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Since 1st March, 1999
 
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Bridge toll revenue doubles
- Probe into agency failure, corruption clamour

Daily revenue on Vidyasagar Setu has doubled since a private firm took over toll collection 12 days ago. This has prompted the government to order a probe into mismanagement when one of its agencies was earlier entrusted with the job.

Records with SMSL-IRD, which has been handed over the toll plaza against an annual payment of Rs 20.07 crore, reveal that the daily collection now ranges from Rs 6 lakh to Rs 6.5 lakh, from vehicles numbering 30,000-35,000.

Earlier, when the plaza was run by the Hooghly River Bridge Commissioners (HRBC), no more than 15,000 vehicles would ply on the bridge officially, resulting in an average daily collection of just Rs 3 lakh.

'The private firm is generating double the revenue than what the HRBC did,' admitted transport secretary Sumantra Chowdhury.

'It's not that more vehicles are crossing the bridge since we took over operations,' said said Vijay Sancheti, project director, SMSL-IRD.

'The number of vehicles remains the same, but we are not allowing a single vehicle to pass without paying the toll. Earlier, several motorists used to evade payment, resulting in a loss of crores,' he added.

A senior transport department official pegged at Rs 100 crore the loss since the bridge was opened to public in 1992. 'Instead of going into the HRBC's coffers, the money had lined the pockets of a section of policemen and other personnel manning the plaza and the gates,' he claimed.

The department, he added, has launched a probe to identify the personnel responsible for the loss.

Transport secretary Chowdhury said: 'There's no denying that we could not earn as much revenue from the toll plaza as we had expected. It is because of this that we have handed over the plaza to a private company. We are trying to find out why the HRBC could not generate enough revenue from the bridge.'

A section of HRBC officials feels the toll collection should have been privatised long ago.

According to prima facie findings of officials, the tax could not be collected from several cars flaunting the beacon, as the riders claimed they were VIPs. Truck operators, too, had allegedly evaded payment by bribing police and the plaza personnel.

Ever since it took over the operations, the private agency did not allow a single vehicle to cross the bridge 'free'. Even the state buses, police jeeps and ambulances had to pay the tax.

'We have taken several steps ' including computerised operation of the plaza, a computerised ticketing system and use of smart cards ' to ensure that all vehicles pay the toll. Even if they wish, the personnel at the plaza cannot let any vehicle pass without collecting the tax,' SMSL-IRD project director Sancheti asserted.

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