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C.P. Ajithkumar, Proprietor, Suburban Travels, Mamangalam (President, Travel, Operators Association of Kerala) & Another v/s State of Kerala, Represented by Secretary to Government, Public Works Department, (Roads), Govt. Secretariat, Trivandrum & Others

    WP(C). No. 32680 of 2008 (M)

    Decided On, 18 October 2019

    At, High Court of Kerala

    By, THE HONOURABLE MR. JUSTICE DEVAN RAMACHANDRAN

    For the Petitioner: Tom K. Thomas, Advocate. For the Respondents: C.P. Sudhakaraprasad, A.G, K.V. Manoj Kumar, Sr. G.P, S. Sudhish Kumar, SC., C.M. Suresh Babu, Babu Karukapadath, M.K. Thankappan, SC, GCDA., R1 & R8, Government Pleader, R1, S. Krishnamoorthy, CGC., Benhur Joseph Manayani, Johnson Manayani, Jomy George, Jeevan Mathew Manayani, Sebastian Thomas, Thomas Antony, Advocates.



Judgment Text

1. This writ petition is one of the longest pending writ petitions of this Court - not surprising, because this case calls into focus a rather vexatious problem faced by our citizens day in and day out; but which has eluded any resolution even as on date.

2. The petitioners complain about the pathetic road conditions in Kerala and in particular, the “Queen of the Arabian Sea” - the City of Kochi.

3. The petitioners rue that in the last more than ten years this writ petition has been pending before this Court, the situation of the roads has not merely bettered, but has, in fact, drastically deteriorated. They, therefore, pray that stringent and effective directions be now issued to all stakeholders and especially to the Institutions in which the various roads are vested; with a corollary plea that the Government be directed to insist on a minimum five year performance guarantee from the Contractor/Agency which is entrusted with the work of laying new roads and repairing it.

4. Much has already been spoken about the absolute necessity of good and motorable roads for any modern nation – it being unequivocally admitted by all respondents – and hence I do not see any reason or purpose in inditing any further on this – which merely would be to restate the very obvious – moving and directly into the issues involved, thus avoiding waste of precious time and paper.

5. I, therefore, pointedly asked the learned Advocate General Sri.C.P.Sudhakara Prasad, instructed by Sri.K.V.Manoj Kumar -learned Senior Government Pleader, appearing for the official respondents, as to the action taken to maintain the roads presently in disrepair and he submitted that over the years the latest technology and methodology have been adopted in laying new roads and for its maintenance, but concedes that, in spite of this, many of them turn decrepit for various unavoidable reasons, including the vagaries of nature and monsoons. He, however, submits that all necessary steps have been taken by the concerned Authorities to immediately cause the essential repairs, so as to make the roads safe and motoroble; and that such work will be completed not later than 31.12.2019, if not earlier depending upon the rains. As regards the roads vested with the various Local Self Government Institutions are concerned, he submits that they have also been instructed to do so within the outer limit of 31.01.2020, since more than 1,33,384 projects have been now identified for immediate repair of roads. He then adds that the Government have already recorded that all the concerned Engineers and Staff under the Local Self Government Departments and Public Works Departments will be taken to task if the work is not completed within the fixed time frames.

6. The learned Advocate General thereafter added that all the new works being now notified and contracted are with Performance Guarantee requirements and that the officials in charge of such projects are responsible to ensure that such terms are implicitly and scrupulously imposed and complied with. He says that there is also defect liability periods in addition to the above which is imposed on the Contractors/Agencies in charge of the work and that an effective Road Maintenance Management System, as per the PWD Manual and specifications of the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways (MORTH Specifications), have also been put into operation. He says that these specifications ensure computerised Road Management System so as o enable the use of limited resources available for maintenance work and controlling resources to accomplish a predetermined level of service through planning, budgeting, scheduling, reporting and evaluating. The learned Advocate General, therefore, says that the reliefs sought for in this writ petition have already been acceded to by the Government and that no further orders may be issued. 7. From the materials available, I also notice that a few District Collectors have initiated action against the concerned Engineers and Officials; and in obedience to the orders of this Court dated 11.10.2019, the District Collector, Ernakulam has produced a report, along with an affidavit, wherein he has proposed action against the concerned Engineers and Staff of the Corporation/PWD.

8. Even when the learned Advocate General makes the afore submissions, it is ineluctable that what is important is not words but action.

