How Innovations like Grid Mats and Solar Roads are transforming Public Safety and Environmental Sustainability. Sourabh Kumar, COO – PotHoleRaja in conversation with the Dr. Debashish Sengupta Asia Editor of Future of Earth 

DS: PotHoleRaja has come a long way since we covered it for the Future of Earth last time. How has the journey been and tell us about the impact that this social innovation has had in a populous country like India with a heavy load of traffic and a high number of road accidents?

SK: Road safety remains as one of the biggest challenges in India. And potholes remain to be one of the biggest problems in the country. It is the same condition every year and with the onset of monsoons the condition of the roads starts deteriorating & commuters start facing the problem of potholes across the country. Many people have lost their lives & thousands of commuters meet with an accident due to potholes, and most of these cases go unreported. PotHoleRaja®  has been focused on making India pothole-free & that can happen with all the stakeholders participating to eradicate this ‘malaise’. So far, we have fixed over 7000+ potholes in 7 cities in the country. 

Compared to last year, road accidents have been far lesser this year because of Covid-19. But potholes remain to be one of the biggest worries since the lockdown has eased & now people have again started stepping out of their homes. One important thing that I would like to highlight is that during the lockdown, we enabled food distribution to more than 1 lakh families in & around Bengaluru with the help of 30+ like-minded NGOs and we managed to distribute over 1.8 Crore meals. We named the initiative as ‘Covid Relief Bengaluru’. 

This was not at all related to road safety, but it was much needed during the time of crisis. And we are glad that we could achieve something which seemed impossible when we started. I would like to thank all the volunteers who were a part of this. 

DS: Fantastic. But many argue that maintaining good roads is the responsibility of the government? Then why do we need social enterprises like PotHoleRaja?

SK: What isn’t government’s responsibility? From water to education to roads to clean air to employment, everything we can think of, is their responsibility. But there is a twist, a country is as good as its citizens are. And that’s where we need to start thinking beyond the taxes, we pay to make our country a great place to live in. Helping others i.e. Volunteering has been in the DNA of Indians for ages. It is in almost every aspect of our lives, e.g. helping someone cross the road, giving food to homeless people, planting trees, giving fees for the education of kids of the needy, distributing warm clothes during winter, and many such examples. Aren’t all these the responsibilities of the govt.? But still, why do people go out of their way to help others? or to solve a social problem? Answer is very clear, to spread happiness. To make our society a better place, in all aspects. Unless the citizens start participating in the development of the nation, the govt. cannot do much. 

Unlike how people think, PotHoleRaja is not there to replace the govt. or not there to challenge them or not to do the job of the govt. We believe that any organization must be a social organization i.e. it must serve the people. And our DNA lies in saving lives. Ours is more of a direct impact. PotHoleRaja® is an organization that is a helping hand to the existing setup to eradicate potholes. As a social enterprise, we bring in all the stakeholders to solve this problem. The citizens, the companies(through their CSR & employee volunteering), the local bodies, traffic police.  And all of these is done in a very transparent manner & through technology. Every pothole that we have fixed is mapped online & can be seen by anyone on our website

We do agree that roads are the primary responsibility of the government but at the same time, social responsibility must be there amongst the citizens to make roads safer. Unless we start believing that these are our roads, roads will not get safer. 

Because of our unique intervention of involving citizens, we have received calls from various state governments such as the Haryana govt. , Uttarakhand Govt. to enable our model of civic participation & the use of the latest technology to make their cities pothole-free. At PotHoleRaja, we believe in Acting rather than in Reacting. This is our success mantra. 

DS: You were the first to use cold asphalt technology in India for fixing potholes that is considered revolutionary. Now you have brought-in latest innovation of using Grid Mats for fixing Potholes. Tell us about this innovation.

SK: Cold Asphalt proves to be the most effective solution to fix potholes in any weather condition & we have tested this product across the country at various climatic conditions. We always had the vision to move from corrective to preventive maintenance. 

PotHoleRaja® GridMats™ is our latest innovation to make roads using recycled plastic waste. Roads which will need very little or zero maintenance & which solves one more problem of plastic waste. PotHoleRaja® GridMats™ is made from 100% recycled plastic. The major components are PP & HDP plastic waste. The empty grid can carry up to 150 MT load per square meter & once filled it can carry up to 300-400MT load. It can also be used to fix potholes by using as a reinforcement & then using the cold asphalt to patch the road. 

Applications of PotHoleRaja® GridMats™ include –

  • Bituminous road, from small driveways to highways.
  • Concrete roads (Reduces the concrete consumption by 30-40% concrete)
  • Mine roads 
  • Relocatable roads / temporary roads 
  • Industrial flooring 
  • Rural Roads , etc. 

