The DMK government that was removed through the ballot recently did some things really wrong, but repairing many of Chennai’s roads to unprecedented levels of perfection was not one of them. The story of these roads in Egmore, Nungambakkam, Mahalingapuram, T.Nagar and so on is not very well known, although there have been a few reports.
The best place to start that tale is the spate of media articles that appeared soon after the last monsoon, carrying a barrage of criticism of the way the Chennai Corporation was going about it. But away from the glare of the media reports, something was happening. The Municipal Administration department had changed the way roads are repaired in Chennai by raising the entire game. The technical specifications were strengthened, the standing of the contractor was required to be higher and a provision of external inspection to ascertain quality was introduced.
The result of this new higher bar was that the civic councillors, long used to a regime of easy tenders and contracts, found themselves simply not making the shortlist. Only those who had a record of doing relatively superior work stood a chance of getting the tender. The process was not easy, and the disgruntlement palpable. The result was calls to newspapers with sensational stories of neglect of roads, from the very people who would otherwise have simply papered over the roads with a thin layer of bitumen and made off with the money. Was the media gullible or complicit in the entire episode? You decide.
Now, the future outlook. With the change of government, and a ham-handed shuffle of bureaucrats, it is unlikely that there will be a repeat of the "higher" standards for road laying inside the city even if the political leadership wishes to. It will take close scrutiny of the entire process by the highest levels of Government, to comprehend the administrative reform that went into the tendering, and to adopt it.
What is even more worrying is the prospect of sabotage. The first heavy downpour on Monday, June 6 evening was the immediate test for the repaired roads. They seem to have passed it. But what is to stop some vested interests from provoking a spell of digging before the full monsoon? Those cuts would devastate these roads and inevitably open the gatest for fresh contracts of the familiar kind. This is an issue that the Comptroller and Auditor General should monitor. It is also something for the media to ensure, but that may be unrealistic.
This report in one newspaper actually gives us some idea of what the normal road laying leads to during each monsoon!