9. Unless promises and undertakings translate into tangible results, they are worthless.

10. The perceptible skepticism of citizens to repeated promises of officials cannot be brushed aside since, it is crystal clear that, in spite of several orders issued by this Court in this writ petition – including constitution of a Road Repair Monitoring Committee – nothing has changed on the ground level.

11. Hapless citizens still spill blood and life in the craters and pot holes in roads – the incident of the unfortunate death of Sri. R.Umesh Kumar of Kochi being only the last of such but not the last ever, unless real and effective action is taken.

12. Precious time, money and energy are being lost every day on our roads on account of tenuous queues of vehicles caught in traffic solely because of bad roads – the consequent avoidable loss of fuel, especially detrimental to our economy, which is already reeling from the natural disasters of this and last year.

13. No amount of excuses or reasons of any kind can justify even the loss of one life or injury solely because of bad roads.

14. Past experience has shown us that the main reason for the abject condition of roads is that repairs and maintenance are not done in time. A small pot-hole or crater that appears on an otherwise good road is left unattended, thus leading it to become bigger, then crater like, finally deracinating the entire road. Any amount of causes may be cited for this, but the primary is often the indifference and callousness exhibited by the officials in charge of the roads.

15. I am, therefore, certain that no further apathy and insocience can be tolerated and that the concerned stakeholders must be made accountable forthwith.

16. Sometimes, extraordinary situations requires extraordinary remedies!

Consequentially,

(a) The Government, Public Works Department and the Local Self Government Institutions will repair and maintain all roads immediately to make them motoroble, at least to the minimum necessary standard immediately, but not later than 31.12.2019 as far as the PWD roads are concerned and 31.01.2020 as far as the various roads under the Local Self Government Institutions are concerned.

(b) The repair and maintenance work shall be carried on and completed following due procedure but under the strict and continuous supervision of the concerned and competent Engineer and Staff of the respective Departments/Institutions.

(c) The primary responsibility to ensure that the repair work is done properly and that future repairs are noticed and done without delay will be on the concerned Engineers/Staff of the respective Departments/Local Self Government Institutions and any lapse on their part in doing so would lead to necessary consequences, both under the Service Regulations and the Penal Law.

(d) It will be available to any citizen and Residents Associations to bring the disrepair of any road, as also the formation of pot holes and craters, in future to the concerned Department/Institutions so that immediate action can be taken to repair it. The Secretaries of the concerned Local Self Government Institutions with respect to the roads under them and the Heads of the Departments concerned with the other roads will be responsible personally to respond to any such information and take necessary and urgent action.

(e) If the Secretaries of the LSGIs or the Heads of Departments concerned encounter any issues in acting as per direction (d) above, they will be at liberty to bring it to their Controlling Authorities, who will also, thereafter, be equally responsible.

(f) In order for the citizens and Residents Associations, to act as per the liberty given to them in direction (d) above, I direct the Government to publish the list of roads which are not under the Local Self Government Institutions with the name, designation, address, phone number, E-mail and Whats app number of the designated officer in charge in the official website of the Public Works Department. Needless to say, as regards the roads under the Local Self Government Institutions, the citizen can approach it's secretary, in terms of the liberty granted herein.

(g) Since the learned Advocate General has already informed me that the Road Management Maintenance System has been put in place for the roads under the PWD, I deem it also necessary that the Local Self Government Institutions constitute a team for maintenance work for day to day basis, so that the pot holes or defects in roads can be rectified immediately without waiting to let it finally destroy it. The formation of such teams/squads shall be ensured by the Secretary of the Local Self Government Institutions are concerned and if any difficulties are encountered by such Authority in doing so, he/she will be at liberty to approach the Secretary for Local Self Government Institutions appropriately, who will

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there upon assist in such formation through all steps that are necessary. Finally, as regards the plea of the petitioners on insistence of a minimum Five Year performance guarantee from the Contractor/Agency is concerned, this being a matter of policy to be decided upon by the Government, I cannot issue an affirmative direction, but can only commend it. I do so. I, however, also record the submissions made by the learned Advocate General that a decision has already been taken to insist on a performance guarantee for all works and that such decision is being implemented in the last couple of years. This Court certainly hopes that the directions herein, which may not be exhaustive in its nature, could operate as a minimum standard for all Authorities to act and I leave liberty to the petitioners to approach this Court for any further clarification with respect to the afore directions or further directions to be issued; in which event, the Registry is directed to list this matter for consideration appropriately.
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