After promising toll-free roads in its manifesto before the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, the Bharatiya Janata Party-led state government is finding it difficult to deliver on it.
Just ahead of the winter session of the state legislature, the state’s public works department (PWD) on Saturday set up a committee of 11 officials and engineers to study if it is feasible to shut some of the 121 toll booths in the state.
The committee has also been tasked with working out the financial burden on the state exchequer if all the toll booths set up on roads built through private partnerships were to be closed.
Comprising chief engineers of all six divisions of the state besides public-private-partnership adviser to the state government besides others, the committee has been given two months to submit a report.
If nothing else, the formation of the committee will help the government ward off attack from the opposition on the issue of road toll in the legislature.
“There is no alternative to road tolls because private funding of public road projects is here to stay. Taking on the financial burden by closing down road tolls and paying off concessionaires is not feasible. What the study group can do is to see if it’s possible to close down some toll booths or reduce burden on motorists,” said a senior PWD official.
He added that the committee would also look at structuring more transparent contractual agreements with private road developers to ensure road maintenance and safety concerns are met by the contractor.
In July this year, ahead of the state assembly polls, the then Congress-NCP government decided to close 44 minor toll booths with cost implication of Rs200 crore.
The decision came after protests against road tolls with the then opposition, Shiv Sena, Maharashtra Navnirman Sena and to an extent the BJP, alleging that public money was being siphoned off in the name of road tolls and there was a nexus between concessionaires and politicians.
“The public outrage against road toll is not only about payment of money but also about ill- maintained roads despite toll, non-transparency of bidding process and tolls being levied for years even after money has been recovered,” said a BJP minister.
The minister said, “The study group will address all these concerns and come up with a solution.”