Jammu: “This is injustice. This is a dictatorship,” said Amandeep Singh, Chairman, Public Rights Foundation. “People of Jammu are being exploited. This is a public loot. Why should we keep paying the toll tax? What kind of infrastructure and facilities are we receiving in return? Where is the money going?” Singh questioned.
He was referring to an article published in a local daily about the imminent opening up of two more 'toll plazas' in Jammu. These proposed plazas are set to be installed at Lakhanpur and near Jammu-Akhnoor road on the national highway respectively.
The news has received criticism from across sections, which are alleging betrayal from the administration. Speaking to NewsClick, locals accused the administration of turning a blind eye to their demands regarding the abolition of the toll system in Jammu. “It is very disappointing. Instead of shutting down the existing toll plazas, the GOI has proposed to set up two new toll plazas,” said a local.
With this proposed decision, Jammu will now have six toll plazas. Of these, three are functional with one at Ban on Jammu Bypass -Udhampur, another at Mada on Chenani-Nashri and Sarore on Jammu-Pathankot highway.
The opposition has termed the proposal an “organised loot” by the BJP. “People of Jammu are being used by the BJP. Unemployment is at its peak and now, new taxes are being imposed on the people. To me, this is an organised loot. This is extortion. People of Jammu are angry. BJP will soon face the consequences of such a decision,” said Harsh Dev Singh, Chairman, Panthers Party.
In October, Jammu had witnessed a series of protests, under the banner ‘Toll Satyagrah’, with locals hitting the streets demanding the abolition of Sarore Toll Plaza along Jammu-Pathankot highway in Samba district. The Sarore toll plaza was reportedly constructed against the norms set by the National Highway Authority. It allegedly stands in violation of the prescribed distance limit set by NHAI and is still operational.
As per Section 8 of the National Highway Fee (Determination of Rates and Collection), Rules, 2008, no two toll plazas can be established within a distance of 60 kilometre on the same section of the National Highway. But the NHAI has flouted its own norms by constructing Sarore Toll plaza just 37.04 km away from the existing Ban toll plaza on the Jammu-Udhampur highway.
The close proximity of toll plazas has put a burden on the locals who have to pay multiple taxes for travelling even shorter distances. “By establishing two plazas on the same road, they are minting money. How much tax should I pay for plying on the same road?” asked Amit, a local from Jammu.
Glitches in the System: Commuters Overcharged
Another accusation is that the commuters are overcharged at the Ban toll plaza on Jammu-Udhampur highway. “I travelled from Jammu to Udhampur and back through Ban Plaza within four hours and I was charged Rs 140 each time from my Fast Tag account each time,” said Sakshi, a local from Jammu. As per the recently revised rates, the light vehicles including car/jeeps/van and LMVs will have to pay Rs 135 for single journey and Rs 200 for return within 24 hours.
Many commuters have taken to Twitter to report such incidents.
NewsClick tried reaching the NHAI officials for their comment, but received no response.
Not only common people, but the traders and the transporters who were already struggling to cope with the continued hike in fuel prices are feeling the additional heat by the introduction of these toll plazas.
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.”
Kanwal Singh, another activist, termed the decision of installing additional plazas as inducing “economic subjugation” of the common masses. He pointed out that a common man is already paying multiple layers of taxes for using a vehicle, i.e. 15 years of advance road tax while purchasing a vehicle, cess on petrol/diesel, and toll taxes for using highways.
‘Betrayed by the Administration’
The saffron party, which once received overwhelming support from Jammu is now at a crossroads. Recently, while speaking to a local media, Ravinder Raina, BJP president, 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 accusing BJP of garnering votes in the name of demolishing toll plazas.
“The real face of BJP stands exposed. I, myself, had voted for BJP expecting development, but we are witnessing that administration is making money from our pockets,” said Amit.
As per the reports, BJP leadership has also written a two-page letter to the Union Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari underlining the resentment of people over the decision to construct toll plazas, but there has been no response.
“I fail to understand. The Centre is ruled by the BJP. Currently, we don’t have the government and everything is run by the Centre. Yet, BJP in J&K is not able to abolish the toll plazas. They are just fooling people,” Singh told NewsClick.
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