s part of the road building. Road building unfortunately has become a seasonal business in India. ©

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