Apparently resorting to a pacifier after the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena agitation on toll collection, the state government on Thursday assured party chief Raj Thackeray that it would draft a new policy on the issue before the model code of conduct for the Lok Sabha elections comes into force.
The decision was taken during a meeting, which was chaired by Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan, Public Works Department minister Chhagan Bhujbal, Minister for Public Roads Jaidutt Kshirsagar and attended by Thackeray along with his party MLAs, senior state government officials and a group of select journalists.
"Chavan at the start of the meeting informed Raj Thackeray that the government is trying to bring in a new policy before the model code of conduct comes into force for the Lok Sabha elections. The new policy would be brought by making corrections in the earlier ones if there are any follies," a journalist who attended the meet, said.
Besides, Chavan also said that the state transport buses would be exempted from toll, so that the common man does not bear the brunt of the cost.
"Ambulances will also be pressed into service on highways with the help from the Centre," he said, adding that the government was contemplating a modern technology based on a radio-frequency identification basis so that there will be a direct and transparent transaction in collection of toll, exempting vehicles from mandatory stoppage at toll plazas.
Chavan during the meeting, which went on for two and a half hours, also noted that Maharashtra has maximum number of roads. "According to the new policy we are trying to eliminate toll on smaller roads. We are contemplating buy back of smaller roads constructed on toll basis. We will make budgetary provisions for that," the journalist said quoting Chavan.
The CM also said that the state government has started electronic monitoring at some places and the government will soon start this at every toll booth.
Besides, the issue of toilets on highways was also raised to which the Chavan said that it was a serious matter and the government would think on it. "We will build toilets as per the Centre's norms. Wherever there is a land acquisition problem, we will even buy land," the journalist said quoting Chavan.
Later talking to reporters on the sidelines of a programme in Mumbai, Chavan said that the government had a healthy discussion with the MNS chief on the toll issue.
"We have incorporated some of the points which were raised by Raj Thackeray. In September last year we started working out the (toll) policy and it is before the cabinet and the first round of meeting has been conducted," Chavan said.
Commenting on the protest rally, which would be carried out by the MNS on February 21, from Girgaum Chowpatty to the Mantralaya (state secretariat), Chavan said that he has requested Thackeray not to indulge in such kind of agitations. "I have requested them not to indulge in such kind of agitations. There is a need to have healthy discussion. We will try to bring in more transparency in the policy," he added.
He informed that two years back the government had a discussion with veteran social activist Anna Hazare and we had taken few decisions, which have been implemented.
Thackeray during the meet opined that toll plazas which costs below Rs 10 crores should not be built on Build Operate and Transfer basis.
"Raj said that tolls built with lesser amounts needn’t charge toll levy. There is no account of the money as the entire transaction is in cash," the journalist said, quoting the MNS chief.
Comparing toll collection and quality of highways in Maharashtra to that of neighbouring Karnataka, Thackeray said, "Growth in number of vehicles was not considered (in Maharashtra). The system of collecting toll levy and the quality of roads are better in Karnataka."
The MNS chief also threw a light on increasing number of accidents, which are recorded on the Mumbai-Pune Express way, while pressing for stopping illegal collection of toll. Besides, the government should conduct audits of toll booths functional in the state, he demanded.
Image: MNS chief Raj Thackeray was detained from Chembur on Wednesday on his way to Vashi toll naka to join his party workers in the anti-toll agitation
Photograph: Sahil Salvi