Every discussion on the pathetic condition of Kerala’s roads end in the plague of corruption and the unholy alliance between the public engineer and contractor. A large share of the public funds meant for road building is lost in transmission, thanks to this nexus.
When the government allocates funds to build or repair a kilometer of road, only half of the intended raw materials actually land up at the site. The completed road would not meet the quality requirements as prescribed by the Indian Road Congress. There has to be an element of truth in these allegations.
The public works department may be suffering from corruption as the other government departments. A few greedy officers may be contributing to corruption, as the chief minister suggested. But is that the only cause for the present condition of the roads?
The skill level of engineers and laborers, the training imparted to them, familiarity with modern technology in road building and scientific construction are all important factors. The qualification of contractors is also important. Only good contractors can build good roads. A contractor should be aware of the technical side of road building. He should have the basic education and training for that.
For instance, the asphalt has to be in a specific temperature when laying a road. The Indian Road Congress has set a few guidelines for this. I doubt if anyone follows such guidelines. There are very few contractors with knowledge of such matters.
The team work among officers is another important aspect. Everyone from the public works secretary and the chief engineer to the workers who melt tar on road should work as a team. All of them need to be trained in the latest technology. We need a new work culture to ensure that roads are laid in accordance with the plans formed above.
An engineer and a contractor should analyze the terrain, soil structure and the drainage system when designing a road. Many of our roads are washed out because they are laid without a thought for the drainage of water. A lack of sewage and heavy shoulders also contribute to the problem.
Most of Kerala’s roads are laid by migrant laborers who have no idea of what they are supposed to do. We have no alternative but to train migrant laborers in scientific road building and repair.
We need a system for constant quality checks after a road has been built. The absence of such a system ensures that new roads are pothole-riddled in no time and allows the contractors to go scot-free.
(The writer is chief scientist and former director of the National Transportation Planning and Research Center - NATPAC)