Kochi: More than the faulty Palarivattom flyover, mired in a string of corruption charges involving politicians and bureaucrats, several pothole-ridden roads could be a decisive factor in the Ernakulam assembly bypoll.
The bypoll, necessitated by the election of Hibi Eden to the Lok Sabha, will be held on October 21. Bypolls to Aroor, Vattiyoorkavu, Konni and Manjeswaram constituencies also will be held the same day.
The UDF has fielded Kochi corporation deputy mayor T J Vinod while the LDF picked young lawyer Manu Roy as its candidate. C G Rajagopal is the BJP candidate.
Ever since the poll was announced it was widely believed that the Palarivattom flyover fiasco, in which the former United Democratic Front government is accused of corruption, could be a major electoral issue though the bridge is situated in the neighbouring Thrikkakara constituency.
Built at a cost of Rs 42 crore during the Oommen Chandy regime, the 750-metre flyover was supposed to serve for over 100 years. It was opened in October 2016 and within three years the flyover started crumbling. It has been shut for traffic.
The flyover was built by the Delhi-based RDS Projects for the state-owned Roads and Bridges Development Corporation. KITCO was the supervision consultant for the project.
The Vigilance have arrested four officials - project director Sumit Goyal of RDS Projects, former Public Works Department Secretary T O Sooraj, Benny Paul who represented the KITCO and M T Thankachen from the Roads and Bridges Development Corporation on charges of corruption.
However, as the campaign gains momentum, the spotlight shifted to the pathetic state of the roads in the constituency.
The Left Democratic Front scents a golden opportunity to attack the UDF since T J Vinod is Kochi corporation's deputy mayor.
Being the deputy mayor, Vinod cannot shy away from taking responsibility for the poor shape of the roads, the LDF camp believes.
CPM Ernakulam district secretary C N Mohanan said the roads managed by the corporation are ridden with potholes while the state government's roads are in good shape.
The Congress holds another state government department responsible for the situation – the Kerala water Authority (KWA).
“Take for example the case of Pandit Karuppan Road. The road was dug up by the KWA for laying pipes for a drinking water project. The KWA was supposed complete pipe laying works by July, but it didn't happen. It was completed only in September. The corporation had completed the tender works for renovating the road in July itself. Now, the work has started but it could not be completed due to persisting rain,” DCC vice president Muhammed Shiyas told Onmanorama.
“The LDF councillors in the area take credit for the water project and they blame the UDF for the poor condition of the road,” he added.
He said the LDF could not renovate even a single road when it ruled the corporation 10 years ago. “During the previous UDF government's tenure (2011-15), Rs 83 crore was allotted to maintain the roads in Kochi in three phases. The current LDF government has not allotted even a single rupee,” he said.
“Even an immediate assistance of Rs 7 crore promised by PWD minister G Sudhakaran following protests has not been released yet,” he added.
Manoj Niraksharan, a popular blogger and a resident of the city, is however dismissive of the brazen blame-game being played out by political parties.
“Roads and bridges are part of basic amenities. These are not issues to be discussed only during elections. There's no point in successive governments blaming each other for the sad state of such facilities. Once you build a road, it should be there until its expiry date. Unfortunately, here roads become an issue every rainy season,” he said.
He said the politicians are blaming the rain to cover up rampant corruption behind construction works.
“If the problem is with the PWD, it should be restructured completely. We have examples of other agencies building much better roads,” he added.
Known as a traditional bastion of the UDF, Ernakulam assembly segment has elected Congress MLAs 12 times. The LDF could win the seat only twice - in 1987 and 1998 when M K Sanu and Sebastian Paul were elected as LDF independents. In 2016 assembly polls, Hibi Eden polled 57,819 votes and won by a margin of 21,949 votes. CPM candidate M Anil Kumar had to settle for 35,870 votes.
In the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, Hibi won 4,91,263 votes and his victory margin is 1,69,053 votes. In the Ernakulam assembly constituency alone, Hibi could secure 61,920 votes. He was ahead of CPM's P Rajeev by 31,178 votes. Rajeev won only 30,742 votes. BJP's vote share stood at 17,769 votes in the assembly segment in the 2019 Lok sabha polls. BJP had won only 14,878 votes in the 2016 assembly polls.