Saturday, August 27, 2011

Two Highways in Kerala

For anybody traveling out of Thiruvananathapuram by road, there are essentially two choices - the national highway (NH-47) or the Main Central (MC) Road. Both run through the length of Kerala with the NH mostly hugging the coastline and lagoons, while the MC is a roller-coaster snaking through the central hills and valleys.

Yesterday we had to make a round trip to Chertala (literally "Swamp Head"), around 180km from Tvm. For the onward journey we drove down the NH and returned in the evening using the MC. It was a journey that provided a glimpse into the patchwork of intentions that marks infra development in Kerala.

The National Highways are built and owned by the central government, with its management being outsourced to the state. In Kerala it follows the minimum national standards so we have a two-lane configuration all through. The poor quality of construction and maintenance is apparent in many places - potholes, loose gravel and traffic jams. The MC road, on the other hand, is now a strange animal - something of a cross between an autobahn and a bullock-cart track.

The stretch from Changanaserry to Pantalam is the bullock-cart patch, with the traffic crawling at snailpace through narrow, broken roads and single-lane bridges. Then, suddenly, as you approach Pandalam, you have stretches that are so perfect that it is difficult to believe that you are on the same highway! The two-lane highway now comes with clearly demarcated shoulders, lanes and crossings. The stretch is so good that you now have the time to take in the lush green hills and paddies dotting the countryside.

Strangely, there is no sign of any further effort to make the MC Road consistently better.  The complete absence of road construction equipment along the way makes you wonder what brought about this patchwork quilt where excellence and mediocrity sit side by side.


World Bank Project & Operations (2009): India: Kerala State Transport Project; URL -

Status Report: India - Kerala State Transport Project : P072539 - Implementation Status Results Report : Sequence 21; URL -

Kumar, Sanjeev V (2006): Kerala State transport project second phase to be launched next month, The Hindu BusinessLine 20 Jan 2006; URL -

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