The toll plaza on GT Road in Barhi, Hazaribagh, on Tuesday. Picture by Vishvendu Jaipuriar
Have a biscuit or else.
If someone takes the Grand Trunk Road near the Barakar river stretch, 43km from Hazaribagh, one will find an imposing toll plaza. The considerate men at any of the 12 counters will take your tax in cash and hand you a packet of biscuits as change.
Thousands of drivers are munching on the question why biscuits are handed over to them by the authorities of West Well Iron Limited Company, which is in charge of operations at the toll plaza in Rasoiyadhamna of Barhi subdivision. But neither shiny coins nor soiled paper currency seem to be available.
The figures take the biscuit. No less than 10,000 small and big vehicles cross this toll plaza daily, with 7,000 heavy vehicles.
Interestingly, car owners have to pay toll tax of Rs 50 to cross or Rs 70 for the return journey. Both amounts are round figures, with no Rs 5 change needed. But, buses, trucks, trailers and other heavy vehicles — intra and interstate ones — have to shell out tax in sums such as Rs 85, Rs 125, Rs 165 Rs 535.
Normally, if a driver doesn’t have 5 rupees, he is entitled to receive the same in change. But, they get biscuits, which they are told are worth Rs 5 per packet.
Interestingly, sources said that the company buys biscuit packets worth Rs 3 each in wholesale.
It takes no rocket science to tally the neat Rs 2 profit made by the plaza per driver every day. So if 7,000 drivers get biscuits, the toll plaza makes a cool profit of Rs 14,000 that day. In one month, the earnings reach Rs 4.2 lakh, nothing to be sniffed at.
When The Telegraph contacted authorities of the company about the biscuit business, they clammed up.
Caretaker Md Asgar, who did not even divulge the company’s name, said it was not possible for them to get 7,000 or more Rs 5 coins or notes daily. “We give biscuits because of the shortage in Rs 5 currency. We are left with no other option,” he said.
Truck driver Santosh Kumar said he was offered biscuits by force. “It is good business for the toll plaza people,” he said wryly.
Asgar, however, denied the allegations. “We don’t hand biscuits by force. Never,” he claimed.
If a driver refuses biscuits, vehicles lined up behind honk in impatience. To stay and argue means wasting precious minutes.
Sub-divisional officer Mayukh said no one had sent him any complaint. “West Well Iron Limited Company was given the task to collect the tax on the Barakar river stretch. If people approach me, I will definitely take action against any malpractice,” he said.
But drivers said they move on without bothering to stop and lodge a complaint as they have strict delivery deadlines.
Local residents alleged toll plaza employees employed musclemen. A villager added that some had complained to Barhi legislators Uma Shanker Akela.
But nothing changed. Forget behaviour, even the biscuits are the same.