Abhishek Mishra on: Potholes
This month, he makes a case for an integral and often abused part of Mumbai’s economy – the pothole
I can safely, irony notwithstanding, say that Mumbai has the worst roads in the country. Credit is due to local authorities, who have worked hard to ensure that the city doesn’t lose that top spot.
Their competence is on display every year when they count the number of potholes on Mumbai’s roads. Soon I expect them to also physically number each pothole. That would be a good topic of conversation since numbers often convey more than words. “Hey, I went over number 184 today. She seems to have grown four-fold”. “Oh screw that. Have you tried 2469 lately? She’s smelly, but oddly satisfying.”
In Mumbai, potholes are sometimes subject to religious interference. Last year for example, the mayor promised that all potholes would be filled before Ganpati immersion. I trusted him not to deliver, but one devout friend was too naive. “I can endure, that’s what God wants me to do. But I’m happy that my No 8 Philips eco-friendly Ganpati idol will get a smooth ride,” he said. It didn’t.
At this point I’d like to acknowledge some people who worked tirelessly to report positive pothole stories. Newspapers have positive headlines such as ‘Mumbai potholes help deliver second baby in a month’ (Mid-Day, July 12, 2012). The article begins: “While most citizens complain of backaches owing to the potholed roads in Mumbai, one woman was rid of her labour pain thanks to the bumpy ride”. Her doctor said, “The pothole-ridden ride helped build pressure on the womb and she was able to give birth without putting much pressure.”
This is brilliant reporting for two reasons. One, stories like these show potholes in a positive light, which is always welcome. And two, saying that potholes ‘help’ deliver babies and ‘rid’ mothers of labour pain helps us look beyond India’s abysmal infant and maternal mortality rates. Also, we do not appreciate the positive impact of potholes on the economy. Last year it was reported that the number of accidents caused because of potholes had increased by 100 per cent. This data was tactfully used by the government to make another fervent pitch for FDI.
On August 21, 2012, Union Steel Minister Beni Prasad Verma, in a profound display of intellect, said, “I am very happy with the surge in road accidents. More and more vehicles get damaged and it is good for mechanics because it increases their income... accidents are good for doctors too. The more lives they end up saving, the more rewards and gifts they get... our country needs FDI so that more imported and expensive cars get damaged, and mechanics and doctors stand to gain”. I salute this man.
Another bit we overlook when it comes to potholes is the huge earnings they generate for the healthcare industry. Potholes are responsible for neck pains, backaches and various spine problems. Doctors advise patients to drink lots of water and wear horseshoe pillows around their neck while travelling on Mumbai roads. Doctors estimate that an average person spends between Rs 1,000 and Rs 10,000 every month (DNA, Sept 8, 2012) on medical expenses because of bad roads. Some simple maths will help us understand the contribution of potholes to the healthcare industry.
Of the entire population of Mumbai, let’s assume only half, or 60 lakh people, travel by road. Let’s say only half of these people, that’s 30 lakh, have health problems because of bad roads. And let’s say these 30 lakh people spend only Rs 3,000 every month on healthcare.
So a conservative estimate of the contribution of bad roads to the healthcare industry is Rs 10,800 crore. That’s close to $2 billion annually! So the next time someone talks about the sad state of roads in India’s financial capital, please use the opportunity to enlighten them. Good roads may be desirable, but bad roads are profitable...
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