• By Ivkar Hussain Malik
The National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) recently started the Lakhhanpur toll plaza in district Kathua on Pathankot-Jammu National Highway 44. Now Jammu has six toll plazas, of which three are currently functional: one at Ban on Jammu Bypass-Udhampur highway, another at Mada on Chenani-Nashri highway, and the third at Sarore on Jammu-Pathankot highway.
The government has rights to collect taxes, but this is injustice, public loot. We can even say, dictatorship. People of Jammu are being exploited. We don’t have proper roads, so why should we pay hefty toll? A few years back when the government had installed toll plazas at Sarore and other places, the BJP (in opposition at that time) staged a number of protests and even damaging the equipment at the plazas. After that, the government promised that there will be no new toll plazas in Jammu. But today, when J&K is under central rule, two more plazas have been inaugurated. This move has been criticised by all sections of society. Locals have accused the administration of turning a blind eye to their demands of abolition of toll system in Jammu.
This move has not only affected the public but also tourism, trade, and industry. When the vehicles have to pay a hefty amount of taxes, they pass on the costs to the general public. Load carriers and local transport will have to pay taxes even for a short distance. There are many news reports that commuters are being overcharged by transport operators on the Jammu-Udhampur highway because of the toll plaza at Ban.
Jammu had witnessed a series of protests under the banner of “Toll Satyagraha”, with locals hitting the streets to demand the abolition of Sarore toll plaza in Samba district. The Sarore toll plaza violated the prescribed distance limit set by NHAI. As per section 8 of the National Highways Authority Fee (Determination of rates and collection) Rules 2008, no two plazas can be established within a distance of 60 km on the same section of the National Highway. But the NHAI has flouted its own rules by constructing the Sarore toll plaza just 37.04 km away from the existing Ban toll plaza on the Jammu-Udhampur national highway.
T.S Wazir, president, J&K Transport Welfare Association, explained, “While passing through different toll plazas in Punjab, Haryana, we pay reasonable and affordable amounts. But in Jammu, the rates are much higher. Now with the addition of new plazas, imagine how much more we will have to pay.”
Wazir added, “This will result in a hike of passenger fare which means that a commuter using a passenger vehicle will have to spill a few additional bucks from his pocket.”
The BJP is now facing uproar from the people. Recently, while speaking to the local media, BJP J&K president Ravinder Raina said, “The day a BJP chief minister will take oath in Jammu and Kashmir we will demolish all the toll plazas.”
Raina’s statement didn’t go down well with the locals, who lambasted the BJP for garnering votes in the name of demolishing toll plazas. As per reports, the BJP leadership has now written a two-page letter to Union Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari underlining the resentment of people against the decision to construct toll plazas. There has been no response to the letter, reports say.
The centre should form a committee to redress the grievances of the public. The public, on its part, should hit the roads to demand the abolition of all the toll plazas in Jammu.
The writer lives in Jammu and can be reached at email@example.com