Unearthing a scam to the tune of crores of rupees by the Chennai Corporation, NGO Arappor Iyakkam has exposed corruption in the laying of roads along bus routes in Chennai.
In a first in a series of promised “exposés”, the anti-corruption group has alleged a scam in the laying of ‘Devanathan Street’ in Mandaveli.
The Chennai Corporation had allocated Rs 345 crore for the re-laying of roads along the bus routes most frequented in 2015.
The task of re-laying Devanathan Street was given to a contractor named J Santhanam and RTIs show it was completed on 30 May 2016 at the cost of Rs 36,97,776.
In a month’s time, the road was closed to the public and ‘patch work’ costing Rs 2,00,092 was carried out. The contract for this ‘patch work’ had been given to another company, MPK Enterprises. The height of the road had been increased and the RTI clearly states that no quality check was done before the added work was done on the road.
But that wasn’t all.
In December, another bill was raised for Rs 26,50,104 by J Santhanam, the original contractor for the road, citing ‘Metrowater road cut repair’.
That is, a bill which was 70% of the cost of the original road was raised in just over 6 months.
Arappor Iyakkam, however, alleges no road was even laid in December.
When The Quint cross-checked with Corporation records, it confirmed the NGO’s claims that work was done for ‘restoration of road cut made by Chennai Metro Water.’
According to the Bus Routes Roads Department, roads are to be re-laid every 3 years. So how does that explain Rs 65 lakh spent in 6 months? A first re-laying usually costs around Rs 25 lakh. What does it say about the quality of the road repair if only six months later, Rs 65 lakh must be spent again?
And after all that expenditure, is Devanathan Street a model road? The answer is no. Times of India did a spot check on this key bus route road and found that a bus stop had been left dug up for more than a month, making it unsafe for both motorists and pedestrians.
Arappor lyakkam is planning to file a formal complaint with the Ombudsman of Local bodies immediately and follow-up the case legally until the corrupt are brought to book.
Actor Kamal Haasan, who has been fearless in calling out the state government’s corrupt practices, tweeted lauding the NGO for their exposé .
The Quint reached out to the Corporation Commissioner and SP Velumani, Minister for Municipal Administration, Rural Development and Implementation of Special Programme, but they were unavailable for comment.
Corrupt Contractors Continue Damage
In February 2014, the Corporation conducted a series of tests on the quality of 1,300-odd roads, and one third of them failed. The then architect of the quality control initiative, Joint Commissioner Vijay Pingale, was held responsible for employing corrupt contractors.
From March 2015, the Chennai Corporation has listed the names of all the road contractors along with details of the roads, nature of repair, commencement and completion dates of the projects.
But these individual contractors almost never figure in any debate about the state of Chennai’s roads. They are never named or rated.
They have never been held up for potholed roads, except for once when the Corporation drew up a list of blacklisted contractors.
Will Better Roads Remain a Mirage?
It has become a standing joke in Chennai for students to tune into the news everyday during November and December and expect a holiday. Not always because of the rains, but the bad roads!
The images of the entire city submerged in water during the disastrous 2015 floods gives nightmares to residents even today. Because the problem is still unresolved. The floods, then followed by Vardah cyclone in 2016, exposed the archaic British laid sewage and stormwater drain system and poor urban planning.
Even the shortest spell of rains renders roads ridden with potholes, that a smooth ride during monsoon has become a rarity.
Did the Droughts Help Reduce Damage?
The monsoon of 2017 was a much awaited one after a long summer of drought. The city’s four reservoirs had dried out completely and the monsoon helped fill up only one thirds. But when it came to the roads, they just got more battered and water-logged because after all they have been laid without abiding by the specified norms and so are bound to give in to pressure.
According to initial estimates by the Chennai Corporation, at least 15% of the 471 bus route roads were damaged.
Unfinished metro work has added to the difficulties. And sinkholes are so frequent as to no longer be news. Prominent roads like Anna Salai are caving in and there is very little that is being done to prevent such an incident.
State Just Doesn’t Get ‘Prevention Is Better Than Cure’
According to Deccan Chronicle, after this year’s monsoon, the restoration work was taken up in 32 roads by Public Works Department (PWD) and Chennai Metro Water Supply and Sewerage Board. The inability of the departments to pay Rs 34 crore delayed the re-laying work. Corporation officials also claim that 80 percent of the roads that are now listed as ‘severely battered’ and ‘unusable’ have been delayed for the last five years because of non-payment.
But the solution is not re-laying. The roads needs to be desilted six months before the onset of the monsoon. Once the roads have been scraped of the layers of silt deposited, water is more able to percolate and flow to the sides. But this needs to be done well in advance of the rains, and constant maintenance must be performed throughout the monsoon season.
Re-laying roads is only a quick and temporary measure.
When will Chennai learn to be prepared, rather than sorry?