Dadarao Bilhore was devastated to learn of his son’s death on the streets of his city, but he was also motivated to help save others from a similar fate. Prakash was just a teenager, riding a bike when he hit a particularly deep pothole (hidden by water during Mumbai’s summer monsoon season) and fatally crashed. In the wake of this tragedy, Bilhore appealed to authorities and tried to raise awareness to help improve road conditions. But he also took matters into his own hands and began filling in potholes one-by-one on congested urban streets.
Across India, around ten people perish daily in pothole-related incidents. Local, regional and national governments are often criticized by citizens for being slow to fix these problems. Critics also blame contractors for doing intentionally poor work (to ensure they will have more work fixing their own mistakes later).
So Bilhore took action and started gathering up trowels, sand and other materials and has filled in hundreds of holes so far, some alone and others with help from volunteers who have taken up his cause. Often, he walks right out into the middle of busy streets with traffic on all sides, and defiantly begins work while vehicles scurry around him.
These efforts are in part a way of dealing with his grief, but Bilhore also has a bold vision of an entirely pothole-free India. It might sound ambitious, but he argues that this goal is achievable: in a place with a population of over a crore (ten million), if even a lakh (one hundred thousand) of people stepped up to assist, they could easily fill every city pothole using rock, sand, mud and other readily available materials.
To Bilhore, the path forward is clear: citizens must take on the projects governments won’t. He is the latest in a long line of infrastructural activists who have sought to make a difference from the ground (or street) up, including a tile artist (above) who fills Chicago potholes with mosaics. Ideally, what start as one-off projects can attract volunteers, grow larger and get the attention of city officials and planners who begin to take them more seriously as public interest grows.