Ziraat Times Team

Public roads across Kashmir today look like the roads of hell. The roads laid in the last one to three years have, unbelievably, deteriorated beyond imagination. Most of the old roads are degenerated, severely potholed and require to be re-laid. 

Important roads of Srinagar city like the Airport Road, the Boulevard, the roads around the city’s key hospitals are in a bad shape. The much-needed timely maintenance doesn’t happen in time for inefficient and time-consuming procedures of contracting and execution.

Despite huge budgetary allocations, the Roads and Buildings Department is usually unable to spend the funds in time as per the stipulated guidelines. For instance, a huge Rs. 195,783 crore were made available to the Roads and Buildings Department (R&B) in 2017-18, out of which only Rs 100,826 crore were spent. 

Poor quality of roads has huge economic costs – they inhibit economic productivity in across all the three sectors of industries, agriculture and services. That, in turn, might well be constraining Gross State Domestic Product by several percentage points. 

Strikingly, the development framework of the R&B Department is all about annual outputs and programme targets. There is barely any institutional framework that could help in tracking results. 

This week Ziraat Times takes a look at the structural issues that result in low spending, abysmal quality assurance and faster degeneration of public roads in J&K, particularly in the temperate Kashmir region. We also feature prominent business and civil society voices about the need to bring in improved efficiency and accountability for the Department.

Sin No. 1: No Strategic Vision

The R&B Department doesn’t have a strategic vision document which could set a goal to attain within a certain period of time in terms of the development of public roads. The current system is mostly annual planning-based, disjointed with other development initiatives or project-centric, largely falling under centrally-sponsored schemes. As a consequence, there is no standardization of quality in the development and maintenance of roads in Kashmir. 

Sin No.2: The Annual Work Cycle

The fundamental problem is the work cycle for the development of public assets, including public roads in J&K, particularly in the winter zone of Kashmir valley, Ladakh and parts of Jammu region. In the current cycle the process of preparing project proposals, approving annual budgets, contracting, actual execution is so tedious and time-consuming that most of the civil works are usually started towards Autumn. 

Consequently, some of the work is done in haste and quality of work is badly compromised.

Sin No. 3: Lowest bidder planning legacy

One of the most serious challenges that undermine good quality work is the lowest bidder contracting system. There is barely a system in place in J&K to ensure that the lowest bid contracting offers abide by the stipulated guidelines for laying new or maintaining old roads. As a consequence, the material used by contractors in constructing roads is usually of low quality, and not abiding by the acceptable standards.

Sin No. 4: Lack of technical supervision and monitoring during construction

It is standard practice for contractors in Kashmir to develop roads with minimum or no engineering supervision. In ideal conditions, the contractors are supposed to be carefully monitored. In most cases of macadam laying, the basic requirements of sloping and drainage to avoid water retention and seepage on the road surface are not followed. Consequently, water retention causes havoc with the road surface within no time.

Sin No. 5: One of the highest rate of degeneration and maintenance costs

If the pattern of public spending is closely studied in the Kashmir region, what emerges is that the region has a high rate of annual degeneration of roads. The financial resources spent per kilometer year-to-year basis is too high too. Almost every road newly laid with macadam requires to be relaid in two to three years time.

Sin No. 6: Lack of system for basic maintenance

Every winter there is damage to roads in Kashmir due to various reasons. Potholes developed during winter, in ideal conditions, would require immediate maintenance. Presently, there is no mechanism in the Department to ensure speedy maintenance either through the creation of internal maintenance and fast response wing or through contracting. Consequently, the public has to bear huge inconveniences for months together before the basic maintenance of potholes is undertaken. This needs to change and the R&B Department must create a rapid response mechanism to fix the potholes.

What all has been done under the Central Road Fund (CRF)

Under Central Road Fund Scheme, which is primarily focused for development of State Roads including Roads of Inter-State Connectivity and Economic Importance, 230 schemes at an estimated cost of Rs 3262.18 crore were sanctioned since the inception of the Programme in 2000-01. An amount of Rs. 2235.28 Crore has been incurred up to October 2017 which includes Rs 102.19 crore of fiscal 2017-18.

Ziraat Times Queries to R&B Department

In order to have R&B Department’s views on this matter, Ziraat Times sent an email to the offices of Commissioner/ Secretary  to the Government, Chief Engineer (R&B) Kashmir, Additional Secretary/to the Government, Additional Secretary/to the Government, Director Planning, Director Finance, Deputy Secretary, Deputy Secretary (Law), Under Secretary, Assistant Director Planning, requesting information about the following. However, no information has been received till the time of sending this edition to press.