DS: How does the use of Grid Mats serve a larger purpose of reducing carbon footprints and creating a sustainable world? I am told that the corporate world is keen to partner on this initiative. 

SK: The hidden agenda is to reuse plastic waste for the development work. 1 square meter of PotHoleRaja® GridMats™ weighs around 4kgs. If we make a 1 km(5m wide) road, 20 tonnes of plastic waste can be used in that. This is way more than any other technology that uses plastic waste for road construction or any surface creation. NHAI used 2 tonnes of plastic per KM. Our technology uses 10 times more plastic waste than NHAI. When I speak to the construction industry, they are very focused on reducing their carbon footprints. They have been planting trees to do so until now. PotHoleRaja® GridMats™ is now becoming the latest addition to it. Now they are talking about becoming carbon negative with the application of PotHoleRaja® GridMats™in their properties. But this industry also comes with its own set of challenges, not all real estate players are socially conscious. For them, low-cost solutions are the best solutions. So, we often hear NO as an answer from many of them. At the same time there are quite a few who understand the long-term impact & the long term cost saving, and they are happy to associate with us to ensure they use more recycled plastic on their campus. And we also focus on working with people having that mindset. 

With time, the technology in the road making must also evolve, and what can be better than reusing the plastic waste. We are committed to making more plastic roads which will be more durable & which will need minimal maintenance. 

DS: We are told that ‘Solar Roads’ is a futuristic innovation that Pothole Raja is planning to introduce that can have a tremendous impact not only in road technology but on green energy generation. Is this true? Tell us more.

SK: As I said, we are committed to social innovation and with that, we are working on Solar road projects as well. It is in the starting phase as of now, but the plan is clear. 

Roads are one of the biggest real estate in the country, and we want to generate electricity from that. Solar road is not a new concept. Few countries have already installed solar roads but unfortunately, the roads did not last long. But it is a good start. Unless there are failures how can we improvise on that?

We are focusing on making this a low-cost solution. As of now, the existing solution cost around ₹40,000-50,000 per square meter. Our focus is to bring down the cost to ₹10,00-15,000. 

To start with, we are looking at making a bicycle lane & two-wheeler lane. Once successfully implemented, we will move towards car & then heavy vehicle movement. 

DS: The PotHoleRaja is considered as a path-breaking social innovation since it involves society in making society better. Help our readers to understand this better and also tell us the future plans of your social enterprise.

SK: Until now, the pothole reporting was through our WhatsApp number +91 814 POTHOLE (+91 814 7684653) where citizens used to send us the picture & the GPS location. 

We are now working on making this easier with our mobile application. Very soon we will be launching our mobile app for users to report potholes & to track the status of potholes. In our mission to make India pothole-free, we are also planning to roll out our franchise across the country. It will be one of its kind social franchises where one can focus on the impact, work towards making roads safer & at the same time have a revenue generation mode as well.

We are looking at working with passionate people who can join us to reduce the road accidents across the country. There are a lot of countries in South east Asia , in Africa who face similar challenges as India faces with respect to road safety. We are now planning to go beyond India to revolutionize road safety across the globe. 

About Sourabh Kumar, COO – PotHoleRaja

 Sourabh Kumar is a social entrepreneur running a social initiative called PotHoleRaja which focuses on fixing potholes on the road. Mission is to make India a pothole-free country. He is an engineer by academic accreditation from SIT Tumkur. Previously he has worked with Hewett Packard as a software developer for 3 years. Later he quit his job and dedicated himself to solving the problems of potholes and making roads safe for commuters. He has received the award of 100 most influential Global Youth Marketing Professional. His life revolves around the statement – “Act, Don’t React” & “Be the change you wish to see in the world

Sourabh is not the one to be deterred by failures. While working for HP he experienced one failed attempt of starting a business– Bought a car to run in OLA cab service. However unable to manage costs, he sold the car after 6 months of struggle to manage his expenses. 

Sourabh is a athlete and fitness enthusiast exercising daily for at least 30mins even on the busiest days. He has multiple 10k runs, 1 half marathon, a 2-hour stadium run, a 15000ft trekking at The Himalayas. At the same time he is a big foodie and spends most of the weekends at home cooking a new recipe. 

One of his daily routine is to make the bed right after waking up. It gives a sense of accomplishment that the first task of the day is being done right, which encourages to do many more things with a positive attitude. And if by any chance the day goes bad, coming home to a bed that is already made gives the encouragement of a better tomorrow.