Police in Maharashtra arrested several Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) workers, including MLA Prakash Darekar, on Monday for vandalising toll booths in at least eight cities across the state after their leader Raj Thackeray ordered them not to pay up and attack anyone who asked for money.
"If there is any instance just crush the toll nakas. If there is a traffic jam let it be, let the situation take its own course. Do not bother, just don't pay toll in any of the toll booths," Thackeray said on Sunday night while inaugurating a party office in Navi Mumbai.
The MNS chief revived his agitation against toll collection on highways just months before the assembly polls as well as the general elections.
Sources in the MNS said that they will not stop unless the state government steps in with an assurance. They added that the agitation will only intensify if the government does not relent.
MNS MLA Nitin Sardesai blamed chief minister Prithviraj Chavan for their agitation.
"We have gone to him numerous times with this issue and presented him with facts and figures, but he has refused to take any steps," said Sardesai.
Meanwhile, state Congress chief Manikrao Thakre demanded that action be taken against Thackeray for taking the law into his hands.
Maharashtra's director general of police Sanjeev Dayal told CNN-IBN that his men have registered FIRs in places where toll booths have been targeted. He added that security has been provided to toll collection centres across the state.
"We are not anarchists. We were forced to take the law into our hands for public good. Our agitation will continue till the state becomes toll-free," Akhilesh Chaubey, head of MNS' legal cell, was quoted as saying by NDTV.
MNS workers attacked toll booths in Mumbai, Navi Mumbai, Thane, Kalyan, Pune, Aurangabad, Sangli and Nagpur.
"There are reports of attacks on various toll posts in the state and some of the attackers have also been arrested," a police officer said.
A toll booth at Dahisar check post was raided by a group of MNS activists on Sunday night and damaged, according to Thane rural police.
In Kalyan, several toll booths were raided by suspected MNS men led by local MLA Prakash Bhoir, police sources said, adding complaints have been registered against miscreants under various sections of the Indian Penal Code.
By Monday morning, violence by MNS workers had been reported in Mumbai's entry points of Thane and Airoli, as well as on toll booths of the busy Mumbai-Pune expressway, which also reportedly disrupted traffic on the highway.
Agitations were also reported in Nagpur.
In Pune, at least six rampaging activists were arrested, while the police rushed additional security to other toll posts.
In view of the strong anti-toll sentiments among the masses, chief minister Prithviraj Chavan had assured last week that the toll collection issue would be reviewed and a new policy would be announced soon.
This agitation comes days after members of the rival Shiv Sena party vandalised four toll booths in Kolhapur to protest against what they alleged was "illegal" toll collection for nine roads in the city.
Shiv Sena president Uddhav Thackeray later claimed credit for the violent protest. MNS had conducted a similar agitation in 2012 but then brought it to an abrupt halt, raising eyebrows.
On January 16, a MNS legislator was among 20 people arrested for allegedly vandalising a toll booth in Dombivili township of Thane district.
The MNS has been opposing the collection of toll in the state saying that the government has been collecting money without providing any amenities and better services to the citizens.
(With PTI and IANS inputs)
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