Dr Raja Muzaffar Bhat
Few years ago on a trip to Vidharb region of Maharashtara, I saw concrete roads being built in many districts especially in Nagpur division. I remember around the year 2000, when I was a student and traveling to Mumbai, I saw cement concrete being used in road construction. At first I couldn’t believe that construction workers used cement concrete for road construction, but after viewing it myself on the famous road in Cadel, it made me believe that concrete could also be used for road construction. For more than 20 years, one question always came to my mind why did the government of Jammu and Kashmir not use cement concrete for road construction as traditional bitumen roads get damaged every year during winter snowfall with sub-zero temperatures?
During last summer, a 9½ km stretch of road from Bonyar to Goggee Pathri via Bonen Kutbal in Surasyar block of Budgam district was constructed under PMGSY. Locals told me it was a Rs 14 crore project. I could not verify this because PMGSY J&K does not have an official website and the DPRs are not available on the respective district websites. People were shocked when they saw layers of bitumen spread over this village road and a steamroller leveling it. The paving of a road surface happened for the first time on this road. People enjoyed the ride on this road surface for a few months. It was only a short-lived pleasure as the road was damaged in the January snowfall. Using JCB to plow the road further damaged it by creating cracks and fissures in the road surface. Had the government invested Rs 30 crore or more in this project, it would have ensured better sustainability of the road. With bitumen roads a lot of congestion occurs, while with cement concrete roads congestion management is much better. Asphalt roads have to be laid and repaired again and again almost every year after winter season or after monsoon season across India due to damages suffered during the season but cement concrete roads last 30 to 40 years.
It has now become a trend to asphalt road surfaces without even scarifying the surface. This destroyed the roadscape in almost all areas of Srinagar and major cities. The perimeter walls around the residential houses on the main roads now look short and shabby, as continuous layers of bitumen have elevated most of the road surfaces. Scarifying involves breaking up hard or compacted materials to create enough space for the materials to settle. Simply placing bitumen filler material on a damaged road surface to fill rutted potholes is a temporary fix. Asphalt material does not bind in ruts and potholes. This only increases the height of the road and makes the surrounding landscape shabby. The correct way to reshape the damaged road is to scarify the surface to the depth of the depressions. This breaks up any surrounding compacted surface material. After scarification of the material, the Bitumen can deposit correctly. Cement concrete roads cannot be built unless the road surface is not scarified 2 to 3 feet deep. Thus, concrete roads have this advantage. At J&K, we can restore the lost glory of roads and the surrounding landscape if concrete road projects are undertaken. On a pilot basis, two sections have been constructed in Srinagar, from the Iqbal Park area to Rambagh Bridge and around the Pir Bagh area near the Police Headquarters. I would suggest the government to undertake more such projects next year in Jammu, Srinagar and other districts.
Concrete roads have a long service life which can last between 35 and 40 years whereas bitumen roads last about 10 years in areas with no snowfall but in a place like Kashmir or Ladakh where the temperature drops below zero and there is heavy snowfall and the roads are damaged in just 2-3 years. During the service life, concrete roads do not require frequent repairs or patching works like macadamized roads. Vehicles driving on a concrete road consume 15-20% less fuel compared to asphalt-bitumen roads. This is due to the fact that a concrete road is not deflected under the wheels of loaded heavy trucks. When processing bitumen, many toxic gases are emitted from these plants, and the less fuel consumption of the vehicle running on a concrete road also results in low pollution. Bitumen is made from imported petroleum products which is the non-renewable energy source. If we constantly use these products, a day will come when these natural resources will be exhausted. On the contrary, concrete (cement) is produced from abundantly available limestone. Cement plants also lead to air pollution, but in comparison researchers say concrete is still better than bitumen.
Involve hot plant owners
Based on the initial pavement cost, concrete roads would be around 15-16% more expensive than bituminous roads, but based on life cycle cost, cement concrete roads, due to their long lifespan of 35 to 40 years and their better durability. , concrete roads are estimated to be around 25-30% less expensive than asphalt roads. In the long run, cement concrete roads are actually more economical. To compensate the owners of hot power plants who have invested a lot in setting up these power plants at J&K, the government must involve them in the construction of cement concrete roads so that their economic interests are also safeguarded.
Gadkari on concrete roads
Union Road Transport and Highways Minister Nitin Gadkari said in 2017 that all roads in the country would be converted to cement concrete to ensure their stability and durability. At a ceremony, he had said that cement concrete roads built 20 years ago in Mumbai are still in good condition, but some political leaders, bureaucrats and entrepreneurs were against concrete roads. Gadkari said the cement concrete roads would last 200 years. The minister was speaking at the inauguration of ‘Prawaas 2017’-India International Bus and Car Travel Show in Mumbai on July 29, 2017. In fact, Gadkari has ensured the construction of concrete roads in the nooks and crannies of Nagpur, as he seems to be the biggest proponent of these roads.
This season’s harsh winter has taught us many lessons. Most of our road surfaces in Kashmir and even many places in Jammu Division have been damaged. Even the asphalt roads last summer were damaged. Huge bottlenecks and potholes can be seen everywhere. The cities of Jammu and Srinagar are in disarray due to bad roads. The government must start building cement concrete roads in J&K without wasting time so that taxpayers’ money is not wasted on asphalt roads every year.
(The author is founder and chairman of Jammu & Kashmir RTI Movement)