When I worked for a newspaper in Bengaluru 25 years ago, I picked a particular pothole at Church Street for some special coverage. It was measured and photographed, and people in the neighbourhood were interviewed every day. I thought it was a pretty good way to provoke officials to pick up a shovel and gravel and fill at least some of the city’s blighted potholes. As days passed, the disgrace we were featuring grew in perimeter and depth, as did the number of pedestrians and drivers who fell into it — or fell victim to it.
No official visited the pothole even as this saga continued, but an official did visit me in office on the 12th day. He didn’t call me a pothole, but had an assortment of other dishonourable names for me. To begin with, he asked me, “Don’t you have anything better to do?” Before he left, he reeled off a litany of excuses for leaving the pothole unattended.
A few citizens’ groups, too, have resorted to outlandish means to draw attention to Bengaluru’s potholes, which gained global notoriety because of the city’s status as India’s IT capital. In 2016, the people of HSR Layout did a “pothole pooja“. The same year, residents conducted the “last rites” of Kaggadasapura Main Road, which they said had “died” of crater-sized potholes. Around the same time, some voiced their frustration through a rap that went viral.
While citizens have been doing freaky things in their quest for safe and smooth roads, authorities have been coming up with bizarre plans to pretend that they intend to make Bengaluru pothole-free. Last year, there were as many as five “deadlines” set by the then Siddaramaiah government to fill potholes, ranging from the size of a kadhai to a children’s swimming pool.
Chief engineer (potholes)?
The latest is a proposal that Mayor of Bengaluru R Sampath Raj made on 28 June at a meeting of the city’s civic corporation, the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP). He suggested a separate department with its own chief engineer to fill potholes.
Two weeks before that, another brainwave struck the new deputy chief minister, G Parameshwara, like a bolt of lightning. Pumped up with the enthusiasm of a new government, he announced that henceforth, a citizen could report a pothole and live happily thereafter. It would be fixed “immediately”, he said.