Don’t pay toll if the road is in poor shape. That’s what Chief Minister Ashok Chavan declared on Friday, endorsing Home Minister RR Patil’s stand. Two days ago, Patil had asked motorists to not pay toll collectors who don’t repair roads.
Several commuters have been refusing to pay since the onset of the monsoon when major toll roads, such as entry points to the city, deteriorated. Most times, the operators have no choice but to allow the motorists through.
The toll is collected by private firms and the money is used to maintain the city’s 55 flyovers.
“There is no need to pay [toll] if the roads have potholes,” Chavan said in Aurangabad. “We have told operators not to trouble people until they get roads in shape.”
The Shiv Sena, which has been opposing “undue” toll collection at the city’s entry points and elsewhere in the state, will now put up banners at all toll plazas urging commuters to refuse payment.
Sena workers were arrested several times for protesting at 14 toll plazas, most of which are on the city’s outskirts and in neighbouring Thane district. These plazas, including the one on the Mumbai-Pune Expressway, account for the highest toll collections in the state.
Thane’s Sena legislator Pratap Sarnaik told Hindustan Times that Chavan and Patil had made the Opposition’s task easy. “Now we don’t need to agitate and court arrest,” he said.
He said Thane’s Anand Nagar plaza collects toll from 75,000 vehicles every day. There are 13 other plazas in Mumbai and Thane.
The situation is worse elsewhere in Maharashtra. Most of these state roads — state highways measure 33,212 km, while national highways account for 3,688 km — have toll plazas. Private firms that constructed, repaired or widened these roads recover the cost through regulated toll collection over a fixed period.
Following unrest across the state, social crusaders such as Anna Hazare too joined the protests.
Opposition leader Jayant Patil, of the Peasants and Workers Party, asked Hazare to launch an agitation against the toll policy.
Patil alleged a scam in allotment of toll tenders and accused the government of “daylight robbery” at toll plazas.
“I have requested Hazare to take this up,” he said.
Deputy Chief Minister Chhagan Bhujbal, who heads the Public Works Department (PWD) that controls state roads, said the toll recovery agreements made it mandatory for operators to ensure a smooth ride for vehicles.
Bhujbal did not comment on the chief minister’s declaration.
A PWD official said, following Chavan’s statement, they had issued orders to toll collectors to repair roads immediately.