PotHoleRaja: Comrades-in-arms for a good cause
Bengaluru’s social enterprise PotHoleRaja is on a relentless mission to usher in a pothole-free India and they are speeding on this road at full throttle
Published: 25th September 2022 05:00 AM | Last Updated: 26th September 2022 03:24 PM | A+A A-
The road to smoothness is paved with good intentions. Powered by Harvard alumnus Dr Prathap Bhimasena Rao, and Sourabh Kumar, PotHoleRaja is an enterprise intent on making bumpy rides a pain of the past. Vexed by bad roads, and the fatal loss of a friend’s daughter in a pothole-related mishap, Dr Rao founded the enterprise in 2016. Bengaluru software engineer Kumar contacted Dr Rao, who was used to taking smooth turns in the sky as an Air Force fighter pilot, as a volunteer and subsequently joined PotHoleRaja as his civic duty. It was the beginning of a rewarding partnership.
Together they asked citizens through social media and WhatsApp posts to identify potholes in their localities or on their regular routes. In the beginning, they decided to spend out of pocket and make a personal effort to ferry gravel, cement and other necessary materials in their own vehicles. Their story went viral. Volunteers joined the effort and even donated money. A year after PotHoleRaja took off, the two road warriors learned about GridMats—eco-friendly, durable mats made of 100 percent recycled plastic waste, which are used to smooth out craters on pavements and roads. “So far, we’ve installed 5,000 sqm of GridMats. Another ongoing project will cover 30,000 sqm in Bengaluru. Most of these are private roads,” says Kumar.
PotHoleRaja was not a fun drive for Dr Rao and Sourabh. They had to push reluctant companies to release CSR funds. They spent time convincing people about the need to repair potholes to save lives—Ministry of Road Transport and Highways puts the total number of road accident deaths due to potholes from 2018 to 2020 at 2,015, 2,140 and 1,471. They found the PPPP model would be more self-sustaining. “The 4Ps stand for Public Private ‘People’ Partnership. ‘People’ refers to citizens who gather to join the cause of improving our roads,” explains Dr Rao. Any volunteer or a citizen who works with them is awarded the quirky label PotHoleRaja or Rani. The mission that began in 2016 is starting a new project in Maharashtra next month; last year PotHoleRaja won the startup competition held under the Smart Infrastructure category at a hackathon conducted by the Maharashtra State Innovation Society for sustainable civic solutions. “PotHoleRaja is offering a six-month warranty for the repair work done. We take care of the technical aspects of the job before we proceed to fix a pothole or build a road,” says Kumar.
Rao says, “If we have the money, we can get it done immediately within 48 hours. For long-term contracts, we deploy our team, which fixes the potholes within 72 hours with the help of volunteers. We’re working to set up a platform for anyone, anywhere in the country to report potholes. And we’ll fix them,” reveals Kumar. That’s a tall order, given the condition of Indian roads. What about funds? “We’re a social enterprise that generates revenue and are also able to do maintenance activities. We’ve been maintaining Bangalore’s Electronic City area and Bidadi Industrial Area using new automated machines. We’re making roads for residential layouts, factories and industries, too,” reveals Kumar. With a lean team of just seven people, PotHoleRaja has executed projects in 30 cities, from Jammu to the northeast, from Jamnagar to Kanyakumari. “Although we don’t have any construction experts on board, we do manage to get the help of socially passionate locals,’’ says Rao.
Examples of bad repair days? “We repaired a stretch of road in Whitefield, Bengaluru. After repeated attempts to fix it, the pothole was back. We discovered an underground water leakage messing with the repair. We spoke to the authorities to resolve it. It was a good learning experience for us,” Kumar chuckles. This February, the civic enterprise partnered with Haryana-based Sarva-Shagun Infra to introduce automated machinery that can fix potholes within 15 minutes and the road is opened to traffic. What next? “Global expansion. Many countries in Africa and Southeast Asia have reached out to us to replicate our model. We will reach out to them,” say the road Samaritans.