Deadly roads make for bumpy ride in India's tech hub Bangalore

Vehicles negotiating their way through a bumpy, unasphalted stretch of road in Bangalore on Nov 1, 2017.
Vehicles negotiating their way through a bumpy, unasphalted stretch of road in Bangalore on Nov 1, 2017.PHOTO: AFP

BANGALORE, INDIA (AFP) - It is described as India's answer to Silicon Valley but the tech hub of Bangalore, known for its start-up culture and entrepreneurism, is struggling to solve an age-old problem: potholes.

The southern city is under enormous pressure to fill tens of thousands of craterous holes caused by heavy monsoon rain, after a slew of road deaths blamed on potholes sparked angry protests.

Nearly 500 people have died so far this year navigating Bangalore's pockmarked streets, making it the fourth-deadliest city in India for motorists.

Among them were an elderly couple, who were crushed under a speeding truck last month as they swerved to avoid a gaping hole.

"Definitely it happened due to the bad road," Robert, the couple's son-in-law who goes by one name, said.

Doctors have reported a spike in patients arriving at Bangalore's hospitals with back complaints and spinal injuries sustained on the city's scarred roads.

"After these potholes started surfacing, the numbers have almost doubled," said orthopaedic surgeon BS Shankar.

The spate of accidents and near misses has spooked motorists in Bangalore, one of India's most prosperous and developed cities.

The city is home to many of India's top tech companies including Infosys and is known for its temperate climate, green parks and tree-lined residential suburbs.

"You don't know where they are," Bangalorean motorist Vidya Gopalakrishna said of the holes.

"The chances of a two-wheeler skidding is really high, and the chances of accidents are really, really high." Local authorities have blamed unusually heavy monsoon rains for turning some of the city's roads to impassable stretches of cracked bitumen.

"Some motorcyclists lost their lives due to accidents caused by potholes in recent weeks," N Manjunath Prasad, commissioner of Bangalore municipality, said. "We have been trying to fix the problem but rains caused havoc in the city."

One local artist has found a creative use for the potholes, painting elaborate murals around the craters to both beautify the city and alert motorists to danger.

Baadal Nanjundaswamy even filled one giant pothole with blue dye and had an actress dressed as a mermaid swim in the pond to draw attention to the scale of the problem.

Prasad said city workers had filled some 95,000 potholes in recent weeks, but activists accuse authorities of carrying out shoddy repairs in their rush to fix the problem and move on.

Local politician Sharath Kumar, who has organised self-styled "walkathons" to inspect the roads, accused civic authorities of "sub-standard" repairs.

"We found gravel has been used to fill potholes," Kumar told The Hindu newspaper this week.

India has some of the world's deadliest roads with more than 230,000 fatalities annually, and accidents shave three per cent off the national GDP every year, according to the country's transport minister Nitin Gadkari.