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Why are we paying toll?

Maharashtra Navnirman Sena chief Raj Thackeray appears to have hit upon a thought that probably occurs to a vast number of Mumbai’s residents on a regular basis: What exactly are we paying toll taxes for? It explains the latest move in his agitation against toll nakas at Thane and Vashi yesterday. According to our reporters, the MNS chief asked the state government to bring transparency into the toll collection process at various nakas, while appealing to residents not to pay toll henceforth.

He clarified that he wasn’t against tolls or the payment of taxes but pointed out, quite rightly, that people should get the services they pay for. This is an important demand because it echoes what a number of us have questioned at some point or another: How much has the government collected from us over the years? More importantly, what has it done with these vast sums of money? If it is supposedly being used for upkeep or maintenance, a cursory look at any arterial road in Mumbai ought to show that this isn’t the case. In fact our roads are, more often than not, worse where the toll nakas exist.

According to Thackeray’s calculations — and he appears to have done a fair amount of homework — the government ought to have collected a sum of Rs 5,915.86 crore from the Mumbai-Pune tolls over the period of one year alone. At the same time, over the same period, the government has reportedly spent just Rs 1,301.64 crore on maintenance. What he wants to know, then, is why the collection continues and how long the government intends to do it for.

He has also questioned the need to keep charging road users even after the construction costs have been recovered a number of times over. We hope he gets answers.

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