After chief minister met Raj Thackeray yesterday, new toll policy to be released soon; even though policy needs just one meeting for approval, CM sought time for it to ‘earn political mileage off it’
It seems the Chief Minister (CM) and his Congress party, along with the MNS, are taking political advantage of the anti-toll agitation. Even as CM Prithviraj Chavan and MNS chief Raj Thackeray met at 9 in the morning yesterday and discussed the issue for more than two hours, the press release by the government took eight hours for approval.
Raj Thackeray outside the state guesthouse, Sahyadri, in Malabar Hill, where he met CM Prithviraj Chavan and PWD Minister Chhagan Bhujbal. Pic/Bipin Kokate
During the meeting, the CM assured the MNS chief that the new toll policy would come into effect before the election code of conduct kicks in. One of the main features of the proposed policy is that toll rates would be hiked every year.
Sources informed that the CM said at the meeting, “Let me earn some political mileage off it.” “The policy is ready and merely needs a meeting for approval and immediate implementation,” said a minister from the Congress-led government. But, to him, ongoing developments proved that the five-hour long MNS agitation was unwarranted; he called them as “efforts by the Congress in particular to give importance to Thackeray.”
During the meeting, the CM stumped alliance partner Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) when he pointed out certain flaws in the toll policy being implemented since 1996. Senior NCP leader and PWD Minister Chhagan Bhujbal was present when this particular observation came from the CM. The new toll policy proposes to correct these flaws in the old policy (see box).
While reports in the media mentioned affirmative action by the CM, including the closing down of a number of tollbooths in the state, the press release was non-committal. It merely said the CM had shown a positive response to the suggestion of shutting the 22 booths where project costs were below Rs 10 crore.
However, this, too, was subject to cabinet’s approval, said the CM in the release. On the other hand, MNS chief Raj Thackeray appealed people not to pay toll till the government resolved the issue.
Meanwhile, the public works department has already raised its voice against the proposed changes in the toll policy. One of it was to exempt vehicles from toll on January 26 (Republic Day), May 1 (Maharashtra Day), and August 15 (Independence Day).
Features of the proposed toll policy
>> Toll rates to be increased every year, and Wholesale Price Index to be applied during revision. Currently, toll rates are revised once in three years and the rate slabs are fixed till the year 2052
>> Vehicle category will be based on weights, instead of the existing five categories
>> Toll operator will be responsible for maintaining the road in a motorable condition at all times during the contract period. All safety provisions are to be observed. Such guidelines do exist currently
>> The system of approval will be defined and any new proposal will be routed through the concerned departments for comments. Prior approval by the finance department will be sought before issuing request for proposal (RFP)
>> All bids will be issued through e-tendering and will be published in newspapers
>> More than one toll plaza on a project highway will be treated as a cluster development project, and shall be placed at least 5 km beyond municipal limits
>> Besides toll, sources of revenue will comprise user fee, advertisement rights and land development to recover costs
>> Minimum distance between two toll plazas will be 45 km instead of the current 35-40 km. Traffic growth will be taken as 5 per cent per year