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In the times of frequent road digging and constant potholes, can there be a sort of “instafix” for potholes? Yes, if civic agencies want it. Enter Jetpatcher, a repair system for broken roads that can fill up the death traps in just 15 minutes. This international road repair technology is being trialled by the Greater Chennai Corporation (GCC), and much will depend on the machine being able to provide ‘satisfactory’ results for the city’s demanding civic bosses.

The GCC will now study the results of its trial on Jeremiah Road, Vepery, before concluding whether to opt for such automated pothole repair systems on a wider scale.

What makes the Jetpatcher system different is that it is a self-contained module mounted on a truck, with an air pump, an aggregate emulsion coating system and a bitumen mix container to do the job. In a quick series of steps, the pump first blows all the dirt and water out of a pothole, then an aggregate emulsion is coated on the surface, after which the repair mix is poured in, before being levelled off with a dry mix. This much the Jetpatcher will do; it is up to the contractor to see that the mix is compacted fully and not left with a lot of loose gravel.

These are, of course, also the same ingredients in a manual repair system. But there are far too many potholes and far less manpower than before, and low administrative inclination to manage the ‘small problems’, which in reality are a big deal because potholes regularly kill people. In such a situation, the Jetpatcher could be of immense use.

Courts are increasingly seized of this deadly problem of potholes killing two-wheeler riders. The Kerala High Court even tendered an apology to the family of a youth who had died in a pothole accident. The Bombay High Court has taken up the matter of cratered roads this year, and in 2018, a Supreme Court bench of Madan B Lokur and Deepak Gupta wondered why States were disputing the figure of 3,597 people dying in pothole accidents, a figure collated by the Union government — more than the number of terrorism-related deaths in a given year (2017).

What makes the Jetpatcher system different is that it is a self-contained module mounted on a truck, with an air pump, an aggregate emulsion coating system and a bitumen mix container to do the job

The Jetpatcher and other automated systems should therefore find enough work in the many neglected roads in Indian metros — if civic governments are handed down stringent penalties for not fixing potholes and courts order extraordinary compensation for victims’ families.

Potholes worldwide
The manufacturer of the patented Jetpatcher system based in Rugby, United Kingdom, claims that its models have been successfully deployed — 650 of them — in several countries, including Britain, Australia and those in Central and South America as well as Africa.

Even within India, several cities are apparently keen on ‘jetpatching’, including those in Goa, Mumbai’s Mira Bhayander, Chandigarh and so on. Yet, not everyone seems convinced. A report from Port Stephens Council in Australia’s New South Wales region says the Jetpatcher uses a lot of material, compared to manually fixing potholes, and is likely to be more useful during the monsoons on low vehicle volume roads, rather than as the standard repair system.

Also Read: Has Chennai Corporation stopped patching up roads?

There is of course, a more basic question that Chennai would be concerned with. Can it opt for a hybrid model, where a Jetpatcher is deployed in an emergency, but manual crews with semi-automation attend to the potholes at the ward level on a daily basis? Local repairs are less expensive and employ people who are promised jobs under welfare schemes.

The problem with Chennai is that for over a decade now, it has adopted the practice of completely relaying the roads at high cost, as it is linked to lucrative contracts. A successful contractor often makes a higher profit by not removing the top layer of the existing road — cold milling — and simply adds a thin surface that does not last the year.

Paying for nothing
The GCC is also unable to keep up with the many road cuts incurred from say cable-laying work and so on. The repair charge paid by various agencies and individuals to immediately resurface the cut portions of the road ends up not being used. Residents who complain on the GCC app about potholes often get unwanted calls from civic officials, and in some cases calls purportedly on behalf of the local Councillor asking why a complaint was filed on the app.

Some Jetpatcher machines are advertised even on Indian classified websites, although it is unclear if they are the same being sold by the UK trademark holder. For instance, a model listed as 1000 series is on offer for Rs 1.8 million.

In 2018, a Supreme Court bench of Madan B Lokur and Deepak Gupta wondered why States were disputing the figure of 3,597 people dying in pothole accidents, a figure collated by the Union government — more than the number of terrorism-related deaths in a given year (2017)

Automated road repair technology trials in Chennai revive memories of the late M G  Ramachandran’s experiment with similar German road laying technology in the mid-1980s — nearly 40 years ago. Then it was the Marina, Wallajah Road and Nungambakkam High Road that were repaired using an automated system. Predictably, the machines were ‘too efficient’ by Chennai standards and were rolled out of the city, never to return.

Today, with an expanding metropolitan area and several top level municipal corporations like Avadi and Tambaram, and municipalities in high growth suburbs all coming within the administrative region marked Greater Chennai, a more prosperous city would have to raise its game on the roads. If the Jetpatcher or something similar is adopted, it could be an ‘Instafix’ for roads. This would also give it an edge over Bengaluru, a city that has become a permanent testing track for the suspension systems of vehicles, in spite of Karnataka High Court orders to fix bad roads.


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