Friday, November 11, 2011

Bhopal roads inflict ordeal on citizens

What was once only feared has now come true. The dug up roads are causing not only inconvenience, they have also been instrumental in increasing sickness among the citizens. The Hindustan Times recently came out with an “unsettling” report based on the opinion of medical experts which suggested a rise in respiratory problems due to dust floating around in the city. Citing as evidence the contentions of some medical professionals, it was reported that nasal and respiratory allergies among the people are on the rise. Citizens of various localities have reported that constant inhalation of dust has led to sore throat and frequent sneezing. Among the factors that have contributed to rise are mainly the dust kicked up by the vehicles from the roads that have been dug up and ceaseless construction in the town.

The newspaper has also reported that the problem has been compounded by the Bhopal Municipal Corporation (BMC) which chopped down thousands of trees, many of them massive and decades old, in the on-going process of creating a BRTS corridor. Trees not only bind the loose earth, they also absorb a lot of dust, noise and atmospheric pollution. Among other benefits “Streetswiki” says “Street trees are a key feature of a liveable neighbourhood. Urban trees have significant and multiple benefits, from energy and water conservation to reduced road maintenance costs. A major transportation benefit is the favourable impact of mature trees on the pedestrian environment, particularly in urban areas. New evidence suggests roadside trees also increase traffic safety. While selecting, planting, and maintaining street trees present challenges, the benefits of trees far outweigh their costs. Cities can maximize these benefits through aggressive tree planting and maintenance programs.”

The Corporation has not made any efforts to substitute the felled trees by new plantations along the new corridor. A few months back when the Commissioner BMC accompanied the Principal Secretary Urban Administration & Development to a meeting of the Bhopal Citizens’ Forum he was asked about his plans of compensatory plantation along the upcoming corridor. He replied that a few thousand trees had been planted on a hill beyond Shahpura miles away from the town. There was no plan to plant trees along the roads. Obviously, like many other officials, he is not aware of the benefits of roadside trees. This is what has been the bane of India. A glaring example of the differences in our attitudes and those of the British is Delhi. While Lutyen’s Delhi has surfeit of roadside trees of native varieties, at places in double rows, the later additions to the expanding city like the settlements along the Ring Road are bereft of trees. The Ring Road and the Outer Ring Road have hardly any roadside trees.

The dug-up roads are another kind of scourge on those who ply the streets. The other day an auto-driver told me how not only his auto-rickshaw has repeated breakdowns because of the uneven, potholes and ditches-infested roads, his consumption of fuel has also gone up because he can never maintain an even pace. On top of that there have been repeated fuel price hikes. All these, plus the expensive medical attention needed because of exposure to acute pollution, have been cutting into his income. This applies to all those who have to commute in the city. BMC has been instrumental in whittling down the disposable incomes of the locals because of its lethargy and incompetence.

None knows when the ordeal of the people will come to end. Jaipur also created a corridor but it completed it within two and a half years flat. The Rajasthan government had established a special purpose vehicle to carry out the work. The Bhopal Citizens’ Forum had requested the chief secretary to create an empowered task force comprising technical and financial experts for enabling quick decisions in carrying out the works of JNNURM to prevent cost and time overruns but he, apparently, did not think it fit to pay heed to the Forum’s counsel. As on date, not one stretch of BRTS corridor is fully done and the commuters necessarily have to negotiate several lengths which are bouncy and dusty and at places barricaded. Looks like, the corridor will be commissioned when there will be no need for it as, given the frequent hikes in petrol prices, number of vehicles plying on the roads may drastically get reduced. Already, the recent hike seems to have had a tell tale effect

The main arteries perhaps will be taken care of even if it takes months and years to do so. What perhaps will take decades are the roads that have been dug up inside various localities for one reason or the other. Once dug, they stay dug and are never mended although the contracts provide putting them back in original condition. The contractors, engineering and other officials almost always swallow the money. The citizens of Bhopal have a long wait in front of them for a cleaner air and roads that are devoid of dust, scattered pieces of stones, potholes, ditches and overflowing sewers.

A pretty sorry plight!

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