The macadamisation of Srinagar's roads has always been a concern both for the authorities and the people as well. R&B Chief Engineer, Rafiq Ahmad Rafiq, spoke to Rising Kashmir's city correspondent, Aatif Qayoom, about transparency and accountability within the department. Here is what he says.
You have assumed charge as Chief Engineer R&B recently, what are your top priorities?
After taking over as head of the Roads and Buildings Department, my priority is to improve the work culture by implementing a more viable, accountable, and transparent system. In that regard, measures ranging from the right person in the right position and/or job/task, to tracking of activities and events for efficient, effective, and outcome-focused monitoring of development programmes in a time-bound manner remained a priority. In a nutshell, my priority is to strive for a transparent, accountable, sensitive, and answerable system with distinct outcome-based results that are more purposeful and satisfy the public.
Most of the roads in the city are in dilapidated condition. Which roads will be your priority?
First, a distinction must be made between the various categories of roads in the city. We must acknowledge that under the 74th Constitutional Amendment Act, devolution of powers, 364 roads (1394.63 kms) within the municipal limits of Srinagar Municipal Corporation with carriageway widths of less than 5.5 metres was transferred to the control of Srinagar Municipal Corporation. According to my understanding, of the 368.19 km (lane length) of roads within the city limits that remained under the control of the Roads and Buildings Department, 283.67 km were resurfaced in the years 2021–22, and 125.71 km are scheduled to be upgraded or resurfaced in the years 2022–23 under all sectors. The riding surface of the roads under the control of the R&B Department has largely remained satisfactory, and we will work hard to keep the level of public satisfaction on our roads high. If one travels through a significantly small or bad stretch of collector roads before and after entering a city arterial road, the feeling of dilapidation is natural.
When will city roads be macadamised? Is there any dateline?
The work programme for blacktop macadamisation of city roads under the control of the R&B Department by way of resurfacing has been approved and most of the roads have been incorporated under various schemes.
Many vital roads leading to major hospitals are not properly macadamised. Where does the fault lie?
Priority is given to blacktopping of roads leading to major hospitals, which are covered by various schemes. The works programme is developed annually based on the Road Condition Survey and the priority of the roads, and roads leading to lifeline services are always prioritized.
Work on various city roads was delayed in the past, what were the reasons?
We postponed some road upgrades because it was requested by our sister department. If we had resurfaced it before the laying of the main sewer line, we would have been chastised for a lack of coordination, as we had been in the past. We have already begun restoring this stretch now that the drainage department has finished.
Except as otherwise stated for very specific reasons, the generalised statement of blacktopping of the road lasting for a short period is based on a misconception. We must recognize that road construction is a difficult process, from query to plant to the in-situ laying of the product, with many constrained limitations, such as aggregate gradation, tar content, mixing temperature, transportation from plant to site, then laying temperature, rolling temperature limitation, and finally allowing traffic over newly laid bitumen surfaces. I believe that no contractor or engineer would willingly subject themselves to embracement when they are liable for three years, but inadvertent lapses beyond one's control may occasionally result in abrasions at spots, which are corrected as covered under defect liability. If the process was designed to be defect-free, the defect liability clause would never have been required. Recognizing that the process from plant to in-situ laying is tedious and difficult, a defect liability clause remains in place to address any eventual abrasion that may creep into the process at any time. At the same time, we must acknowledge factors of inducted defects caused by carelessness on the part of road users, which must also be considered.
How many plants does R & B have that supply material for blacktopping?
The material for road blacktopping is supplied by private sector hot mix plants through an e-bidding process. We currently have more than 90 such plants in the Valley's private sector. In the last five years, state-of-the-art up-gradation has taken place in private sector plants, and R & B does not own any such plant.
It has been noted that contractors doing macadamization use inferior quality material. Is there a check from the department?
I believe that no contractor or engineer would willingly subject themselves to embracement when they are liable for three years for using inferior quality material. However, a strong quality assurance, control, and monitoring system are in place to ensure that quality assurance and quality control protocols are followed. A team of designated officials comprising Assistant Engineers, Works Supervisors and Helpers is deputed to hot mix plants to assure and control quality parameters. Quality is assured by specifying the parameters ahead of time, and quality is controlled by performing the necessary tests to ensure that the parameters meet MORTH specifications. Following that, to ensure adherence to QA/QC requirements, in-situ tests are performed to check for the loss of parameters from the plant to the site of work due to a variety of external factors. Furthermore, work-done claim bills are only approved after third-party test results are found to be satisfactory as part of Quality Monitoring.
Does R&B feel any change in work advancement after the interiors of the city were given to SMC?
With the transfer of the City Roads to the SMC as a result of the 74th Constitutional Amendment Act, the R & B Department has been able to concentrate and maintain the main arterials with concerted efforts and appropriate priority. Furthermore, there will be an efficient delivery by both the R & B Department and the SMC with different categories of roads and distinct specifications for the two categories.
There is a communication gap between government departments. Once R&B blacktops the road, PHE or BSNL, or others execute their work, why are such things happening?
Although this is, once again, a generalized statement, it is true to a large extent. It must be recognised that such incidents are the result of a lack of umbrella planning at a level beyond the preview of individual departments, rather than a lack of miscommunication. In this case, Big Brother should intervene, and in this direction, the Jammu and Kashmir Communication and Connectivity Infrastructure Policy have been put in place to address issues relating to telecom companies, and it is hoped that such policies will be implemented to cover all such utility departments that affect the roads.
How do you see corruption or dereliction of duty? Will you act tough against such involved employees in the department?
Corruption and dereliction of duty are both taken seriously. Corruption, as an abuse of entrusted power, has been a major factor in impeding development processes and has been a major contributor to weakening and demeaning the great contribution made by engineers to the state's development. Any officer who engages in such misconduct will be dealt with seriously, and appropriate action will be taken against the defaulter under Service Rules.
What is your message to road users and your employees?
I appeal to the general public to understand that roads are our assets and that we all own them. They should be used and protected in the same way that we do on our premises, and a good road means prosperity. To employees, I assert that we must team up to bridge gaps and overcome obstacles.