Talking a toll
In the wake of Raj Thackeray's advice to citizens not to pay toll till the government explains how the money is spent, his party workers staged protests at various nakas, encouraging happy motorists not to cough up the tax
Minutes after MNS chief Raj Thackeray appealed to people in the state not to pay toll tax until the state government comes clear on what is done with the collections, the mood at toll nakas in the city transformed radically, each collection spot brimming with political tension.
MNS workers, harkening to their leader’s exhortations, took position at the toll nakas to ‘protect’ citizens from the tax menace and encourage them not to pay their dues, which Thackeray claims are forcibly imposed on citizens.
Raj Thackeray claimed that the amount collected at the tollbooths and the expenditures made from the kitty don’t match, and that the government should show transparency about the why the money is collected and how it is spent.
Bandra-Worli Sea Link
Over 150 MNS party workers gathered at Bandra-Worli Sea Link minutes after Thackeray’s exhortation. At 1 pm, an angry mob was seen allowing commuters to pass the toll plaza without paying any tax. “The government has been taking a lot of money from the people in the name of taxes. In the past few days, we have assessed how much toll has been collected, and will soon check how much of it was spent on other departments for public good. People using the Sea Link aren’t happy paying toll. They thanked us,” informed Vijay Gore of MNS, Bandra.
Because of the protests, a large number of police personnel were deployed at the toll plaza in Bandra, managing the crowd. “When we thought matters would get out of hand and there would be some damage, we stopped the workers. Two police vans were taken to Bandra police station,” said a police official on the spot.
Shirish Parkar, MNS spokesperson who was present there, said, “100 people were detained by the police and we are trying to get them out. Although Bandra-Worli Sea Link is relatively new, we don’t want toll taxes to be collected here as is the case with the Mulund toll naka. Raj Saheb will present a report on the toll tax collection to the CM on Wednesday, to discuss how much toll tax is collected daily, how much of it is being poured into the government’s kitty, but not being used for public welfare. Where is all the money going? The PWD department is not doing anything at all.”
Deputy Commissioner of Police Pratap Dighavkar said, “So far, we have detained around 30 people for unlawful assembly — the more they make a nuisance, we will detain more of them. Nothing is bigger than the law.”
The toll plaza on the Nashik highway near Thane, which is managed by IRB, saw no threat from MNS party workers, and continued to collect toll under heavy police protection. The toll plaza in-charge said, “The MNS party workers have not approached the toll plaza since morning. The police arrived by afternoon and we continued with our work. We would have incurred heavy losses had we not collected toll.”
MNS carried out their protest in Navi Mumbai without resorting to violence, thanks to heavy police presence in the area, which easily outnumbered the number of MNS members.
However, the protestors urged motorists not to pay tax at the Vashi toll naka. Most of the motorists did their bidding and refused to pay toll tax at the booths. This led to skirmishes between the employees of the toll collecting agencies and motorists, one of whom were slapped and roughed up by attendants. Some attendants forced motorists to stop their vehicles by standing in front of them.
Navi Mumbai police officials who were present at the spot did not intervene. “Whatever the MNS workers are doing is illegal and they do not have any right to ask people not to pay toll tax. The motorists will have to pay the tax and if they don’t, we’ll force them to pay,” said an official of the tollbooth.
MNS will continue its campaign today, revealed an MNS office bearer from Navi Mumbai.
Suraj Bhuteja, who didn’t pay, said, “We are happy that the MNS is doing something good for the people. I support the MNS’ campaign against toll tax, since it is illegal. I will not pay tax any more and the toll tax system should be scrapped.”
Anjlesh Keshwar, in-charge of the toll plaza on Bhiwandi-Kalyan Road, managed by Bhiwandi Kalyan Shil Phata (BKSP), said, “We chose to shut down our toll plaza after over 200 MNS party workers approached us demanding that we stop collection. Our toll plaza is located in an MNS-dominated region, and several of our employees here are supporters of the party. We were told that all other plazas have shut down too. This is the second time in two months that we have incurred losses due to threats from party workers.”
Keshwar said, “The local police from Gove police station immediately arrived to control the situation and several policemen were deployed at the spot. I have written a letter to the police inspector requesting that a police van be stationed at the toll plaza, so we can resume toll collections.”
On an average, about 7,000 vehicles pass through BKSP toll plaza every day.
A police van was stationed at the MSRDC-managed toll plaza in Mulund since noon. They continued work under police protection and avoided losses.
Over 50,000 vehicles pass through this route on a regular basis The in-charge at the toll plaza said, “MNS party workers had gathered near our toll plaza around 12.30 pm yesterday, demanding that we shut down. But the police presence prevented any act of vandalism. We did not close our operations and continued to collect toll.”
Inputs: Rinkita Gurav, Naveen Nair, Saurabh Katkurwar
I have been using the Sea Link for some months now, and to add to the frequently rising fuel costs, there was a hike in the toll tax as well. The government should call off the tax. I support the MNS on this. — Mahesh Jadhav, Andheri, Lokhandwala
I support the MNS on the issue. But they should not create a ruckus or damage public property. — Smriti Kumar, Vakola