A new toll collection point opened within 15 kilometers from the Vashi toll plaza at Kharghar on Sion-Panvel highway led to protests from motorists and opposition parties as the BJP government had promised to scrap toll after the assembly elections.
The state government, however, said it had to allow the contractor to recover toll following a high court order asking the government to decide on the issue in a fortnight.
Just five hours after Kharghar toll booth started functioning from Monday midnight, Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) workers went on a rampage vandalising the toll booth. Long queues were also witnessed as confusion prevailed among the motorist during the day.
The toll booth operations began amidst heavy police protection. As the news of the new toll booth spread, locals and political activists gathered at the spot causing the vehicular traffic to halt for some time. However, traffic resumed after cops intervened and dispersed the crowd.
But the MNS had other plans. Vishal Sawant, a local MNS leader said," At around 4.45am, a group of about 35 MNS workers reached the toll naka in 8 vehicles. They smashed the window panes of three cabins where toll tax was being collected from vehicles heading towards Pune."
"The workers took the police by surprise and managed to escape," he added.
Police did manage to nab some of the party workers, Bajiroa Mohite, senior police inspector of Kalamboli police station said, "We swung into action and arrested five persons including two MNS leaders Mahesh Jadhav and Mahesh Choge."
"Due to police's timely presence, a major incident was averted," he said.
Meanwhile, public works department (PWD) officials claimed that the toll booth will be operational for next six months and a decision will be taken on its continuation later.
PWD secretary VR Naik said "As per the gazette notification, the contractor has been allowed to charge toll for next six months. Later, we will take a review to decide whether toll period can be extended further."
The toll collection on Tuesday led to minor disputes between toll booth employees and motorists, who were surprised by the collection.
A motorist Mahesh Totlani said "This is ridiculous. I have just paid a toll at Vashi and again this toll naka. This is loot of our money and time."
Shirish Gharat, another motorist said, "This highway was expanded to facilitate faster travel. Here I am wasting my time at the toll plaza waiting in queue for my turn."
SR Giridhar, senior police inspector of Kalamboli unit of traffic police, said "Till 10am, motorists were seen queuing up to CBD Belapur. The situation got better after the peak hours, with queues up to 1km by noon. The traffic normalized at around 3 pm."
The Peasants and Workers Party (PWP) has announced a protest against the starting of the Kharghar toll booth on January 8 from 10 am.
Talking about the agitation, former PWP MLA from Uran Vivek Patil said "Our protest will continue until the government scraps the toll naka."
Taking potshots at BJP MLA Prashant Thakur, Patil said that Thakur quit Congress over the toll booth issue and joined the saffron party.
He said, "Will Thakur now quit the BJP which gave the green signal to start the toll naka?"
Thakur replied to Patil, "I had never asked for scrapping of the toll plaza. I had only asked for the locals to be exempted from paying toll."
Umesh Sonawane, PR officer of the contractor- Sion-Panvel Tollways Pvt. Ltd. (SPTPL) said, "As per the notification citizens of Panvel, Kamothe, Kharghar, Kopra and Kalamboli, who are residing near the toll naka are eligible for exemption from toll. The residents of these areas can submit their vehicle registration and residential proof details at out office at the toll plaza. We will then issue them smart cards to allow their vehicles passage through the toll."
* The 23 km stretch of the highway has been expanded to 10 lanes by PWD at a cost of Rs 1220 crores.
* PWD had given contract for widening the highway from Mankhurd-Vashi-Panvel in January 2012 to Sion-Panvel Tollways Pvt. Ltd. (STPL) on build, operate and transfer basis to ensure smooth traffic flow on the highway that connects to the Mumbai-Pune expressway and witnesses heavy traffic and accidents in the region.
* The toll naka has been built at Kharghar on the highway to recover the road expansion cost. The Kharghar toll issue had become a political hot potato in the assembly elections.
* One has to pay Rs 30 for car; Rs 55 tempo and mini bus.
* The rates are fixed as per the notification issued by the state government in 2009.
* While truck and buses have to pay Rs 110, multi-axle vehicles have to pay between Rs 180 to Rs. 240.
* There will be revision in toll in 2016, which leaded to increase in toll by 17 to 20%.