Importance of fixing road/lane levels in cities

Nallah cover now below recently road surfacing opposite GGM College disturbing smooth traffic flow.

Er. Vinod Malhotra
Like arteries & veins circulating blood in a human body to keep it alive and healthy, road/lane network in any human settlement is its lifeline. Besides transportation of goods and people, roads and lanes in any habitat are also service carriers as distribution networks of various urban utilitiy services like electric lines/water pipes/telephone lines/sewer pipes/telecommunication cables etc.are laid along them.Thus a well planned and well kept circulation system in any settlement also helps in better planning and efficient delivery of various urban services to citizens. In the U.T. of J&K, main roads within cities are mostly maintained by Govt agencies like P.W.D(JDA, Housing Board within their respective estates) and internal lanes within old parts of city and unplanned areas are mostly maintained by Municipali-ties.
Now with the present UT Govt very keen to devolve more powers to urban local bodies as enshrined in the 74th constitutional amendment, it is hoped that development and upkeep of all infrastructural services including maintenance of roads within urban limits shall soon become a Municipal function as is the practice in most well governed cities all over.
Roads and lanes need regular maintenance because of the wear and tear of their surface over time due to continuous traffic movement and occasional heavy rains. Everytime in the course of their periodic repairs, fresh layer of bitumen mix is usually laid on the existing road surface, as a matter of practice, raising its level by few inches in each such repair.
As a result, road/lane surface levels over a period of time( 12-15 years or so) in many localities, say in Jammu city,, have risen enough to creat drainage problems. Look at Jammu-Akhnoor road stretch within Jammu city limits. The surface level of this road stands raised by 3-4 feet in last 40 years or so. Plinth levels of many old adjoining buildings are now much below the present surface level of this road creating not only drainage and waste water disposal problems for them but also during heavy rains, surface water of roads enters these properties. Besides at many locations in the city, sewer manhole covers/ iron gratings over openings of under road nallahs remain a few inches below when road surface gets raised after resurfacing thus creating depressions at these spots which act as hurdles in smooth traffic flow. At some spots in Jammu city, road levels under recent repairs stands raised almost upto the top surface of central road divider against established norms. In essence , the present practice of unwanted raising of road/lane surface levels in an isolated manner with every periodic repair needs to be discouraged by the concerned executing Authorities.
Let us now look at how this aspect is addressed by Jammu Municipal Corporation in Jammu city. While approving building plans of new constructions in Jammu city by the Building Permission Controlling Authority (JMC), one among the many conditions indicated in the formal Sanction issued is that ‘Plinth level of approved new construction shall be kept two and a half feet above the adjoining road/lane level.’ lt is simply a solumn agreement between owner of the approved building & JMC(& other Govt agencies responsible for road maintenance) that this road level difference shall be maintained in future. As per good city planning norms, road
levels must always be lower that the adjoining properties they serve. Since plinth levels of once constructed buildings don’t change( unless they are demolished under reconstruction), it should be obligatory on part of JMC/ other Govt. agencies to ensure that road / lane levels are not raised unnecessarily as and when they are resurfaced in subsequent years. Since this aspect is not being judiciously taken into account usually by the executing agencies during road repairs, many old buildings in our cities and towns which were constructed say 20-30 years ago are now at the same and in few cases even below adjoining road levels which have been raised arbitrarily without evaluating their resultant impact on the adjoining areas ( particularly those old buildings with now low plinth levels)they serve. In most well governed cities of the world, road levels once fixed at the time of their initial construction remain usually same and are not tampered with later on.
So what could be the way forward to address this issue in Jammu. ERA/JDA ( both Govt deptts.) had about 10 years ago got prepared a detailed map of Jammu city through Remote Sensing .This exercise was done for not only preparing revised Master Plan of Jammu city but also to identify each property within city limits for levy of property taxes.This map indicates all roads and lanes in Jammu city. JMC/Govt. agencies responsible for upkeep of roads first need to recognise this as an issue of concern and take corrective action to fix desirable road levels after detailed surveys and freeze them once for all and ensure that they don’t get raised in in subsequent repairs. To begin with, it is suggested that roads in planned localities of Gandhinagar, Trikuta nagar, Channi Himat, Railhead Commerical Complex etc. in Jammu city could be covered under this exercise and then other areas could be attempted.
Jammu city is envisioned to be developed as a Smart city under a Centrally sponsored scheme and work on it is in progress at present. Good road network with efficient drainage system is an important component of a smart city. Fixing and freezing road/lane levels after detailed survey and investigations once for all could substantially mitigate likely drainage problems especially in plain/ low lying areas during rainy season.
(The author is Dev. Commissioner Town Planning Organ, J&K) (Retd)