The poor condition of roads in Kerala has been the topic of discussion for the media in the southern Indian state for a while. Recently, a video showing a man taking bath on a highway went viral, highlighting the pathetic plight of roads in the state. Similarly, some government supporters called for the boycott of a movie that mentioned potholes in its poster.
Though the remarks by the Kerala Minister for Public Works P.A. Mohammed Riyas helped calm the situation, the condition of roads has been deteriorating due to several factors, including heavy rains.
Let’s take a look at some of the recent events that created several controversies related to potholes in Kerala.
The poor condition of roads was highlighted when Hamza Porlliyil in Palakkad district of Kerala performed a unique protest and the video went viral recently. As a protest against the potholes, Porlliyil had taken bath and washed his clothes on a highway. He drew the attention of the authorities by performing yoga and bathing in a water-logged pothole in front of a political leader UA Latheef.
“Lots of accidents have happened due to potholes on the highway, that's why I thought of protesting in a different way to bring the issue to the notice of authorities,” the protester was quoted by Kerala media.
There have been several social media memes about the poor condition of roads, including that of people fishing in potholes.
The condition of roads recently came into the limelight after a scooter rider died in an accident that occurred due to a pothole on the National Highway in the Ernakulum district. The 52-year-old resident died last week after his two-wheeler hit a pothole on the National Highway and was run over by a truck.
Controversial movie poster
Meanwhile, Malayalam actor Kunchako Boban-starrer latest film 'Nna Thaan Case Kodu' has been embroiled in a controversy after its promotional advertisement took a dig at the government over the issue of potholed roads in the state.
"There will be potholes on the road to the theatres. Please come anyway," proclaimed the advertisement, which was posted by the actor on his Facebook account.
The film has reference to the bad condition of roads in the state, which has been a hugely discussed topic not just in social circles, even the judiciary has come down heavily on the condition of the road.
The particular ad has irked a section of social media users. Some netizens even called for a boycott of the film. "I had decided to watch this film but now I have changed my mind. I will watch it only after this advertisement is withdrawn and those in charge tender an apology," an advocate wrote on her Facebook account.
After receiving flak from several people, Kunchako Boban recently addressed the controversy while speaking to the media. He clarified that the makers have not "targeted any particular government, political party or section of people in the film. We only tried to highlight issues being faced by the common man here and attempted to bring it to the attention of the political parties, bureaucrats and the public through humour and satire," he was quoted as saying by media reports.
The main reason is that it targets the young State Minister for Public Works, P.A. Mohammed Riyas. When asked about it, Riyas said after all this is a film poster and things need to be seen in that perspective only and nothing else needs to be read into it. A war of words recently broke out between Riyas and the leader of the opposition V.D. Satheesan.
And what irked the social media fans most is a poster of the film that has become the cynosure of all eyes which says "even though there are holes en route to the cinema halls where this film is being screened, please do come and watch," and the Left cyber fans has gone berserk over this.
Satheesan reacted by saying what's to be noted is this cyberattack is being done by those who speak from the rooftops about freedom of expression and see what's the noise such people now make, as they just cannot take criticism.
"Now that this controversy has surfaced, one thing is sure, more people will come and see the film," said Satheesan.
Roads cannot be killing fields: Kerala HC
Following the protests, the Kerala High Court has ordered the National Highway Authority of India (NHAI) to fill in all the potholes with immediate effect.
The Court observed that "the gravity of the situation in Kerala is now for all to see. We do not react until we are the victim or someone we know faces such a situation. It is always as if accidents only happen to others and not to ourselves. But this is a myth, as anybody with reasonable sense would reckon."
"We can neither wait for another victim; nor can we let the roads of Kerala to be killing fields - whether it be under the NHAI, PWD or the Local Self Government Institutions," it noted.
The court will consider these writ petitions again on August 19, 2022.
Roads in Kerala
There are 11 National Highways in Kerala with a total length of 1781.36km, according to Public Works Department (PWD) data. The state PWD maintains around 1540.56km of the National Highway. PWD roads constitute 15 per cent of the total road network in Kerala, carrying around 80 per cent of the total road traffic within the state. NHAI controls the remaining 240.8km of roads in Kerala.
Kerala witnessed 22,142 road accidents till June 2022, claiming the lives of 2,227 persons, according to the Department of Kerala Police data. There were 33,296 accidents and 3,429 persons lost lives in 2021. The same figures for 2020 have been 27,877 and 2,979, respectively. According to reports, the vehicle density surged to 148.5 lakh in 2021 from 60.7 lakh in 2011. It indicates chances of increasing accidents because of congestion on roads.
Some of the main reasons for developing potholes are the incessant rains and massive floods in recent years. While floods created a lot of problems in the financial situation of the state, motorists are facing the threat of potholes on roads. In the last Kerala budget, a project was announced to make the roads gutter-free with the Public Works Department set to implement it. According to the plan, contractors will be provided with both maintenance and road work and gutters would be repaired when they are formed.
According to the PWD report, 12 out of 14 districts in the state have reported landslides, earth slips, debris flow and rock falls. A total loss of 16,954 km of PWD roads was reported which would require around Rs 100 billion for repair or reconstruction. PWD and Local Self Government Departments have jointly rebuilt 7,602 km of roads. 4429 km of flood-ravaged roads were rebuilt by PWD and made open to transportation. 656 culverts and 127 bridges were reconstructed, most of which are repaired and reopened.