Potholes — One problem, a myriad of issues.

Abhijay Arjunan
7 min readJul 26, 2022

Potholes. An all too familiar bane of every city, road, highway and transport infrastructure. They serve as either a temporary reminder of seasonal rains or as a constant one of a city’s state of affairs.

People have had issues with potholes for as long as roads have existed. It isn’t a problem that will ever be solved. For as long as roads exist so will potholes. That doesn’t mean that we must learn to live with them, however. Potholes occur due to the entry of water into the pavement. This water then weakens the roadbed or freezes to expand, thaws out and leaves in its place a vacant space which caves under vehicular movement pressure. This cave creates a pothole as the asphalt buckles with no support beneath it.

Since roads are everywhere the issue of potholes is not confined to any one particular country. Every country has them and their respective way of tackling them. Complaining about road conditions seems to be a national sport practised worldwide.

In recent times the pollution caused by road transport has come under the scanner. Since transport emissions — which primarily involve road, rail, air and marine transportation accounted for over 24% of global CO2 emissions in 2016 as pointed out by WRI in its sector wise emissions breakdown series. Potholes have only exacerbated this issue.

Reducing vehicular efficiency, increasing traffic congestion, vehicular damage, fuel consumption and infrequent braking. Potholes impact vehicular emissions of countries directly and indirectly by also influencing consumer behaviour.

For example, India has witnessed a rise in SUV purchases in recent years over hatchbacks and sedans. A trend gaining momentum despite governmental intervention through high taxes. This trend has even persisted despite the rising fuel prices. The high ground clearance and seating of SUVs make it easier to navigate bad roads without worrying about bumps and damages that hatchbacks and sedans face from potholes. Even though hatchbacks and sedans have a lower fuel consumption rate and higher efficiency than SUVs, the constant worry of one bad bump burning a hole in your pocket has dissuaded Indian consumers. To make matters worse, Third Party Liability(TPL) insurance mandated by the state does not cover pothole-related damages either. That is only available under vehicular collision coverage which is optional unlike standard vehicular insurance covers like TPL. This option hence is avoided by the public as Collision coverage will result in an increase in premium paid and is rarely known about. Which is yet another reason to buy an SUV.

This is a worrying trend, as India today is the world’s fourth most significant greenhouse gas (GHG) emitter — contributing 7.08 per cent of all global emissions. As pointed out by the WRI graph for the top 10 GHG emitters. It ranks third amongst countries with the world’s worst air quality, and 13 of its North Indian cities are among 15 of the world’s most polluted. India’s Transportation emissions globally contributes nearly 305.3 MtCO2e — 0.64 per cent of all GHG emissions in India. This sector is the fastest-growing source of carbon emissions in developing countries.

Information and graph taken from WRI’s post on top 10 global Green House Gas (GHG) emitters.

A study conducted by Hao Wang of Rutgers University measures the impact of road maintenance on transport emissions. The study published in the International Journal of Sustainable Transportation points out that extending the life of pavement through preventive maintenance can reduce greenhouse gases by up to 2 per cent; transportation agencies can cut spending by 10–30 per cent; and drivers can save up to 2–5 per cent in fuel consumption, tire wear, vehicle repair and maintenance costs because of smoother surfaces.

ALL data is taken from Petroleum Planning and Analysis Cell.
Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas, Govt of India.

“Extending the life of pavement through preventive maintenance can reduce greenhouse gases by up to 2 per cent; transportation agencies can cut spending by 10–30 per cent; and drivers can save up to 2–5 per cent in fuel consumption, tire wear, vehicle repair and maintenance costs because of smoother surfaces.”

Impact of road maintenance on transport emissions — Rutgers University.

All information and graph taken from WRI’s post on top 10 global Green House Gas (GHG) emitters.

In the Indian context, this means that regular road maintenance and pothole prevention can prevent over 6.106 Gigaton (0.02*305.3) of greenhouse gases. While saving over 53,76,800 metric tonnes of fuel nationally and 3,21,355 metric tonnes for the state of Karnataka in the last year alone. [Fuel calculated for is Motor Spirit and High Speed Diesel used by personal vehicles and transport trucks respectively]

ALL data is taken from Petroleum Planning and Analysis Cell.
Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas, Govt of India.

