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Explained: Why politicians, traders are protesting against toll tax in Kashmir

Valley’s first toll plaza was made operational last week. What is the controversy over it?

Written by Adil Akhzer |
Updated: May 13, 2019 12:10:49 pm
Explained: Why traders, politicians are protesting against toll charges in Kashmir While the general public was using the new highway stretch from Qazigund to Srinagar from 2018, authorities started levying a toll tax on it since last week. (Express Photo by Shuaib Masoodi)

Valley’s first toll plaza located on Srinagar – Jammu National Highway at Chursoo, Sangam in Anantnag district was made operational last week. This is the only highway that connects the South Kashmir to Central and north Kashmir.

While the general public was using the new highway stretch from Qazigund to Srinagar from 2018, authorities started levying a toll tax on it since last week. A single journey on the highway for a four-wheeler costs Rs 85, while a return ticket costs Rs 130. For a commercial vehicle (three axles) the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) has fixed Rs 310 for a single journey and Rs 465 for the return journey. For local non-commercialized vehicles, residing within a distance of 20 kilometres, a monthly pass of Rs 260 per month has been decided.

Controversy over the toll plaza

Calling the move an attempt to “choke the Kashmir economy,” the trade bodies and political parties have demanded complete revocation of toll charges.  The flip side of the toll tax, according to locals, is that it would be a huge burden for the civilian passengers. For example, if a person is travelling from Anantnag to Awantipora in Pulwama district- which is just a 30-kilometre distance, the fuel will cost him less then Rs 100. But, he will have to pay another Rs 85 as toll tax.

Kashmir Economic Alliance (KEA)- a trade body in the valley has said such taxes will “only add to miseries through such fleecing”. Kashmir Valley Fruit Growers Cum Dealers Union said the move of “levying of road tax is another form of suppression of Kashmiri’s aimed at choking and crippling on Economic front.”

After the toll plaza was made operational earlier this week, traders and the businessmen in Anantnag district have also registered their protests.

The state’s two main political parties National Conference and People’s Democratic Party (PDP) too have criticised levying the toll tax. While the PDP has termed it “an octroi being levied on people’s movement”, the NC too has demanded revocation saying, “the decision of levying exorbitant toll tax will inadvertently put the people to duress.”

Separatist leader and chairman Tehreek-e-Hurriyat Mohammad Ashraf Sehrai also slammed the move calling it yet “another economical suppression of Kashmiris”.

After the toll plaza was made operational earlier this week, traders and the businessmen in Anantnag district have also registered their protests. (Express Photo by Shuaib Masoodi)

The Jammu and Kashmir govt’s reaction

As per the NHAI rules, people living under the 20-kilometre radius of the toll plaza do not have to pay any charges. Jammu and Kashmir Governor Satya Pal Malik has also said that there will be no taxes on locals and that they will be issued free travel passes for free movement. There was, however, no clarity on whether locals would mean people living nearby the toll plaza or those in the valley.

On its part, the NHAI – which is managing the highway, say it is the central government that has to take a decision on the matter. “We are implementing agencies…if the (central) government takes any decision, we will implement it,” says Ghulam Qadir, Manager (Technical) at NHai Srinagar. For now, NHIA has written to concerned Deputy Commissioners asking them to identify the villages, which can come under 20-kilometre radius.

The worry for the officials, however, is that if the toll is exempted or subsidized in the valley, same demands might come from Jammu, where toll plazas are already functional and people are paying toll taxes.

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