Toll stir earns MNS non-Marathi support

Jul 25, 2012, 08:21 IST | Priyankka Deshpande and Sukirt D. Gumaste

MNS chief Raj Thackeray's appeal to people to stop paying toll on highways and entry points to cities had the effect of making the Pune-Mumbai Expressway a toll-free affair for only three hours yesterday, but the support for the move expressed by those who rejoiced in the free ride in that window of time brought his party far bigger gains.

Even non-Marathi Expressway users wholeheartedly supported the MNS stand on making highways toll-free, forgiving the party its previous agitations against non-Maharashtrians. Though toll collection on the Expressway resumed after MNS workers had left the two toll plazas on the high-speed road by evening, those who used the Expressway in the three hours when the MNS agitation was in full swing were full of praise for Thackeray.

“I used to often wonder that why toll collection was going on for so many years,” Deepak Shah, a businessman on his way to Mumbai, said. “I welcome this initiative by the MNS. It has highlighted the unnecessary toll collection and though I am not a Marathi manoos, I strongly support the MNS for launching this drive.”

Happy hours: A car passes the Urse toll plaza on the Expressway without paying toll during an agitation by MNS workers against collection of toll. Pic/Navnath Kaple

Suresh Ayer, a businessman who travels between the and Mumbai every fortnight, said he was sick and tired of having to shell out Rs 330 for every round trip. “At least I could save on the charges today,” Ayer said.

There were similar reactions from highway users at every toll plaza on the way to Mumbai, whether at the Urse and Khalapur toll plazas on the Expressway or the Talegaon and other toll plazas on NH-4.

Free passage: Cars pass through the Urse toll plaza on the Expressway without paying toll yesterday as MNS workers stand by. Pic/Navnath Kaple

Amit Singh, who travels to Mumbai at least thrice a week, said: “I shell out more than Rs 1,000 per week on toll. Non-Maharashtrians criticise Raj Thackeray for his policies, but we strongly support him on his stand against arbitrary toll collection.”

Sachin Gole, general Secretary of the MNS road and infrastructure cell for Western Maharashtra, said MNS workers had conducted a survey of collections at toll plazas across the state following Thackeray’s instructions to the effect and the party chief had appealed to people to stop paying toll based on the survey findings.

Gole said the MNS had asked the state government to reveal the toll collection over the years so far, but as the government seemed reluctant to do so, the MNS had carried out the survey from June 13 to July 8, the findings of which showed the authorities had already collected five times more money than the construction cost incurred on laying the highways where toll was being collected.

Reacting on why yesterday’s protest at the toll plazas was short-lived, MNS state general secretary Anil Shidore said: “The protest carried out on Tuesday was to encourage people not to pay toll. As a lot of protesters were picked up by the police, the effect was felt for only a brief period of time.”

Shyam Savant, project manager at the Khalapur toll plaza, said: “On Tuesday we shut operations for three hours as we feared damage to our property.” 

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