1.      Globally-recommended quality and maintenance standards used in building public roads.

2.      Quality assurance systems in place to ensure that contracts and incharge engineers follow the established guidelines and standards. 

3.      Reasons for not using stone tiles (factory made) at a mass scale on roads vulnerable to high water penetration, frost, and general degradation.

4.      Instances when contractors/responsible engineers have been penalized for works not following the set standards.

5.      The total annual budget (both revenue and capital budgets) available for Jammu and Kashmir provinces in 2017-18 and 2018-19. 

6.      Financial resources spent in terms of Rs/km on macadamization of roads in Kashmir province.

What R&B Department has to say about degeneration of public roads

According to an official document, Road surface requires renewal coat after a cycle of 4-5 years to prevent deterioration of pavements. Besides due to fast growing road traffic, widening of existing road network also becomes inevitable. The development of road sector is undertaken under various programmes viz; Projectization Plan, NABARD, CRF, ISC, STF, Cities & Town, and Tourist Destination. During 2016-17, a road length of 2466.68 kms has been blacktopped/ metalled and 2309.83 kms covered under WBM all grades. Similarly, during 2017-18, a road length of 5849.15 kms has been blacktopped/ metalled and 1272.61 kms covered under WBM all grades. 

What the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) has to say on road building in J&K

Performance Report of 2016-17

Jammu & Kashmir (Report No. 1 of 2017) A performance Audit of Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JnNURM), revealed: 

• There was short release of State share of Rs 33.32 crore, delay in release of funds, mis-utilization of Rs 1.07 crore and non-refund of interest of Rs 11.48 crore. In addition, Rs 31.84 crore was kept in fixed deposits instead of utilizing them for the purpose for which they were released.

• Execution of housing projects was marked by delays with none of 34 projects costing Rs 141.38 crore taken up for execution during 2007-08 to 2015-16 were completed despite expenditure of Rs 101.16 crore.

• Only three out of twelve Solid Waste Management projects could be completed due to non-availability of sites while sewerage projects in Jammu and Srinagar could not be fructified despite expenditure of Rs 158.45 crore due to poor planning and conceptualisation. Construction/ Reconstruction of Bridges in Jammu and Kashmir

• Lack of due diligence in conduct of site surveys and in finalisation of design in various divisions of the Public Works Department resulted in 18 works valued at Rs 43.95 crore being held up due to design change or land disputes after award of works rendering unfruitful expenditure of Rs 26.92 crore incurred thereon.

Why do Kashmir’s Roads fail?

Cold weather also takes a toll on pavements. In fact, most pavements do not “fail” because of design factors such as thickness, but usually because of materials problems or environmental distresses such as oxidation, thermal cracking, and subgrade softening in asphalt pavements, and freeze-thaw damage, joint deterioration (spalling), and scaling in concrete pavements. 

(Courtesy: Cold Weather & Concrete Pavements: Troubleshooting & Tips to Assure a Long-Life Pavement 

Author: Steven M. Waalkes American Concrete Pavement Association Skokie, Illinois, USA)

When preparing for resurfacing work the following main points need to be considered: (Last priority)

• The strength of the existing construction – is it adequate to carry future anticipated loadings and if not, what degree of strengthening is required?

 • The shape (regularity) of the existing surface – is it adequate to ensure satisfactory riding quality, surface water drainage and uniform compaction of any overlay material or does it need regulating?

 • Thickness – will existing fixed levels, such as kerbs, accesses and bridge headrooms, permit an overlay to be used or will a particular thickness of the existing construction need to be removed before a new surfacing is laid? 

• Mechanical key/adhesion – will the existing surface with the application of a bond coat provide adequate key/adhesion to any overlay that is applied?

 • The new material – what type of material should be laid? 

• Skid resistance – in restoring the surface, what level of resistance to skidding is required?

• Any other special considerations – e.g. colour, porosity/waterproofing?

What research studies on Kashmir’s road quality says

A recent research study titled “Road Construction, Maintenance Challenges and their Solutions in Kashmir”, undertaken by Rashid M, Bhat SH and Bahsir IA (Department of Civil Engineering, Lovely Professional University) has identified several solutions for addressing the rapid deterioration and maintenance of public roads.

1. The cement mainly Chunam and Ferro-cement used in the construction of rigid pavements should have the initial curing time of less than 2.5 h and final setting time of not less than 5.2 h. The aggregates of granite and carbonate rocks can be used.

