The Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) on Tuesday revived its agitation against toll tax collection, with party chief Raj Thackeray asking citizens to refrain from paying the tax until the state government brings transparency in the whole process.
“Starting today, no one should pay toll tax till the state government frames a transparent policy regarding collection,” Thackeray said at a press conference. “I am not against toll tax but against the manner in which it is being collected, without any accountability.” Thackeray also presented the findings of an MNS study on the toll collection system.
MNS workers on Tuesday tried to disrupt collection at several toll nakas in the state. In some areas, staff were threatened against collecting toll.
At many of the collection points, traffic was held up for some time. No major incidents of violence, however, were reported. Police officials rushed to the spots and the situation was brought under control soon. More than 1,000 MNS workers were arrested across the state.
“Since many were unaware of Thackeray’s plea, we arrived at the toll booths to tell people of our protest. People, who are tired of paying toll, crossed the nakas without paying,” said Kishore Shewale, an MNS leader from Navi Mumbai.
Toll collecting agency Mumbai Entry Point Limited (MEPL) said that there were cases of people refusing to pay toll, but denied any violence. “The daily collections were about 20-30% less than usual,” said managing director, MEPL, Jayant Mhaiskar.
In a veiled reference to Thackeray’s agitation, Chhagan Bhujbal, public works department minister said: “Such rhetoric and agitations are very easy to undertake. If you have the guts, run one toll booth and show us the result.”
Last month, MNS workers had launched a violent agitation against the toll tax, attacking toll nakas across the state.
State to make changes in toll system
The government has closed 22 toll nakas and is contemplating shutting down another 24, of the total 178 toll collection points in the state.
Speaking in the state assembly on Tuesday, Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation (MSRDC) minister Jaidutt Kshirsagar and Public Works Department (PWD) minister Chhagan Bhujbal said that the state government was reviewing toll nakas where the money had been recovered as per the agreement with contractors, or were given in perpetuity.
In the discussion, mooted by the opposition, both the ministers faced flak and legislators pointed out irregularities in toll agreement.
In response, the ministers said the state is looking to introduce several reforms in the toll collection system. These include putting up electronic boards at collection sites displaying the cost of the project, details about contractors, profit margins and date of the contracts, to bring in greater transparency.
Bhujbal also said that as per the new policy, of handing out toll contracts, the government would have a 75% share in profits if the vehicular traffic was much higher than estimated in to the agreement.
The earlier policy did not have the option of reviewing the agreement until the specified time period lapsed. “We are collating all the information on toll contracts handed out and this will be made available online,” Bhujbal said.HTC