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Monday, August 23, 2010

Edition 28: Toll Grows into extortion

• Social activist oppose it


• Agitators take to hunger strike

• 70,000 cases lie unresolved for just one road

• Many have overlived their license period

• Still...the toll collection continues to haunt motorists. why?

CITY BLOG DESK

The issue of toll booths extorting money from hapless motorists has bounced back. The question has been raised every now and then at the city as well as state level, however, the government chose to turn a Nelson's eye towards this everyday menace.



Motorists in Maharashtra are paying toll although many of the toll collection booths have outlived their period. there is no provision even to build a toll plaza within municipal limits. Thanks to the ineptitude of Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC), for the last one year, vehicles traversing Paud-Mulshi Road are being charged toll. The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) in its report last year had stated that the road contractor companies in the state had spent Rs 357 Crores 96 Lakh on the road construction. On the other hand, these companies have collected Rs 2023 Crores 72 Lakh since last ten years when the government opted for Built-Operate-Transfer scheme. PAC had recommended that cameras should be put on toll booths so as to count the exact vehicles passing on the road.



The road between Pune-Satara, a stretch between Khambataki ghat, was constructed for Rs 41 Crores. IRB Infrastructure was allowed to collect tax on this road for 9 years and 9 months since Sept. 5, 2000. The company transferred to road to National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) in May 2009. But the NHAI tried to collect the toll amount from vehicles. However, RTI activist Vivek Velankar filed an application and the toll collection was deferred.



Two years ago, The Creative Foundation, led by Sandeep Khardekar had alleged that vehicles passing through the Pune-Shirur highway wer being cheated of their money at the Koregaon toll booth, as people are made to pay the toll twice. Four-wheelers were charged at Koregaon toll booth and further at Ranjangaon, whereas one was supposed to show the earlier ticket here and pass through without paying anything, the statement said.

Initially, there were no boards indicating that commuters have to pay only once. But because of agitation, the board was put there. This week, some activists in Shirur took to hunger strike in Ranjangaon against the mafia-like system of toll collection on Pune-Ahmednagar road. Four social workers took to hunger strike with the blessings of social activist and Megassasay Award winner Anna Hazare.



Sanjay Pachange, president of Krantiveer Pratishtan in Shirur headed the agitators. The strike was taken back after promise from Chhagan Bhujbal, deputy chief minister of Maharashtra and Public Works Minister. When Hazare met the agitators, he said, "The hike in toll rates since July 1 is unjustified. The agitation should be grown to encompass other regions as well." He said he had spoken to Bhujbal in this regard. Hazare has asked Bhujbal to arrange only one collection point for toll on Pune-Ahmednagar road.



The ire of the workers is justified. Because, a toll collection contractor on the Pune-Ahmednagar highway has filed a record 47,500 cases of toll evasion against motorists

at the district and sessions court here. Court officials confirmed that it was the highest number of cases filed with the court by a single individual, between 2009 and 2010 (up

to March 31). Nashik-basedAshoka Infrastructure Limited Company filed these cases before judicial magistrate first class R B Bhagwat. The contractor has been filing hundred of cases at a time and the court staff were registering 150 to 200 cases daily. The principal district and sessions judge has distributed the cases among seven courts

for speedy disposal.



The cases have been filed under sections 186, 332 and 341 of the Indian Penal Code and sections 4, 6 and 8 of the Maharashtra tolls on bridges and tunnels rules, 1972. The

fine for all sections is Rs 1,500. Ashoka Infrastructure was awarded the contract of strengthening and four-laning of state highway number 60, the Pune-Ahmednagar

road.After the work was completed, the state government issued a notification

authorising the firm to collect toll from motorists, from July 6, 2005 to June 30, 2013, by

erecting toll collection centres at Koregaon Bhima and near Ranjangaon. And there are unscriplous elements also. City police arrested 18 persons for allegedly extorting money from commercial vehicles from other states passing through the toll posts of areas under the jurisdiction of the Pune Cantonment Board (PCB) in September.



According to the police said the suspects, who were working at the toll posts, were supposed to collect Rs 15-20 from drivers of commercial vehicles, but were collecting Rs

150-250 and issuing bogus receipts. Police seized three gunny bags of bogus receipt books and Rs 1.87 lakh in cash from them. Police said the PCB had roped in Himani Security and Alliance on a contract basis for collecting toll. The firm had deployed its men at the PCB toll posts. Some employees had allegedly manhandled a driver working

for Harmit Transport around two months ago.



The instances are not rare in vicinity of Pune where the employees at toll booth bashed up the commuters or motorists for not paying the toll amount. The misbehavior is common among them adding fuel to fire. Now the only question is: how to and who will bell this cat?

70,000 CASES AWAIT JUSTICE

About 70 thousand cases are pending against various vehicle owners for not paying the toll amount at Ahmednagar road near Shirur. A meeting is to be held between the contractor of the toll booth and public representatives soon.The information was given by Chhagan Bhujbal, Deputy Chief Minister and Minister for Public Works in Legislative Assembly.

Replying to a Calling Attention notice by Ad. Ashok Pawar and Ramesh Thorat on toll booths, Bhujbal said, “The state government had given the road widening works to private parties on Build-Operate-Transfer basis. The companies were authorised to collect toll tax in lieu of the work. Ashoka Infrastructure was given the work of Pune-Shirur road.”



Bhujbal clarified that his department had not given any instructions to file cases on vehicle owners for not paying at toll booths. He said, Bombay High Court has ordered to resolve the 70,000 cases by District and Sessions Courts through Lok Adalats. According to Bhujbal, attempts are on to increase number of windows at toll booths at Ranjangaon and Koregaon Bheema to avoid long queues. The present rate of toll there are 37, 53, 101 and 174. This causes inconvnience to vehicle owners. Therefore government is thinking of making these rates in round figures.

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