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BBMP claims only 221 potholes in Bengaluru, annoyed HC tells it to “be honest”

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Most of Bengaluru's roads are now pothole-free, says BBMP
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Chastened BBMP admits to 2,500 potholes on arterial roads

HC pulls up civic agency on Storm Water Drain encroachments, half-baked grievance cells

BENGALURU:

The currently officer-run civic agency of Bengaluru was given a tongue-lashing by the Karnataka High Court on Monday, on issues plaguing the city from potholes and storm water drain encroachments to poorly set-up civic grievance cells.

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The HC told the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahangara Palike (BBMP) that just because ‘it was not shouting’, it did not mean the court was not serious about the city’s pothole menace. Addressing the civic agency’s advocate, a division bench headed by Acting Chief Justice Alok Aradhe said, “You convey the sense of urgency. Tell him (BBMP Commissioner) the seriousness of the situation and the (sense of) urgency. If we are not shouting, it does not mean we are not serious.”

Not letting up in its criticism of the civic officialdom, the court asked BBMP to be ‘honest’ about its work. This was after the BBMP advocate stated that the number of potholes being filled was being updated daily, and that up to September 14 of this year 2,010 potholes had been filled and ‘only’ 221 potholes remained. On hearing the unbelievable low figure, the court retorted, “If there are only 221 potholes (left), you should be able to tell tentatively by when you can fill them. You are giving 221 as the number. We ask you to be honest. How many potholes?”

The advocate then amended his statement by saying the 221 potholes were on ‘major roads’. After the court repeatedly sought the number of potholes on other roads, it was told that there were approximately 2,500 potholes on arterial roads – earlier, he had told the HC that he had ‘no idea’ of the number of potholes on arterial roads. The BBMP advocate’s submission came after the HC asked, “If you have issued tenders, you should have estimated how many potholes are there. How many potholes (are there) on arterial roads for which you have tendered? What is the approximate number?”

Be specific on road repairs: HC

The court was also informed that 427.12 km of roads were being resurfaced with hot mix and the work would be completed in four months after the work order. When the HC demanded a specific date, it was told the road repairs would be completed by January 21. The HC’s ire was seen on this issue too when it commented that not giving an outer time limit for completing the work was improper. “There seems to be no positive statement in your reply,” the court told the civic agency’s representative.

Making its stand very clear, the HC said that it would take things seriously if the deadlines are not met. “Any deviation, we are going to view seriously. You have to seek an application for seeking extension of the timeline fixed by us.” The court added that “if we are satisfied that it is because of circumstances beyond your control,” the time would be extended.

9-digit mobile numbers!

The HC also took BBMP to task about the ‘grievance cells’ the civic agency had recently published in the newspapers. The court pointed out that in the “grievance cells some of the (mobile) numbers have nine digits. Some of the phone numbers are not even working. Is that the type of grievance cell you set up?” The court was told that the issue would be ‘looked into’.

There was a little respite for the cornered civic agency when the court asked about the website for pothole-related complaints. When it remarked, “You have a website for potholes, right? Have you ever used it? Telling us is fine. Anyone in this court has used the website?”, the counsel for the petitioner said she had the used the app and it worked. She added that a pothole was filled and a compliance report was uploaded. To this, the HC said it was ‘glad’ that counsel for the petitioner had something positive to say about BBMP.

‘HC to oversee SWD clearing’

On Storm Water Drain encroachments, the HC has ordered constitution of a three-member committee of officials “who are efficient and will be able to implement” the filling of potholes and removal of encroachments on SWDs. The committee will be constituted by Tuesday and will report to the court every fortnight. The court said fixing a deadline was not an end in itself and the real work would begin after that. Any deviation (from the panel’s responsibility) would have serious consequences, the court said, adding, “Make it clear to them in no uncertain terms.”

On the slow pace of work by BBMP in removing encroachments on SWDs, the division bench remarked, “Construction takes time, demolition does not take time. That is why we want to know how many encroachments you are removing per day.” Stressing that it would oversee the removal of encroachments, the HC added, “No other authority will oversee this. It is the subject matter of this public interest litigation.”

BBMP’s counsel informed the court that 2,626 encroachments had been identified and as of September 16, 2022, 2,024 of these have been removed and 602 encroachments remain.

Reverting to the issue of a grievance cell, the HC asked, “What sort of grievance mechanism do you have in place? Can any citizen file a complaint on the website? Do you upload the action taken report on the website?” In reply, BBMP’s counsel said such a system existed.

Panel on CAG report

On the CAG report, the court quizzed the counsel, “Tell us about the CAG report. It was submitted in September 2021. What have you done to implement it?. The agency’s reply was that it was “incorporating it in the work we do.” To this, the HC suggested setting up a committee to implement the CAG report and to submit a report to the court periodically.” It added that if the timelines were not adhered to, it would pass orders against the civic agency.

The hearing of the PIL was adjourned to September 30.

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