An app for a pothole

On 13th January, The Hindu published a report on how it takes riding over just 6 potholes in an auto rickshaw to mess up with your spine. The experiment was carried out by Satish Chandra, a scientist with the National Aeronautical Laboratory (NAL), Bangalore. His finding indicated that the effect of riding over a pothole is worst in a two wheeler. The same Hindu report also stated that civic body has stopped keeping track of potholes. What is the reason that civic bodies are not able to keep track of the roads and how can it be mitigated?

Radically Networked Society The infusion of technology and app driven lifestyle with a high urban penetration has place great deal of knowledge in the hands of citizens. With the use of smartphones increasing at a geometric rate, it is more likely that an enlightened local citizen of a precinct has granular knowledge of the roads than the municipal authorities. The challenge here is more understood from a structural perspective. The government including the municipal authorities is hierarchically organised. Whereas the rest of the citizens are connected with abundant knowledge but diffused leadership. No one seems to be really in charge.

Understanding the challenge. If we try to apply this to understand as to who is in charge of road maintenance, the perspective becomes clear. There are multiple stakeholders who are answerable for the road condition- local ward corporator with his own hierarchy, defence authorities (in some cases the roads pass through the military areas) etc. Each of these organisations have their own structure. At times, it does happen officials at the apex are connected, but the actors the lower levels may not have the same level of awareness.

Going Forward. The Bangalore traffic police has come up with an app named ‘public eye’ for reporting traffic violations. All one has to do is to take a picture of traffic violation and the violator with his mobile phone and share it with traffic police who then will send the notice of fine to be paid by the offender. It is yet to be ascertained whether this has succeeded or not. For it is the appearance of a uniformed policeman which has a greater deterrent effect. But the idea certainly has merit and may be worth trying to minimise spinal injuries through a greater check on potholes. A similar app can be developed for potholes in the roads. The civic authorities claim that the potholes have been filled up based on the report by the contractor. Despite checks and balances, potholes appear in no time. One of the main reasons being use of sub standard material by the contractor. If citizens can give a feedback on the state of potholes by using an app, then the corporator can keep the tabs on contractor. This may lead to lower incidences of spinal injuries. We may not eradicate the problem completely, but lessen its severity. A beginning can be made.

Guru Aiyar is a research scholar with Takshashila Institution and tweets at @guruaiyar.