Of roads and transportation: How Hyderabad can truly become world-class city?

A city with such a strong national and global reputation is plagued down by mediocre transportation infrastructure. This is not an indictment of any political parties, and not that the politicians here do not try. It is simply a reflection of how the residents of Hyderabad city and the city administrators have accepted mediocre roads as a norm.

By Vijay Ivaturi  Published on  4 Oct 2021 7:05 AM GMT
Of roads and transportation: How Hyderabad can truly become world-class city?

Hyderabad is today home to major industries, healthcare institutions, educational hubs, IT companies, and government-run centers of excellence.

● BITS Pilani, IIT, Osmania University, JNTU, ISB, IIIT, etc

● CCMB, NGRI, NFC, DRDO, DRL, BDL, Agriculture University, etc

● Infosys, TCS, Wipro, Deloitte, Morgan Stanley, Wells Fargo, etc

● Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Salesforce, etc

● Dr. Reddys Lab, Bharat Biotech, Apollo Hospitals, etc

This capital city is lucky enough to be home to very strong leaders in the past 30 years. Chandra Babu Naidu, YS Rajasekhar Reddy and K Chandrasekhar Rao. These politicians have had a tremendous positive impact on the way Hyderabad has evolved over time.

A city with such a strong national and global reputation is plagued down by mediocre transportation infrastructure. This is not an indictment of any political parties, and not that the politicians here do not try. It is simply a reflection of how the residents of Hyderabad city and the city administrators have accepted mediocre roads as a norm.

Long term view

In the past 10 years, Hyderabad city has not seen any transformative and futuristic investment in road infrastructure. The entire city has only 3 projects to take pride of:

1. Outer Ring Road (159 km 8-lane expressway, service lanes on both sides, planned between 2001 and 2005, opened for traffic in 2008)

2. PVNR expressway (11 km 4-lane flyover, with multiple exits and entry ramps. Construction, started in 2005 and it opened for traffic in 2009)

3. Hyderabad Metro Rail (Construction started in 2008/2010. The first stage opened in 2017)

These projects continue to be the cornerstones of all major developments in Hyderabad. These projects have the potential and also the track record of enabling Hyderabad to grow. These are not some simple flyover to decongest a particular locality or some poor-quality link roads. The three projects are the only ones that we can hope to support Hyderabad in its future expansion and ambitions.

And all these 3 projects were planned before 2010. We do not have any new ideas and futuristic solutions to Hyderabad's road/transportation infrastructure in the past 10 years.

Are the politicians to be blamed for this? I am not sure. But what is certain is the lack of imagination and future preparedness being demonstrated by the city administrators. We really hope the current Government does either one or both of the following things:

1. Take these 3 projects to a completely next level. Tap into the immense potential of ORR and help the city expand more evenly and with a focus on socio-economic factors. Continue to add more entry and exit ramps to PVNR. Also, look to extend it to other parts of the city. Expand Hyderabad Metro Rail till ORR and beyond. A metro rail track will be a key enabler for decongesting cities.

2. Think of new ideas and launch at least 2 transformative and futuristic projects. This could be revamping the entire intra city bus network with electric buses, add last-mile connectivity with smaller vehicles, and so on. Or, invest in creating satellite townships that are not only well connected to the main city but are also self-sustainable with their own commercial, office, residential, education, healthcare, and social infra and even localized waste management. Think future. Lead the nation with a massive idea. 20 years down the line, these are the ideas that people will continue to benefit from.

3. Change HMDA guidelines such that all new layouts coming in city outskirts are self-contained to the extent possible. Parks, hospitals, schools, waste treatment plants, commercial establishments, and offices spaces have to be localized. Or, look at how other cities like Singapore are managing their limited resources and still run a world-class city!

Getting things right in the near term

Can we do something in the near term to help the mediocre infrastructure that we are stuck with? Of course yes. This is where I sympathize with the politicians. They have been creative and are doing their best to address the current state of our roads. But unfortunately, things simply do not work as planned at the execution stage. Let us look into the various agencies that are created to build and maintain infrastructure in Hyderabad.

There are 7 agencies that are created to maintain and build road infrastructure in Hyderabad. Wow, 7 agencies, their officials, contractors, engineers, field staff, etc. There could be other agencies involved as well, I just do not know. More than enough to make Hyderabad a world-class city, you must be thinking. But things go wrong almost every day. So what exactly are these agencies' responsibilities? Here is my best guess.

1. Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC) – This agency is the pillar of Hyderabad. Takes care of roads, garbage clearance, town planning, permits, enforcement, community spaces, lakes, etc. An army of IAS officials, engineers, and other staff keep GHMC running. They are the lifeline of the city.

2. Strategic Roads Development Program/Project (SRDP) – An initiative focused on improving strategic roads in Hyderabad by building major flyovers, interchanges, and bridges. Execution of the work happens under GHMC, if I am not wrong.

3. Telangana State Industrial Infrastructure Corporation Limited (TSIIC) – Works with industries and acts as a catalyst in providing required road, land, and other basic infra for industries to be set up in various parts of the State. IALA (Industrial Area Local Authority) are focused groups that have their own administrative chain. For example, there are different IALAs individually for major industrial hubs like Patancheru, Shamshabad, and Cyberabad, etc.

4. Roads & Buildings (R&B) – This is the main infrastructure arm of the Government. Works all over the state. Almost every major infra project in the State is handled by them. They typically manage some of the roads in the outskirts of Hyderabad city since the other agencies have a monopoly within the city limits.

5. Hyderabad Metropolitan Development Authority (HMDA) – I heard these are the people with the most funds. This agency manages Outer Ring Road and a majority of town planning and approvals. Large parcels of lands are developed and auctioned by HMDA.

6. Comprehensive Road Maintenance Program/Project/Package (CRMP) – This is yet another agency focused on maintaining roads in Hyderabad. Multiple roads are assigned to different contractors under CRMP, with some SLAs around maintaining the roads that the contractors have signed up for.

7. Hyderabad Roads Development Corporation Limited (HRDCL) – Yes, one more. I do not know the current status of this agency, but it was also created to manage Hyderabad roads professionally, including the finance part. One of the roads near my locality was with GHMC, then moved to HRDCL and recently again got moved to CRMP.

And there could be more such major and minor agencies that are working on roads infra in Hyderabad. I do not know their details. But you get the point here. There are so many agencies responsible for this city, but very little accountability for the perennially mediocre roads.

Main reasons for this mediocrity are not very hard to imagine.

Lack of effective grievance handling mechanisms is a bane for most government-run departments. Road management agencies are no different. The below table lists these various agencies and how ineffective their grievance management mechanisms are. These agencies must introspect and ask themselves how do they measure success when they are not willing to listen to and act on feedback from citizens?

Reaching the correct point of contact in these agencies is a major test of your patience. For example, I am reporting the pathetic static of road cuttings in Nanakramaguda/Financial District to TSIIC IALA. The first step is to write an email to the local TSIIC zonal commissioner. After a week of no response (most likely), I will write to his boss. Finally, write to their MD. Hopefully, someone in the chain responds and helps with addressing this issue. The same is the situation with the R&B department. It is very unlikely that anyone will respond to grievances filed on their website. I will eventually end up sending a complaint letter to the Chief Engineer via Speed Post. This mechanism has worked multiple times in the past as I immediately get a call from the Executive Engineer.

The problem with these agencies is they care very little about citizens. Their responses take months to come by. Resolutions to issues are even more unlikely.

Grievance management tools of various agencies

Lanes suddenly makes U turn

Lack of road management expertise and non-application of common road sense is another factor that adds to our problems. For example, look at the below images from some of the prominent roads in the city. Barricades appear on a lane asking traffic to "take diversion". No forewarning to driving. No respect for lanes from the authorities themselves. Lane markings suddenly disappear as we start to enter the Rs 108 cr flyover/underpass project. Bollards appear suddenly on a lane to allow u-turns. There is no paint to mark lanes on the road but rumble strips make an appearance. This situation repeats in almost every 100 meters of the roads in our city. Any seasoned road management company will ensure such issues are not there.

Improving the near term situation

1. Make agencies accountable for the issues they have created currently. Let them hire dedicated road management staff and professionals.

2. Implement tools that allow citizens to file their grievances easily and expect action from agencies within a reasonable amount of time.

3. Decentralize decisions and hold local authorities or engineers responsible for the upkeep of road infra.

4. Allocate a % of the tax collected (property tax, advertisement revenue, excise revenue, fuel VAT) to the very area from where the tax is collected. This will create islands of improved infra initially and will slowly improve the overall situation.

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