In a unique move to ensure quality of roads, Kerala government will next month start a program in which government officials will be put in charge of certain stretches of roads and will have to be submit monthly reports, including freshly clicked photos, on the condition of their stretch of roads.
The move is being implemented by PWD minister Mohammed Riyas, one of the youngest ministers in Pinarayi Vijayan’s cabinet at 46 years old.
Due to a combination of heavy monsoon rains and corruption, it is common for Kerala roads to get filled with potholes within three months of being covered with asphalt ahead of monsoons.
The state government has so far tried various methods to eliminate corruption from the process of road construction and to ensure the quality and integrity of roads.
These include checks on newly finished roads using hollow drills and analyzing the sample for thickness, consistency and adherence to norms.
Some experiments have also been carried out involving the use of newer technology to coat the road with recycled plastic, rubberized asphalt, concrete and even bricks.
However, asphalt remains the most common and cost effective method of coating roads in the state, but suffers from a key drawback that it is extremely difficult to ensure its quality and consistency, given the mixing of the coating material is done on the spot.
In addition, poor topology of roads, which results in the retention of water on non-level surfaces, also contributes to the quick disintegration of roads in the rainy state.
Under the new policy, roads will be handed over under ‘running contracts’ rather than surfacing contracts or paving contracts.
Under such running contracts, it will be the road contractor’s headache to ensure the integrity of the roads constructed by the company, irrespective of the quality and quality of materials used to repave it.
Such a strategy is already widely in use in case of national highways, but is rarely used for smaller roads, which have, over time, evolved into ‘money spinners’ for bureaucrats and government contractors thanks to yearly surfacing contracts.
Under the new policy, public information boards will be put next to these roads, giving details of both the contractor as well as the government official in charge, including their names and phone numbers. The public can call these people in case of any complaints.
Public works department officials will have to physically inspect the roads under their jurisdiction at least once a month, click their photos and submit them to their superior officials. These reports will be examined at the offices of the Chief Engineer as well as the PWD minister.
It is not clear if the policy will eventually be extended to roads maintained by local administrative bodies such as panchayats, municipalities and corporations.