Friday, June 27, 2014

A hero making our roads safe

The following article is my 100th article for Niti Central. Pasting it here for reference:
Over the past couple of days, I have been involved in discussions which interlink two important topics that have been the buzzword in recent times.
The recent overwhelming mandate to the BJP and the NDA was seen as a positive vote towards good governance, transparency and efficiency. These may sound like lofty words, but when these concepts get implemented at the ground level, the differences it can make to people’s lives is enormous.
The unfortunate passing away of Union Rural Development Minister Gopinath Munde has initiated an unexpected debate on twitter: Road safety and adherence to traffic rules. There was near unanimous opinion that we are a very bad lot at following traffic rules and also adhering to safety instructions.
And here, I would like to briefly mention the superb work of one-man army, K Gangadhar Tilak, to usher in both transparency and safety on our roads. Gangadhar Tilak is a retired Railways Superintendent Engineer. Post-retirement, he briefly worked in an IT industry before picking up on his passion to bring about a change.
The story of potholed roads is common to every city and town. It is a testimony to the apathy of either the contractor or the implementing agency that it becomes a herculean task to find a neat stretch of road without potholes. Needless to say, these potholes can sometimes be the gateway to hell.
Distressed by the state of roads in Hyderabad, Gangadhar Tilak took upon himself to fill up potholes wherever he could. Dearth of material was not an issue as he found the tar material lying on the roads itself. On his own, he used to plough through the material, place it in his car and take it to the pothole location and fill it up. Most of the time, he did it under blazing sun because sunlight is essential for the drying up of the tar. He has turned his car into a ‘Pothole Ambulance’. It’s not merely a name – this car actually has a lot of material on the back seat and inside the boot.
Gangadhar Tilak: A hero making our roads safe
Needless to say, initially support was not forthcoming. He was questioned on the need for him to take such physical labour at such an age; some even ridiculed his commitment, but nothing deterred him. The idea of having safe roads kept him going. Since filling up of potholes cannot be done in rainy season, he used to do this even during the peak summer in Hyderabad. After individually filling up nearly 500 potholes, he approached the GHMC (Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation) Commissioner. The Commissioner, surprised at the dedication of Gangadhar Tilak, agreed to officially provide him with tar material, so that he could continue with this mission. As word spread,
many youngsters started helping him. Last Saturday, the 1000th pothole was filled in Hyderabad.
Gangadhar Tilak: A hero making our roads safe
Every single pothole has been documented. When the Commissioner started giving him a lorry load of material as and when needed, Gangadhar Tilak maintained a record of all potholes filled with that material. During this process, he has also observed that the other lorry loads that go out on official government work do not maintain such a record! There is no telling as to how many potholes have been filled or for that matter, if the material has been used for filling at all. In fact, as far as we know, there is no concrete explanation as why the lifetime of our roads are so small! Why can’t the quality be better than what it is now?
Tilak is proposing that the GHMC move to such a model, where every spade of tar material must be accounted for. If as an individual he has been able to identify and fill 1000 unique potholes in Hyderabad over the past 4 years, imagine the number of potholes GHMC could have filled?
The question, therefore, that pops up in the mind is why is it that such services are not transparent?
Most citizens do not know an easy way of approaching government offices for resolving such issues. Roads are laid and re-laid only to break here and there. Why isn’t it easy for a concerned citizen to approach authorities and demand a quick resolution? If a senior citizen can do it, what stops the Government from doing it? The above is a specific example of how easy it is to usher in transparency, which will thereby eliminate corruption and enhance safety.
Speaking of safety on roads – the accident of Gopinath Munde does not have anything to do with bad roads. Fixing of the roads is Government’s responsibility, following rules is ours. Safety on roads is guaranteed, only if they are smooth and we are not hasty. In this particular case, transparency in filling up of potholes will go a long way in ensuring safety on our roads. Enlightened and committed citizens like Mister Tilak are rare. It would be only prudent if the Government, at micro level, makes all of its services as transparent as possible.
Gopinath Munde’s death also underscores another important point: Adherence to traffic rules. It is a shame that so many of us educated folks flout safety and traffic rules on the roads with impunity. Some even take pride in doing so, as if it is some heroic thing to do. Heroism is defined by what Gangadhar Tilak is doing at his age; not by riding bike through the traffic with three people on it! Mister Tilak is contributing towards transforming India. Hats off to his efforts!


Post a Comment