On the morning of May 27th 2015, Benedict Jebakumar found himself caught in traffic on the flyover that connects Silk Board to Bellandur Outer Ring Road in Bengaluru, en route to his office at Eco Space. While one might say that is expected on Bangalore roads, there was one more factor that contributed to the traffic. Spread on the road were nails, many of them, the kind that one would typically find in a cobbler’s shop. Small, black and oh so troublesome!
While most commuters waited in their vehicles for the jam to clear up, Benny got off his bike with a self-styled magnet and began ‘fishing’ for the nails. This was not the first time he was doing this: he has been at it since 2012, almost every time the nail menace reared its ugly head. Since July 2014 until today, he had collected over five kilograms.
Citizen Matters spoke to Benedict Jebakumar or Benny, as he prefers to be called, to understand why he does, what he does.
What were you witness to on the morning of May 27th?
Benny issues a 'Nail Alert' on Facebook. Pic: Benedict Jebakumar
I travel to work on my bike or my cycle. At 8 am in the morning, there was a huge jam on the flyover. I found a huge spread of nails on the road. So I got off my bike and started collecting them. I was at it for about 45 minutes, but could only collect about 75% of them.
How long has this issue been going on?
I started picking up the nails in 2012. The main problem is that these nails puncture vehicle tyres. Towards the end of last year, somebody was arrested for being responsible for this. Again in March 2015, another man was arrested. I finally thought that would be the end of the problem, but it resurfaced once again two to three weeks back.
From October 2014, I started documenting the issue on a page I created on Facebook called My Roads, My Responsibility, in the hope that the authorities take action after realising how long it has been going on for, and the kind of inconvenience it has caused.
From the comments that people post on the page, I know that it is not only happening in this area. There are reports of it happening in other parts of the city as well.
What equipment do you use to collect the nails?
Benny's self-styled nail collecting instrument. Pic: Benedict Jebakumar
I wouldn't go so far to call it equipment. It is very cumbersome to bend down and pick up each nail. I am an angler. I have modified one of my broken fishing rods and have attached magnets to one end of the rod. So I comb the road with this. In a way, this too is like fishing, no?
What action would you like to see, from the authorities, as well as fellow commuters?
The authorities—I’m not sure who is responsible for providing us safe passage on this road - BBMP or traffic police or some other body—must find a permanent solution to this. It is not only an issue of road safety or of people being inconvenienced. A colleague of mine who works late once said that he saw a woman having to push her two-wheeler in the middle of the night on the stretch that we commute. Anything could have happened!
Of other commuters, I don’t expect them to stop and help. It will be more than enough if they spread awareness about the issue and take it up with the concerned authorities. If people are not showing any concern, the problem is only going to continue. The mischief-makers will keep exploiting us. More people talking about it is bound to have an impact someday.
What do you think could be a permanent solution to this?
The authorities could perhaps arrange for a vehicle with a magnetic sweeper that picks up all the nails. While I am sure that the people throwing the nails on the road, do it discreetly, installing CCTVs in areas where this happens, could act as a deterrent. They should also monitor the area to see if they can catch the ones responsible for this menace.
Makeshift puncture shops. The signage however reads as 'Footwear'. Pic: Benedict Jebakumar
In addition, it will help if the police authenticate the validity of the puncture shops that are en route. Between Silk Board and Eco Space, there are about six to seven of these shops. I don’t know how many of them have a license. I see young boys in these shops, who work on there on a rotation basis.
So, why do you do, what you do?
Initially it was for myself, so that my vehicle didn't get punctured. I remember one Friday evening, where I was already exhausted after work, and then this happened. I had to push my bike for quite a distance so I could get it repaired. It cost me about Rs 300 or 400. It has happened several times after that too. Thankfully, for the past year, even though it has become a menace to society, I have not had a puncture. But this is because I am extremely vigilant and keep a lookout for nails or other material on the road. So much so, that my family sometimes finds it funny.
What keeps me going now is that what I do indirectly makes life simpler for my fellow commuters as well. That gives me happiness. My colleagues in office too have been extremely supportive and encouraging.
Is there anything that you do differently now?
Several things actually - I do not drive my four-wheeler to work anymore, I don’t have the courage to do so. I drive slowly and am vigilant so I can spot the nails. I always carry the equipment when I am travelling. I sometimes leave early for work, so that I have time to do this before stepping in to office.
Any last words?
More and more people need to talk about the issue to create awareness and so that they authorities take action. The authorities should stop looking at it as a petty crime since the issue is affecting so many people.
At the end of the day, if I have spent some time clearing the roads, I feel satisfied, I feel happy. More than a task, it feels like I am doing public service, both directly and indirectly.