At around 5 pm on Wednesday evening, vehicles travelling from Delhi to Noida found themselves zipping past unmanned toll booths on the 8-lane DND flyway. For a change, motorists did not need to reach for their wallets while crossing the border.
As the sun dipped and the neon lights came on at the toll plaza, residents of Noida, who led the anti-toll campaign against the concessionaire, came out to celebrate, distributing sweets and cheering. Meanwhile, toll collectors, traffic operators and guards who manned the DND toll plaza receded into the shadows of the office complex nearby, taken by surprise at the court verdict.
“We have been given no orders. We were only asked to vacate the toll booths. But we are very much on duty. We will report to duty tomorrow and every day till we are given specific orders,” a 33-year-old toll collector, ambling across the concrete parking lot at around 7 pm, said.
But the sense of anger was palpable. “I would say 99 per cent of the people are good, and only 1 per cent were demanding that the toll be scrapped. Whatever will happen will be for the better,” the toll collector, who did not wish to be named, said. “I have been working here for seven years and I do not want to lose my job,” he added.
His colleague, a 35-year-old from Noida, interjected irritably. “No, 70 per cent are good but 30 per cent are bad. We face so much harassment while manning our booths. Drivers abuse us. They call us thieves and dacoits. But we have nothing to do with the policy and the rules. We are only doing our duty,” he said.
With a salary of around Rs 15,000 on an average, the life of a toll collector is a trying one, with frequent conflicts with motorists. “We have seen accidents, drunk drivers physically assaulting us and criminals breaking barricades to leave behind the police or someone they might have hit while speeding,” a toll operator said.
On Wednesday night, most of them, especially the ones over 50, were busy debating future prospects and possibilities. Many believed things will return to normal once the matter goes to the apex court. Others braced themselves for tougher times. “Jaan hai, jahaan hai ,” said an ex-serviceman, trying to cheer his friend up.