The annual 10-20 per cent increase in rates of toll rates came into effect from midnight of March 31 and traders and wholesalers have already warned it would result in an increase in prices of essential commodities by around 20-25 per cent. Those opposing the levy of toll in Kolhapur and other parts of the state say that they are getting ready for a second wave of agitation against toll booths in the state. In Pune too, activists are agitated over the latest toll rate hike.
As per a memorandum of understanding signed between the toll operator and the state government, every year, toll taxes are increased on April 1, the first day of the new financial year in India. This, activist Vivek Velankar said, will go on till 2032. “Surprisingly, the contract also talked of finishing all pending works by March 31, 2013. And yet, the annual increase in toll rates continue,” he said.
Velankar said that records show that 50 per cent of the work is pending although the deadline lapsed two years back.
Both Pune and Kolhapur districts have numerous toll plazas and last year, the movement against toll collection in Kolhapur resulted in violence and arson in various parts of the district.
According to the Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation, Pune district has two “A category” toll plazas (toll revenue of more than Rs 3 crore) and three “B category” toll plazas (more than Rs 1 crore, less than Rs 3 crore). There are numerous other toll plazas whose income is below Rs 1 crore.
Commenting on the effect of toll tax increase, Surendra Singh, a transport operator, said it would increase freight charges. “The intra-state movement of goods like vegetables, pulses, grains will be costlier. This rise will be offloaded to customers by traders,” he said. Singh said that other than essential commodities, chances of price rise of other commodities cannot be ruled out.
Councillor from Kolhapur Baba Indulkar said that rise in prices of essential goods is a foregone conclusion. “Contractors turn a blind eye to providing ancillary services, but when it comes to increasing toll rates they are always ready,” he said. Indulkar said they would chalk out the future course of action soon.