2. The sub-base thickness of not less than 0. 5 m should be used to prevent frost heave and differential settlements.

3. The construction of toe-walls mainly the mass gabion walls to prevent the low-amount landslide debris from entering the road that may damage road pavement and drainage.

4. The cut-off drains with trapezoidal cross-section should be provided at numerous places for better drainage.

5. To arrest relatively loose soil, catch fences mainly of brick, cement mortar or stones that are abundant available can be used.

6. To prevent individual cracking caused due to penetration of moisture because of prolonged rainfall, crack sealing comprising of jute fiber mixed with cut-back bitumen can be used.

7. To repair large distressed area, the patch work can be done, fog seals constituting asphalt emulsions and water, chip seals in the form of bituminous layer and slurry seals bituminous emulsions can be used for surface treatment.

8. Increasing vegetation is the effective method to prevent soil erosion, snow drifting and weathering

9. To prevent snow drifting, the snow fences can be constructed and the roads have to be placed parallel to the wind direction.

10. The blind ditch can be constructed, and the permeable geotextile can be introduced on the top surface and the side of seepage layer to allow seepage into the ditch. The bottom and sides must be impermeable to prevent seepage into the embankment.

11. The insulated multiple-drainage outlets, snow walls and culvert can be used. The wall height should not be less than 3.7 m.

12. A flexible drainage can be used in landslide prone areas, because small cracking will not affect their operation.

According to the locals the problem of commuting on these pothole dotted roads exaggerates during rainfall when water gets accumulate in them. The R&B Department official confessed that even State Vigilance Organisation last year found that poor quality of material was used in various road works at several places. He said the investigation was carried out after the reports that contractors were violating rules by using unapproved material in several road constructions came to the surface. Chief Engineer, R&B Department Sami Arif said that defect liability period for a contractor is for three years.

Raja Muzaffar Bhat

Water retention on the roads is a major cause of degeneration of roads as there is no proper drainage system in place. The road gets damaged mostly at these places due to water accumulation which, in turn, destroys Bitumen layers.
Chocked drains due to plastic accumulation.
Haphazard construction of shops and the commercial establishment is also responsible for the destruction of roads as this also causes waterlogging.
Use of inferior material while preparing Bitumen in Hotmix Plants

1.    Proper drainage system along all the roads should be in place.
2.   Construction of Shops should be banned near roadsides and the same be allowed to be constructed at some designated places even in Rural areas which are outside Municipal Limits. Rural Development Department, PWD (R&B) must act against such construction.
3.   Checks and balances by 3rd party agency that would monitor Hotmix plants and laying of Bitumen on Road surfaces when the roads get Macadamized.
4. Compulsory Cleaning small drains at least thrice a year.

Moreso, the leveling of road surface is also an issue. PWD Engineers don’t check this while roads are constructed or repaired. This irregular leveling holds water and that destroys the road surface.

iqbal shahmiri
Iqbal Shahmiri

There are various factors involved in it. First one is that the road construction starts late, mostly at the end of autumn, be it patchwork or any other repair work. They could prepone it and do it like that. Quality should not be a problem now, because they have every equipment and the material is of good quality too. Lack of funds, late start of the repair work can be two reasons. Maybe the late start is somewhere related to allocation of funds. Weather can be a reason as well. We had a harsh winter and there is freezing which damages the roads by frost action. But there is no regular maintenance. Repair work should be done in better weather and there should be a better drainage system.

zaheer adv
Senior Advocate, J&K High Court

The major reason is corruption and use of substandard materials by the local contractors in which engineers are involved as well. If we talk about Srinagar-Jammu Highway, the portion that is maintained by Beacon and if we compare the same with the portion maintained by R&B, there is a huge difference. There are potholes on the roads maintained by R&B only and not on the roads maintained by Beacon. Our funds get lapse due to the inefficiency of our officials. In Poonch, there was a plan to make the road that will sustain for 3 years at least and was supposed to use 75mm and in just 5-6 months the situation is bad. There is no proper monitoring.

nazir ronga
Nazir Ahmad Ronga
Senior Advocate, J&K High Court

Most often in days of March and February, they want to utilize all the available funds on an immediate basis and start the repair work. There is no road inspection. While the repair work is on, my personal experience, which I have witnessed, is they don’t even clean the dust around that pothole.

The season in which they start repair work isn’t actually suitable for such activities. They can either prepone it and make sure it is monitored well.