Thursday, April 7, 2016

The potholes and the missing covers

I counted at least 4-5 open manholes between Nagan Chowrangi and Centrum on the main road the other day. The remaining 14 or so, and I am sure I missed many, were either too low below the surface that a car or the plenty of rickshaws on the road could fall in or too high that a new Mira could get its rear misaligned.
It was in one such manhole that a rickshaw fell in today. The driver and passenger both suffered minor injuries.

Immediately some bikers stopped to help the rickshaw driver with getting the front wheel out of the manhole so the traffic could continue smoothly. The expertise with which the matter was handled showed how often such accidents occur on the roads of this megalopolis of more than 20 million residents.

This reminded me of an incident in July last year when the rickshaw I was travelling in hit a pothole on Nishter Road and broke its front wheel. Luckily the rickshaw did not topple and the driver and I both survived with a few minor bruises. After the accident people just picked up the rickshaw and parked it on the roadside in front of the Caltex petrol pump.

At that time too I observed people simply went about their business as fast as the accident happened. Some even said ‘ye to yahan roz hota hai, ye garha bara khatarnak hai’ (this happens daily at this spot…this pothole is very dangerous).

And this is routine.

Those who travel on the streets of Karachi are no strangers to the ailments of this city. From open manholes to overflowing sewers, too many accidents to signal free corridors, and lack of public transport to the dangerous qingqi (chingchi) rickshaws, we’ve seen all.

With no public transit system one has no option but to avail the dilapidated buses, occasionally sighted green buses, qingqis or rickshaws – taxis are only available outside the emergency of public and private hospitals where they charge exorbitant amounts to transport patients. But these options become more dangerous with the horrible road conditions.

On January 5, 2016, just five days into the new year, Sindh Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah woke up to a campaign run by a Pakistan-Tehreek-e-Insaf supporter Alamgir Khan asking to fix the uncovered manholes of the biggest metropolitan city of Pakistan. The esteemed CM ordered the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation (KMC) to #fixit. However, his directives held no sway over the KMC that has forever been complaining about lack of funds to even fuel their dumpers.

So, on February 25, 2016, Khan attempted to dump the garbage he collected in front of the CM House, for which he was arrested. Though the campaigner was later released, his idea of stencilling the CM’s head next to manholes garnered him a lot of support, maybe even respect.

This support was not because people just thought the CM’s head looks funny next to a gutter filled with filth, but because the public is genuinely unhappy about the road conditions. Perhaps unhappy is too small a word to convey the public annoyance over the lack of infrastructure maintenance.

Karachi has lived without a local government for close to eight years now. The roads and bridges that were so proudly laid out by Mustafa Kamal now lie in horrible conditions. Expansion joints on each bridge have separated and one can imagine what ox-cart rides in Khairpur and other dilapidated PPP constituencies must be like.

Potholes and broken roads are only being filled and carpeted where a new multi-story projects are under way. But the quality is so poor that the roads go bad faster than the time it took to get them fixed. The cherry on top is the the massive miscommunication among the public departments. They consistently forget to do all their works while a road lies dug up, messing up the routines of commuters and pedestrians again and again.

If things remain the same, it won't be long before the Sindh CM's face becomes a regular feature next to all uncovered manholes.

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