Indian “Road Doctor” Has Been Using His Own Pension Money to Fix Potholes

Meet Gangadhara Tilak Katnam, the man who single-handedly fixed over 1,000 potholes in his hometown of Hyderabad, India. The 66-year-old pensioner has made it his mission to fix the city’s roads, earning himself the nickname ‘road doctor’.

Since 2011, the former railway engineer has been driving around the city every single day, looking for abandoned tar and gravel on roadsides. He collects the unclaimed material and uses it to fill potholes, at times spending his own pension money to do it. Tilak, who calls his work ‘Shramadaan’ (offering physical help), doesn’t confine himself to his neighborhood – he patches up every pothole he can find in the city.

“After working for the South Central Railway for 35 years, I retired in October 2008 and spent some time off in 2009, also traveling to the US to meet my son,” Tilak told the local media. “In January 2010, I came back and settled down in Hydershakote, in Hyderabad and took up a job as a consultant in a software agency.” It was during the course of commuting to this job that Tilak found his calling.


“I was driving to my first day of office when I ended up splashing dirty mud water on school children after my car fell into a pothole on the road,” he recalled. “Then a few more accidents followed at various places.” He kept explaining to the police that these accidents wouldn’t have occurred if the roads had been smooth. But then he witnessed a major accident that changed everything.

“It was near Langer House in the Old City area and I had already seen an accident occur there four days ago,” he said. “An RTC bus rammed an auto (a three-wheeled rickshaw), crushing one person to death. I was horrified by what I saw and I realised that if someone had filled the pothole after the previous accident, a life could have been saved.”


“It is heart-rending to see a person losing precious life in the accident,” he added.

So Tilak decided to take charge of matters himself. He loaded his car with empty gunny bags and collected lumps of tar and gravel whenever he could find some. Then, whenever he encountered a pothole, he began to fill it up. Eventually, he became so involved that he even skipped his lunch break to fill potholes. “After that, I quit my job and for the next one year till June 2012, I spent my pension money on fixing roads,” he said.


Tilak’s wife was understandably upset by his activities. She worried for his health, and didn’t want him working in the hot sun. “She called my son down from the US to talk some sense into me,” Tilak said, amused. But when the son arrived, he was so impressed that he ended up helping Tilak instead, by setting up a website and Facebook page. As more and more residents got to know of ‘Shramadaan’, they began to show up and help Tilak fix the city’s potholes. Today, they even have a helpline number where people can call to complain about potholes in their areas.

Tilak’s son also managed to get the government on their side. Initially, Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC) officials tried to discourage Tilak, telling him they’d take care of the potholes themselves. But when he refused to stop, they had no choice but to join in by providing him with resources and materials.


“I used to spend INR 25,000 ($390) per month but after the GHMC started providing materials, I only spend around INR 15,000 of my total INR 20,000 pension,” he said. “My son takes care of my household’s financial needs.” He doesn’t accept donations, but encourages people to join in the physical work. He also has a letter from the state’s Home Minister, permitting him to carry on with fixing roads. “I present the photocopies of the letter to the policemen when they try to check my car for carrying crowbars, spades and other material.”

Tilak hopes that with media attention, he can inspire a change in the attitude of the general public. He believes that the ‘nothing can be done’ attitude is what limits a lot of people in the city, and he wants that to change.




Sources: The News Minute, The Hindu