I am reading a newspaper report that, as municipal commissioner of Ahmedabad, you are feeling guilty about the condition of the city roads. As a citizen, it is heartening to know that you care, but if I use my own mirror neurons, I can sense that the emotion that you must be feeling could be frustration, or more likely, anger.
The roads are broken, but not by you. They are broken by a system that you have to follow.
If anyone is guilty in this bathroom where all are naked by our greed, it is the lowest price discovered through competitive bidding, reverently referred to as L1 by civil contractors who earn their butter and cream by using it.
If we are planning to focus on building infrastructure through this L1 process, we are inviting a catastrophe. Even though my editor will allow me only 600 words, it is still possible to describe road-building as it a very simple process that involves excavation, putting layers of aggregates, rolling them to compaction and giving the section a top layer of asphalt.
There is no real magic involved in making a road other than what our contractors have been managing, and that is making a road at a cost less than what is prescribed in Schedule of Rates (SoR) calculated by R & B department engineers.
If I really put my finger where it hurts you, if a road contractor claims through a bid that he can do so in lesser cost than prescribed SoR, instead of inviting him to explain why he should not be awarded a Huber Civil Engineering Research Prize for performing this miracle, the CVC prescribed guidelines that you must follow and the pressure of getting things done on time demands that you award him the project.
As the only miracle a contractor actually performs is finding a new quantitative mathematics (our contractors should be considered for Fields medal too), what you actually get on the ground is a recipe for issuance of more apologies from you and, if we want to see brighter side, a pathway to buying German cars for orthopaedic doctors.
Sir, I have tried pumping as much jest in this prose to make it bearable, but it is not working. You need to convert your anger into taking on the system, as someone must if we want to build a nation.
Contracts like road-building must shift to open book format and must be linked with Rate Analysis (RA) used by R&B. As road construction is getting more and more automised, human labour component (that must be handled with kid gloves) is reduced, making it easier to work out a firm value of actual labour and material involved, so contractor must be invited only on the profit component in the bidding process.
The market variation in the value of material must be pegged as the risk taken by the bidder with no contractual recourse available for mitigation of the same.
On the other hand, the work supervision should get more systematic in data collection and more tools like computer vision must be in place.
Today technology does permit us to get reasonably accurate quantities of material used merely from CCTV feed and it must be used considering the national importance that road infrastructure has for the nation.
I understand that implementation of any change in the existing system would buck a lot of powerful forces that have thrived due to its lacunas, but a paradigm shift, especially due to technology is in the air, and you can ride it to ensure that your successors will be saved of the guilt that your conscious is making you feel.
– from a citizen touched by your admission of guilt for a collective crime he too is involved in.