Senior Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Shobhatai Fadnavis, who is also the aunt of chief minister Devendra Fadnavis, took up cudgels against her party’s government. On Wednesday, she staged a day-long protest against toll tax on the Jabalpur-Hyderabad National Highway.
Shobhatai, now an MLC, was a cabinet minister during the Sena-BJP government in the 90s. Led by the 65-year-old, her supporters blocked the toll nakas at Mansar and Borkhedi on National Highway No. 7. They were protesting against irregularities and corruption by the private party, which constructed the four-lane highway.
The 500-odd protesters stormed the toll plazas in the morning and the agitation paralysed vehicular traffic for over five hours.
Shobhatai had approached Union minister for transport Nitin Gadkari last week and apprised him about the “illegal” toll collection by the private party. It is said that Gadkari had promised her the toll tax would be discontinued in a couple months.
However, instead of waiting for the minister to act upon his promise, Shobhatai launched the agitation with the members of Maharashtra State truck Bus Tempo Tanker Mahasangh. The toll tax-related agitation has also been seen as a direct attack on Gadkari, who is the minister for transport.
Citing the Right to Information (RTI) Act, Shobhatai exposed a number of irregularities of the company in question — Oriental Construction. She said the actual cost of the 95-km four-lane project from Khawasa to Gavsi Manapur was Rs1,064 crore but the figure was increased to Rs1,170.52 crore in a month. She added that just 58 kms of road has constructed.
As per rules, toll can be charged only after completing 75% of the work. But the contractor has already started collecting the toll tax despite completing just 60% of the work, Shobhatai alleged.
Age-old rivalry snowballs
Shobhatai allegedly launched the agitation to embarrass Gadkari, who is the mentor of Maharashtra minister for finance, Sudhir Mungantiwar, a bête noire of the senior BJP leader. Shobhatai, who represented Mul assembly constituency that later merged with Ballarshah constituency after delimitation, was denied a party ticket in 2009 at the instance of Gadkari and the party nominated Mungantiwar
A sulking Shobhatai was later nominated for the membership of Upper House. But still she is unhappy with both Gadkari and Mungantiwar. The agitation by a senior BJP leader also reflects the infighting within the ruling BJP in Maharashtra.