The Road to Privatisation

In the neighbourhood we live in, there are a few narrow roads that lead up to the main road. While road no.1 is inconveniently narrow, road no.2 (the one that has all the offices and residential building), is wider but has vehicles parked on both sides, making it narrow. Road no. 1, which is a short-cut to offices and other destinations, is so narrow that even if one on-coming vehicle squeezes through, there is little chance that the flow of traffic goes unobstructed from the other vehicles. The result of such counter-traffic (definitely more than one vehicle) is generally a jammed-up road. The other result of this has been increased levels of concentrated pollution. This situation (of more than one on-coming vehicle passing by) has gone for more than 2 years. About 5 weeks ago, we saw a barricade at the entry point of the road, which read ‘no entry’ for the on-coming vehicles. The discipline lasted for about less than an hour. After this, it was not a surprise that people chose comfort over discipline or the chance to avoid some pollution. Two weeks back, vexed with such attitude of our own neighbours, some of us stood and controlled traffic by holding placards and redirecting vehicles to a wider entry point. Also, we worked on constructing impediments for waiting cabs that were parallely parked on the road, even though there was place inside the office complexes. It took us two weeks to get people to adhere to a complete discipline and we were successful in reducing any congestions that occurred on these two roads.

A recent news report that talks of privatisation of water services has been the first step towards the direction of privatisation of municipalities and/or municipal services in India. Although, when it comes to roads, highways and such, the idea is slightly different. Roads represent a major chunk of revenue for municipalities. Of course, the use of these taxes to repair temporary and long-forgone roads is a still a question, because we have been victims of not just bad roads, but also murderous potholes. The municipal regime may not fully agree or come to terms with these facts because laying roads once before monsoon and/or winter showers is where their “duty” ends. Maintenance does not count as one of their duties or responsibilities. (Now, the reasons for road damage are several; in our city, the main reasons are heavy and continuous rains, and heavy vehicles.)

Lot of us may agree that privatization of neighbourhood roads or a public-private partnership (the latter being the more viable option) would be a nice beginning towards building good roads. It has been observed that for a builder of a commercial or residential complex, construction of approach roads are his responsibility. And this expenditure includes the cost of construction and the taxes that he would pay every year. If the builder start maintaining these approach roads on his own (privately), his expenditure would be much lesser than the taxes he would pay every year to the municipality. Therefore, perhaps even the builders are ready for such a bargain. But are municipalities ready to forgo their tax-revenue? Will this be more of a trade-off for them where they do not have to bother maintaining such internal roads and thus do not have to bother about the use of the taxes they collect?

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