In an important decision ahead of the Assembly polls, Maharashtra Government today announced closure of 44 toll plazas, a move that comes in the backdrop of protests over levy of road tax in the State.
The announcement was made by Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar, while replying to a debate on the Budget in the Legislative Assembly. He also holds finance portfolio.
Pawar said 34 toll plazas on roads constructed by Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation (MSRDC) and ten of Public Works Department (PWD) will be shut down shortly. The contractors operating them will be compensated for which a sum of Rs 306 crore has been earmarked, he said. There are 166 toll plazas in the State. He said the Central Government will be requested to scrap toll on National Highways.
The decision comes on a day when a public protest was organised in Kolhapur against the toll collection policy. Workers of political parties like BJP, Shiv Sena, CPI, PWP and Swabhimani Shetakari Sangathana took part in the agitation. In February, Raj Thackeray-led MNS had launched a state-wide stir on the toll issue, which had turned violent. Pawar lashed out at the Opposition for making "baseless" claims regarding State's financial condition.
"Please remember that you belittle the State while making such unfounded charges," he said, referring to the issue of mounting debt raised by the Opposition parties. Maharashtra's debt stood at Rs 3.04 lakh crore and a budgetary provision of Rs 23,800 crore has been made for interest payment, the Finance Minister said, adding the state's financial condition is sound.
Pawar said loans have been taken by the Government at 9 to 9.30 per cent annual interest rate and rejected claims he had presented a populist Budget in view of Assembly elections due by October. The Budget was practical and not populist, he said, adding the per capita income of the State has crossed Rs one lakh mark. "We focused on women, youth, infrastructure, housing, fiscal stability."