The issue of toll collection for road use, which saw considerable violence in the past with the people of Maharashtra by and large against the practice, has found little mention in the manifesto of all mainstream parties, barring the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena.
The MNS too seems to have softened its stand on the issue from what it was in February this year, when the Raj Thackeray-led party had raised a demand before the then chief minister Prithviraj Chavan to “end toll collection within 30 days” in the presence of the media.
The political “apathy” in resolving the toll issue has invited criticism from civic activists, who have accused the parties of being “hand-in-glove with the vested interests”.
Among other parts of Maharashtra, Kolhapur had witnessed extreme public outrage over toll with the issue becoming one of the major poll issues following a legal battle between an action committee led by residents and the toll contractor concerned.
The late Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP) leader Gopinath Munde was in favour of “getting rid of toll collection”, but his party’s manifesto released has skipped the issue. The manifesto has a single-line mention of introducing “major change” in toll policy to bring relief for people from “unjust practices”.
The Shiv Sena too has a vague promise of “making as many roads toll-free as possible” in its manifesto, but without any proper roadmap on how it would be achieved.
Former allies Congress and Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) are silent on the public demand for either blanket abolition of toll or simplifying the process in their manifestos.
The MNS, in its ‘blueprint’ released for state’s development has an annexure on the party’s toll policy. It promises collection of toll only on new roads with four or more lanes. The MNS has said it would abolish toll on two-lane roads along with other roads that are to be built through budgetary provisions of the state government. It also promises an end to toll collection on roads where profit making has reached more than the 20 per cent mark. Among other promises, the Raj Thackeray-led party has also assured no toll collection within 10-km radius of municipal limits and transparency measures.
Reacting, BJP spokesperson Madhav Bhandari said his party would address the public concern over the toll properly if voted to. “Our manifesto has not skipped the toll issue. Though it is briefly mentioned in the manifesto, we have a proper vision and plan to mould the toll policy in the best interest of people,” he said.
Shiv Sena leader Neelam Gorhe said the toll issue was an important consideration before the party. “Though we have not elaborated on the issue, Shiv Sena is committed to giving people of Maharashtra good road infrastructure without charging money in an unjust way,” she said.
MNS general secretary Anil Shidore said his party had never opposed to toll collection but was voicing protest against the “lack of transparency and accountability” in the practice.
“We were demanding stopping of toll collection on roads where the cost of project was already recovered. Due to our agitation, the Maharashtra government was forced to shut down 44 toll booths in the state. Our manifesto has touched upon the toll issue in more detail than any other party and we are committed to bringing pro-people toll policies,” he told The Indian Express.
Civic activist Vivek Velankar said no political party was keen to address the toll issue. “It is not surprising that major political parties have ignored toll issue in their manifestos for they have certain compulsions. For any political party, it is very difficult task to overcome the pressure from vested interests associated with toll collection. The MNS is an exception to some extent, but there are other reasons associated as it is sure of not coming to power,” he said.