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Ministers gun for Raj Thackeray, back toll collection

CM meets deputy, other senior ministers from Congress-NCP in private to seek support on the existing toll policy; ministers want Raj Thackeray to face the music for instigating agitation

In a clever move, Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan chose to discuss the issue of toll collection and the MNS agitation with a select group of senior ministers. By avoiding a full-fledged debate during the weekly cabinet meeting that was held on Wednesday, the CM evaded diverse opinions of ministers, possible media leaks and damaging reports.

The closed-door meeting between Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan and senior cabinet ministers lasted for over an hour; members of MNS women’s wing clash with police personnel outside Dahisar toll plaza on Monday. Pic/Nimesh Dave
The closed-door meeting between Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan and senior cabinet ministers lasted for over an hour; members of MNS women’s wing clash with police personnel outside Dahisar toll plaza on Monday. Pic/Nimesh Dave

Though the cabinet meeting was scheduled for 11 am at Sahyadri state guesthouse in Malabar Hill, it commenced around 12.30 pm. For almost an hour, CM was closeted with a group of senior ministers including Deputy CM Ajit Pawar, Chhagan Bhujbal, RR Patil and Jayant Patil from the NCP and Narayan Rane, Patangrao Kadam and Harshwardhan Patil from the Congress.

Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan

Interestingly, both the partners in Democratic Front government had separate meetings of their cabinet colleagues, followed by a separate meeting between CM and Dy CM. According to sources, both Congress and NCP decided to skip a full-blown debate on the MNS agitation against toll collection and the state’s response on it.

The decision was also taken not to rake up the issue of power supply charges in Mumbai. Such debates are providing fodder for media and damaging government’s reputation, said a senior cabinet minister. During the closed-door meeting, the decision to stop toll collection was strongly opposed, claimed sources. We cannot go back on the issue of toll collection as the government has entered into an agreement with the operators, some said.

Any decision to decrease the current charges or cancellation can be challenged in the court. The state may not shoulder any financial burden owing to the precarious financial condition if such a thing happens, the
ministers attending the meet said.

Currently the state
allocation to Public Works Department (PWD) for roads is anywhere between Rs 800 crore and Rs 1,500 crore, which is too little to carry out the road projects with the state support. If we decide to scrap the toll policy, the state may not be able to complete the projects in the near future, a senior minister claimed.

Action against Raj
Strongly opposing any leniency towards the agitation by the MNS and the inflammatory language used by its party chief Raj Thackeray, ministers demanded stringent action against him. “We should not pay much credence to the political mileage he may derive because people are aware how he abandoned a similar agitation a few years ago. And, if we avoid any action, Raj may dare the government in public rallies,” another minister said.

The discussion on toll ended with ministers asking the state home department, led by R R Patil, to take strong action against MNS. The issue of power charges in the city may not come before the cabinet as the state is in no mood to share yet another financial burden, sources from state government said.

The power supply in the city and suburbs is with private players and state has little scope to intervene, it was discussed during the meeting. Any decision to offer relief may add additional burden if Tata Power and Reliance Energy decide to approach the Maharashtra Energy Regulatory Commission. Relief for Mumbaikars seems impossible, quipped a minister.

State govt Trying to earn brownie points?
In its bid to woo the Maratha community, the state may soon announce reservation in education and jobs for those belonging to the economically weaker section within the community. A cabinet sub-committee, headed by Industries Minister Narayan Rane submitted its first report to the CM yesterday. Sources claimed the report recommends rejection of an adverse report to offer reservation by Justice (retd) Bapat Commission. The next report will recommend reservation to the community, said sources from the government.

Sena-BJP smell rat in MNS agitation
BJP and Shiv Sena leaders strongly believe that the MNS agitation against toll collection and the mild approach by the Congress-led Democratic Front government is a recipe for conspiracy between the Congress and the NCP.

According to senior BJP leader Eknath Khadse, MNS in the recent past had initiated a similar agitation and stopped it abruptly, reasons for which are best known to the party leadership alone. But now, there is reason to believe that the government is indirectly helping MNS to disturb us, alleged Khadse.

The announcement by another senior BJP leader Gopinath Munde to make the state toll-free if voted to power, has been taken with a pinch of salt by the government. Even the MNS, which was silent on the issue, has suddenly woken up and started agitating. The state is indirectly helping Raj Thackeray to let him take political mileage to dent our vote bank: this is the current thinking of the BJP-Shiv Sena combine.

Meanwhile, Sena mouthpiece Saamana lashed out at Raj Thackeray, terming the agitation as an act by someone who has woken up on the eve of elections. Such political dramas do not continue for long, reads the edit. Shiv Sena party chief Uddhav Thackeray is the editor of the daily.

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