While rainy days are more predictable now, the time and intensity of rain is still anybody’s guess. Whether the rain is more or less, heavy or light, in pockets or widespread, they are sure to damage badly built roads; more so in the hills.
Himachal, a totally mountainous state and with a growing road network, is particularly vulnerable even when showers of moderate intensity lash the hillsides. Depending on the slope and the runoff, rainwater dashes downhill and onto the roads. In the absence of up-hillside drains along the roads, the latter in effect become drains. What happens after that is well known to all who use these roads, but many are unable to understand why a series of new potholes appear every time there is rain?
“But we do have drains” some will argue. Well, yes but more for ‘cosmetic’ effect than to drain rainwater. The apologies we have for ‘drains’ along roadsides are like cemented right angles (broken at many places), which a few twigs, leaves and small stones or even a single, discarded poly-pack can effectively block, causing the water to flow onto the road. While technically, road surfaces are supposed to be made in a way that automatically drains off water (called ‘camber’), but this is for the drawing boards. In practice, road surfaces slope any which way, causing the water to hold, rush off, stay, become a pool (particularly in urban areas), where pedestrians become the hapless victims of splashed, muddy rainwater from vehicles charging around. The general public response of liberal use of ‘cuss’ words may offer some temporary relief till the next splash hits you when you thought you have crossed the bad patch. The Sanjauli bazaar is a great place to watch how pedestrians cope with rainwater on the road being splashed and sprayed around while trying to keep their shoes from getting soaking wet!
So what does this rainwater do to the road itself? Besides making the road soggy and soft, where the water stays and forms little pools, it seeps in making the tarred surface and the metal below ‘unstable’ and causes the small pebbles and stones to wear and come off each time a vehicle passes by. Heavy vehicles do the most damage. And bingo, you have a new pothole waiting with sadistic anticipation to ‘bump’ any tire that goes over. Potholes ‘grow’ quickly (even when it stops raining) and in a matter of days your new, smooth road can look and feel like an old alligator’s hide.
But that is not all. Rainwater on the road has Plan B and Plan C and other secret ones. Where the water rapidly flows off the road, it washes off the soil at the berms and causes any number of retaining walls to give way. Especially those walls built with the express intent of fragility in design and engineering. The PWD’s ‘kaccha danga, pacci naukri’ motto springs from repeated occurrence of this road water triggered phenomenon. It is not always rainwater; sometimes High Courts, like the one in Shimla, have similar but more forceful effects of washing off entire stretches of road. At other times, in the absence of functioning drains and municipal neglect, road water can seep deep into hillsides and trigger huge landslides like the one that threatens to carry the Ridge in Shimla down to the skating rink!
What could a possible explanation for not making proper, deep drains along roads to adequately arrest wanton damage by wayward road-water, be? Once while traveling by road from Pokhra (in Nepal) to Kathmandu, I was impressed by the size and design of the roadside drains. Expectedly that road though mostly single lane then, was in excellent shape. Cost is often cited as a limiting factor.
“But what about the damage caused due to drain less roads?”
“That because it’s huge”, said the engineer “is included in the flood relief sought from the Centre!”