Hema Malini’s cheeks – how to get there?

PuneRoads4Quality of roads in our cities tell us something is not happening right. What exactly is that? A decade ago, one may have said our cities don’t have enough money. But today, at least cities like Bangalore and Pune are not short on resources.

The so-called “system” is setup well enough. Local government allocates money to upgrade or construct roads. Tenders are floated with description of work that needs to be carried out. The best bid – I assume the “cheapest” one – is selected from a contractor that “qualifies” certain criteria. And then, this contractor carries out the work.

And what usually is the quality of such work? Drive on Marathahalli – Sai Baba Ashram road, talked about as the perfect example of PPP. Nice road, built in part contributions from local Real Estate developers. But, take any right or left from this beautiful road, and you will see roads even worse than the ones I showcased from Pune. And at Pune, even the arterial roads have severe quality issues. The pictures in that post are from Junglee Maharaj Road, Fergusson College Road and University Road.

When the budget-tender-contract-execute “system” seems well setup, why do we have these quality issues all around? Of course corruption, no prizes for guessing that. But let me tell you about the two pieces in this overall processes where it hurts the most:

  1. Selection of contractor: Who decides whose bids are valid and whose bid is the best? How easy it is for a random contractor to complete the documentation “required” to submit a valid bid?
  2. Who inspects the quality of completed work and signs off saying the work is done and payments can be made?

Most egovernance initiatives target problem #1. A completely online and transparent tendering process should fix this. The word “completely” is important, for if any human has the power to delay anything, you could be inviting corruption.

How to fix problem #2 though? You can’t computerize here as it is not easy to quantize quality. So who should decide whether the quality of work is billable and good or not?PuneRoads2

Road building is a “service”, right? Then, who is the end user or beneficiary? Local government, no? You and me, the citizens, yes! When you pay for a service and get it, isn’t it you who decides how the quality is, right? So why does this happen different in case of road works or any “public” work?

Imagine a process where after finishing his work, a contractor is required to get sign-offs from a fixed percentage of “beneficiaries” of the service he provided. To go hand in hand with this system, imagine a law that calls for penalties if an identified beneficiary does not respond to the quality questionnaire.

Beneficiaries must be identified upfront. This will be the toughest hop in the process. But this process could solve the quality problem. It puts the onus back on the citizens, and that is how it should be. Or else, people like me and you will just crib around and create negativity without doing anything meaningful.

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6 Responses

  1. Speaking of incentives, what incentives do the citizens have ?

    If you look at the vehicle-owning population of Bangalore, that is not even going to be 10% of the city population. So, why should the average citizen be exercised about the quality of roads, when he doesn’t even own a vehicle. He will probably use the buses, these buses don’t really worry about roads, the way they are run, now, do they ?

    More likely, he will be worried about rice costing Re.1 per kg more, or tomatoes going for Rs. 1.50 / kg more.

    This whole development model of roads, flyovers etc are not really what bother most of the common citizens, contrary to popular belief. The bad roads are a case of highly visible, but, only partly important issue. I think that is what breeds so much of the apathy.

  2. Krishi – true. It is not all about roads. I am merely suggesting a “model” for improving quality of public work carried out by local governments. Roads stood out as a ready example. Why? because 7 million residents of Bangalore ~ 2-3 million families own some 2.3 million vehicles. What tells you that two wheeler riders and commercial vehicle owners dont care about the roads? And if they dont, they should. Thats the whole idea.

    I am fed up of hearing people crib complain and whine like someones else should do it all for them in a saintly manner.

  3. hi,
    there is a KN high court bench that hauled BMPs collective posteriors about the quality of roads. They have released about 3 reports on this.
    In a nut shell:
    #1. before the bench got into action, the BMP didnot even have any inhouse quality testing mechanism.
    #2. the contractor-babu nexus(CBN) was so strong that BMP would agree to the quality that CBN disposed. BMP could not impose there standards on the CBN!!!!
    #3. right now there is a slight improvement in quality checking but now some in BMP want the bench dissolved.

    The issue is much more complex. There is corruption not just in awarding contracts, checking quality etc, but at ALL levels. The consequence of this is most visible in piecemeal contracts, which constitute a substantial number of BMP projects. These are projects that are below a certain rupee value.

    to begin the lucrative small contracts business is controlled by a big nexus of BMP officials and a set of preferred contractors. Typically, this is a deeply nepotisitic setup.

    Then the quality inspector, the BMP engineer even the clerk who enters the contractors bill into the ledgers and the attender who brings the cheque from another clerk all have their share in this contract amount.

    Thus, a contractor has no incentives for quality work, instead the system forces the contractor to perform sub standard work. Again, since the basic setup is a tightly setup nexus ( only sarkaari approved contractors can be given contracts), the lure of recurring contracts is irresistible.

    Oh BTW, in between there was a move to award works for large chunks of roads so that bigger more accountable companies could be brought into play. (Although, one now hears of foul play by even these cos.) I believe now BMP’s latest innovation is breaking large projects into smaller chunks so that their fav. Contractors can again be bought into play.

    Kerala has a much simpler but very effective checks and balance system. Every contractor has to give a guarantee of his work. The contract period is time of construction plus n years. During this period the condition of road is the contractors responsibility.

    My RDB style solution: On every road prominently display, the BMP engineer and contractors name and contact info. So that junta can hold these people to account.

  4. Somebody from the media has to be extremely “cheeky” to expose the bureaucrat/politician- contractor’s nexus. In that scenario, from cheeky to cheeks won’t take too many weeks.

    In a lighter vien, though Hema still looks attractive, don’t you think that at her age, her cheeks would also have become somewhat like the roads though it may not be apparent.

  5. Tarle, you described the complex situation really well. How come so much insight, can’t just be all common sense. And is the quality of public work really that much better in Kerala? I dont know, never been to that state.

    Hiren why media doesn’t show interest in exposing these “scams”, I just dont know. Probably scared to get into things this rampant. Or may be that it isn’t easy to prove the “complexities” of this corrupt nexus.

    BTW, Times of India Pune is really talking a lot about the roads. But they stop short of naming names.

  6. Hi

    The whole problem lies with the accountability. There is no person(s) who can be held responsible for the roads. I agree with Tarlesubba on his thoughts that the name of the BMP engineer and the contractor along with their official phone numbers must be prominently displayed. This is the system that is followed in most of the western countries and I dont see why it should not work in India. This would make people more accountable and responsible and in all fairness to them respond to emergencies quickly as well.

    Any views on this?

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