White topping work enforces a lockdown worse than pandemic times

A senior citizen’s painful ongoing experience

White topping work in Jayanagar
The newly laid cement stretch is covered with gunny bags "for curing purposes", says the workers. No one is able to explain the purpose of the square pit, dug near the tree, just before the gate. The entire stretch on both sides of the road is dotted by such pits. Pic: TR Gopalakrishnan

It’s a term Bangaloreans have become quite familiar with in the past one year—white topping. I have seen this work happening in certain areas and the disruption it causes to citizens living and working along that stretch of road.

But last week, white topping arrived at my doorstep and since then my wife and I have virtually been under lockdown. The roads in front of my house have been closed to traffic. Which means I cannot take my car out. The cement surface laid is so high that getting onto it is difficult without some stepping stone. We always have to request the help of the workers around to help us out.

Walking along that cemented stretch is the only safe option, for there is no obstacle-free pedestrian pathway available on my side of the road. And even the cement stretch is not without its perils. 

A harrowing experience

We are a senior citizen couple, living alone on 36th cross road of Jayanagar’s 7th block. I have knee problems and have difficulty walking even up to the supermarket, which is maybe 400 metres from my home. My wife has to undergo dialysis twice a week and has walking issues. So a trip to the hospital means we both have to walk, with difficulty, around 200 odd metres to the main road to catch a ride.

Around a week back, when the road was barricaded and work was getting started, I talked to the site supervisor. At least that is what I assumed he was, seeing him give orders to the labourers on what to do where. I asked him what happens if there is a medical emergency and how an ambulance could reach us.

His casual reply was “there is nothing we can do about it”. He suggested we carry the patient to a point where an ambulance can reach. Which, as I said, is around 200 metres away. I asked him if he had drawings of the design and why pathways or space for emergency vehicles were not part of the design. He had no design, no drawings. The answer was always “there’s nothing we can do about it”.

A woman labourer
One of the many woman labourers on the cemented stretch that has remained like this for three days now. One can often see them carrying loads of stones or cement on their heads. All the work is being done by labourers like her. Pic: TR Gopalakrishnan

Stuck and helpless: No alternative routes

My bank is half a kilometre away. But I cannot go there as walking is not possible and autos don’t come short distances. Even the grocery delivery person cannot come as he has to park on the far side of the road and cross a two feet high divider, negotiate the stone, slush and mud strewn section to my gate. Fortunately, the delivery boy knows us and seeing the difficulties we are facing has been very helpful.

Our ground floor is an ayurvedic diabetic reversal clinic. Neither the doctors nor patients have access. They have to park a distance away and negotiate the obstacle course to their entrance.

But for the two of us, every step looks dangerous. Often, we request the labourers for help to negotiate even those few steps to the newly laid cement and get to the main road. Initially, the supervisors or whatever they were, said we cannot walk on it as it was still wet. When we asked how else were we to reach the main road to reach the hospital, he just said that was our problem, not his.

Read more: Potted and pitted roads: Residents inconvenienced by ongoing works at Indiranagar

We refused to get off the cement into the obstacle course that the sides had become. He retreated quietly seeing that we were two old people and others were beginning to gather.

We have no idea when this work will be finished, if at all. The edges of the cement lane are so high that unless a gentle slope is given to our driveway, we will never be able to take our car out. They say they will get that done by next weekend.

Unrepaired, ineffective machinery

Given that work is being done using manual labour, quality is bad or worse and time consuming. The only machine being issued is a bulldozer with a backhoe, which is busy digging large holes outside homes in that stretch of the road. In their zeal, the bulldozer cut the main electricity cable to our home. So, they had to redig, find the cable and repair it, which left us without electricity for over 24 hours.

White topping work on the street
The distance we have to walk to get a taxi/upto where one can see the white vehicle. Not an easy task for two old people who have trouble walking even short distances. Pic: TR Gopalakrishnan

I desperately asked around if there was any helpline or official we could talk to for help. No one was able to guide us. I even asked the supervisors whom we can talk to regarding the issues residents were facing. Especially senior citizens. Inevitably, they were not forthcoming. We are left with only prayers that we face no medical emergency till the work is done. But no one is able to give any specific answer to that question either, except vague replies like another week or two.

Apparently the bulldozer belongs to a different department than the labour working on the road laying. The workers assigned to cover the open drains outside our compound wall are yet another department altogether. All that these workers have is an iron rod with which they first pulled out the drain covers and now are pushing these heavy concrete blocks back in place.

Read more: How roads are built in Bengaluru. Or not

Quality of work is not a phrase that any of the people we talk to, workers, supervisors and others who seem to be in charge, understand or care about.

This was a perfectly good road three weeks back. I can now well understand the complaints of residents in other parts of the city where white topping has been going on. When asked tongue-in-cheek if this new work was on the orders of the new Congress government, the supervisor, I had mentioned earlier, said that this was left over work from the Bommai government.

It is the only thing we were able to laugh about in the past week.

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About T R Gopalakrishnan 3 Articles
T R Gopalakrishnan was Consulting Editor at Citizen Matters. Former Editor In Charge of The Week, the country’s leading English weekly newsmagazine, based in Cochin, relocated to Bangalore in 2018. Born and brought up in Delhi, took a brief stab at engineering at the IIT, Kanpur, but switched to journalism in 1974. As Editor of The Week, was part of the Prime Minister’s media delegation when Atal Behari Vajpayee visited South Africa and Beijing. Was also a special invitee of the South African government prior to their staging their world cup. Was part of a media delegation from developing countries to the US as a special invitee. While at The Week, besides organising the news desk and setting up work systems for ideation and implementation, also did a number of detailed cover stories on a wide range of subjects, business, politics, sports, science and cinema. Main interests are reading and travel.

1 Comment

  1. The most importance mantra for any civil work is co ordination among the various people and agencies involved. This is lacking in all civil works in Bengaluru. Good administration is the key.Will Shri DKS make sincere attempts to streamline and provide it?

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