In the city of Bangalore, potholes have a more insidious air surrounding them as they have been the cause of over 13 deaths in the past 5 years. And that is the official count; the unofficial count is much, much higher. Given the nature of pothole-related accidents, the cause of death is hard to determine. Since several accidents occur due to two-wheelers trying to negotiate bad stretches of road during which they are either knocked down or slip and come under the wheels of other vehicles also trying to negotiate these bad stretches. Therefore a death due to negligent driving case is usually charged against the driver. In the rare instance when a case is filed against the contractor whose duty is to maintain the road, the case is requested to be dropped or they are released after paying a minuscule bail amount. This is as the contractor can simply state that they were unaware and had no prior knowledge of the road’s dilapidated condition and hence weren’t able to fulfil their duty. In cases against the state, the state is liable to pay compensation to the victims as vicarious liability is always with the state.

“Vicarious liability or tortious liability means one party is liable for the acts committed by another person, because of the relationships such as principal-agent, master-servant, etc between them. As per tortious liability, the State is liable for the acts of omission or commission of its employees and is liable to pay compensation to the victims.

In the case of accidents due to poor roads in Bengaluru, BBMP is liable to pay compensation, which is the principal remedy available to the victim.”

- Bengaluru Citizen Matters

Compensation that several victims are yet to see. This is due to the passing of the parcel that the state administrative bodies play every time a victim or their next of kin comes forward. The BBMP in certain cases has refused to take responsibility for the deaths and made the victims’ kin go from one department to another. In the case of Khurshid Ahmed, for example. In Khurshid’s case, BBMP said the road was under BDA’s jurisdiction, whereas BDA said BWSSB had dug up the road.

It is the same game of passing of the parcel that they play when the courts ask for an explanation on the issue regarding potholes and their repair. However, could you blame them though, when you can hear the parcel tick?

Though the Government has tried time and again to fix the city’s pothole epidemic it has been unable to do so. Lack of coordination between civic agencies has led to a blame game amongst them. There have also been several digital tools and aids that the government has released to empower the public to bring forth issues of potholes and road repair work to the notice of civic agencies directly. Applications such as FixMyStreet have faced public pushback for being inaccurate and unresponsive.

“It enables the administrative bodies to step around the main issue instead of actually dealing with it.”

Furthermore BBMP has also faced flak for the amount of information it is willing to make public. The BBMP road history software is now hidden behind a login and password. And more recently the closure of the BBMP RTI (Right to Information) cell for over 5 years despite central guidelines, government letters and citizen petitions make obtaining information regarding road work exceedingly difficult.

This has led to several embarrassing situations for both the government as well as the administration such as the recent caving of a road repaired for Rs. 6.05Cr ahead of the Prime Minister’s visit to Bengaluru. The state of Karnataka has spent a whopping Rs. 20,060Cr on Bengaluru roads over the last 5 years and yet there seems to be no end in sight.

The lacklustre administration has forced the denizens of Bengaluru to do what the city does best. Take matters into their own hands and build a start-up or an organisation to solve the problem. One such organisation is PotholeRaja, a social venture whose focus is to have accident-free roads. There are also various movements and demonstrations that bring to light a denizens’ plight. The artist Baadal Nanjundaswamy created many artworks involving the city’s potholes. Such as his famous moonwalk in Bengaluru! And other such works are highlighted in the video below. Additionally, a few citizens desperate for solutions have turned to much higher authorities by invoking divine intervention to restore the city’s roads.

Heck, even I have tried my hand at solving the pothole problem through my failed inventions.

Potholes are here to stay. As long as we use roads there will be potholes but the longer we delay in creating an effective system to address this persistent issue the more it is going to cost the government, the planet and us. Reducing greenhouse gas emissions of the transport sector through regular and timely roadways maintenance and transparency of governance is an easy democratic fix to multiple issues. It saves the government money, makes a city more efficient and above all else it’s an opportunity to help millions of people regardless of their background, beliefs or views because everyone uses the road and the road is for everyone.

When all else fails we start to call on god.

Originally published at https://abhijayarjunan.com.

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Abhijay Arjunan

I use Medium as a sounding board for the various ideas and observations I come across. And to occasionally vent about my long list of pending DIY projects.