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Maharashtra government decides to scrap toll on cars, but not at Mumbai entrances

Maharashtra government decides to scrap toll on cars, but not at Mumbai entrances
Mumbai: In a major relief for motorists and public transport users, the state cabinet has decided to waive off toll on four-wheelers and state transport buses on 80 toll projects in the state. This will include all major toll projects except the five entry points to Mumbai, the Mumbai- Pune expressway and Kolhapur. The state will also buy back 11 toll projects across the state from developers and pay Rs 227 crore as compensation.

A formal announcement in this regard will be made by the state government on the floor of the state legislative assembly on the last day of the ongoing budget session on Friday. Sources said that the cabinet had also approved the decision to table the report A.T.A.K Shaikh committee which probed the Wakf land scam and the reports of the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG).

The state will pay Rs 405 crore to the public works department (PWD) and Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation (MSRDC) toll project developers and contractors as compensation in lieu of the toll waiver for four-vehicles and ST buses. This includes Rs 225 crore towards MSRDC projects which will be paid for five years, till the concession period for these projects are over. However, the pay out for the PWD's toll projects will continue for a few more years.

The move will please an increasingly assertive middle-class in the urban and peri-urban areas. Moreover, the toll on heavy vehicles will not rise.

"The 80 toll projects will include most projects except the Mumbai- Pune expressway, the Mumbai entry points and the Kolhapur city toll. However, we are looking at evolving alternatives to the imposition of toll in Kolhapur, which has led to a backlash from residents," said a source.

The Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation (MSRDC) has bid out collection of toll at the five entry points to Mumbai, namely, Vashi, Dahisar, Mulund, Airoli and LBS Marg. The higher number of small vehicles like cars (90% compared to 35% on other toll nakas) which use the Mumbai- Pune expressway and the Mumbai Entry Points makes it unviable for the state to reimburse the toll contractors for such waivers on these projects.

The issue of non-transparency in toll contracts shot into public consciousness after the Raj Thackeray led MNS agitated on the issue in 2012. The outcry also forced the government to shut down some projects.

Senior BJP leader and former union minister, late Gopinath Munde had promised to make Maharashtra toll-free if the party was elected to power in the state and the promise had also been spoken about by other BJP leaders. But, other voices like that of incumbent union surface transport minister Nitin Gadkari, who was seen as Munde's adversary in the BJP, had claimed that this would be difficult to implement economically.

However, in an admission of the uphill task on hands, Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis has admitted that their intent of doing away with toll levied on road users was beset with legal hurdles like non-provision of guidelines for buy-back in major toll projects like the Mumbai Entry Point and Mumbai Pune Expressway. In a seeming u-turn, Fadnavis and senior BJP leaders have earlier also pointed out that eradication of toll was not a stated promise in their manifesto.

The first tolled road in Maharashtra was the Jaisinghpur bypass in Kolhapur in the 1990s. Toll was later extended to roads like the Thane- Bhiwandi bypass and the Mumbai- Pune expressway.

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