The Maharashtra government has been forced to bow down to anti-toll protests witnessed in various parts of the state. Deputy Chief Minister and Finance Minister Ajit Pawar on Monday announced a decision to shut down 44 toll plazas run by the state public works department and the Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation (MSRDC).
The plazas in question are the ones set up for road projects worth below Rs 15 crore. These include 34 toll nakas on 31 PWD roads and 10 others for two MSRDC projects.
While Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan had first made an announcement regarding closing down of the plazas about six months ago, the finance department gave it a go-ahead only on Monday. Pawar said the government would compensate the toll collection agencies appointed for these plazas, a decision that would lead to an additional burden of Rs 306 crore on the state.
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Pawar’s announcement came during his reply to a discussion on his budget speech, which was presented before the state legislature on June 5.
Earlier in the day, Assembly proceedings witnessed high drama with two Kolhapur-based Shiv Sena legislators Rajesh Kshirsagar and Sujit Minchekar being thrown out of the House after being suspended. Protesting against imposition of toll in Kolhapur, both had attempted to lift the speaker’s mace.
Deputy Speaker Vasant Purke, who was presiding over the chair, summoned marshals after the two refused to leave the House following suspension. Shiv Sena leaders Eknath Shinde and Pratap Sarnaik were seen egging on the legislators to stay inside the House. The House was adjourned twice amid chaos.
Following the crushing Lok Sabha defeat, the ruling Congress-NCP combine in the state was under pressure to take note of anti-toll protests, especially since the BJP-led Opposition has announced that it would render the state ‘toll-free’ if elected to power.
After making the announcement, Pawar also attempted to toss the ball in the Opposition’s court demanding that state transport buses be absolved from payment of toll along the Centre-controlled national highways. “We have already adopted this move for PWD and MSRDC roads,” he said.
Toll plazas for bigger road projects would, however, continue unhindered.
Toll contractors are appointed under privatisation projects. So far, the government has allotted 73 projects on PWD roads, another 53 on MSRDC roads, while 40 others are operational along national highways. Out of the toll nakas to be shut, about 13, the highest, are in Nashik district.
Election year politics was at the heart of Pawar’s budget reply. He also announced that his government had decided to waive charges collected from locals for rural water supply schemes, besides insisting that his government was committed to disbursing scholarships to backward class students pursuing higher education. He also announced that the government would soon take a decision regarding the abolition of the controversial local bodies tax.
He also declared that the government would help bail out Nagpur, Wardha, and Buldhana district cooperative banks with a Rs 319-crore package if they managed to regain licence from the Reserve Bank of India. He said the Madhav Chitale committee report on irrigation would be tabled along with an action taken report in the current session.