Kasaragod: Potholes on Kerala's famed 'better-than-New York' roads have claimed another life in Kerala. This time it is of 20-year-old Shivani Baliga, a BCom final-year student at Manipal Academy of Higher Education in Manipal. She was cremated at the community cremation ground at Thayil in Kannur, her hometown, on Tuesday.
Her friend and classmate Ajith Kurup of Alappuzha injured his leg and is in a hospital in Mangaluru.
Ajith and Shivani were returning to Manipal after visiting Bekal Fort on Sunday when their motorcycle reportedly fell in a pothole large enough to rattle an SUV near the Chandragiri bridge on the Kasaragod-Kanhangad coastal highway. The accident happened around 7 pm.
According to the family, Shivani was thrown off the two-wheeler and she landed on her head. Their friends, who were on other motorcycles, rushed them to the General Hospital in Kasaragod. The government doctors referred them to a super-speciality hospital in Mangaluru because she had internal head injuries.
Shivani, daughter of businessman B Maheshchandra Baliga and Anupama Baliga, succumbed to her injuries on Monday.
Pothole, a permanent fixture on the road
The 27-km coastal highway between Kasaragod and Kanhangad was built in 2015 under the World Bank-funded Kerala State Transport Project (KSTP) by the State government's Public Works Department (PWD).
The road was built at a cost of Rs 133.05 crore and the contractor was the now blacklisted Delhi-based RDS Projects, which famously built the Palarivattom overbridge.
Right from the early days of the new coastal highway, there were potholes near the Chandragiri bridge, around 400m from Kasaragod's Old Press Club Junction.
But soon after Shivani died on Monday, PWD filled the potholes. "It looks like a crime scene has been dressed up after a murder," said Prasad M N, general convenor of North Malabar Chamber of Commerce, Kasaragod. Prasad is a family friend of the Baligas. "Shivani grew up in front of our eyes," he said.
If the police can charge the health professionals of Kozhikode Medical College with medical negligence for leaving a forceps in a woman's abdomen, they can also charge the PWD officials with culpable homicide when road users die because of potholes, he said.
PWD Assistant Engineer K Magesh, who is responsible for the upkeep of the road, said the area routinely wore off because of underwater seepage. "During the rainy season, the situation aggravates. The aquifer under the road fills up and seeps onto the surface," he said.
The only solution to the problem is to redesign the 100-m stretch around the pothole, he said. "The stretch has to be elevated or concreted. We will have to come up with a new proposal," he said. But the stretch has been sinking for the past eight years.
When asked if there was any administrative procedure to be followed to fix potholes, he said there was none. "If we identify a pothole, we have to fill it," he said.
PWD uses a wet mix of macadam to fill potholes during the rainy season. If it's sunny, it uses ready-mix asphalt available in bags. "We recently filled the potholes but the fillings were washed away in the rain on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday," he said.
The official, however, tried to shift the blame to some other cause. "The pothole is on the Kasaragod-Kanhangad lane. They were on the Kanhangad-Kasaragod lane. I don't know how they fell in the pothole. I don't know if something else was the cause of the accident," he said.
PWD, however, did not find it prudent to mark the pothole, if not fill it.
The official may have a backer in Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, who in March told the Legislative Assembly that roads in Kerala stunned NRIs because they were better than those in New York.