From Friday, Mahatma Gandhi Setu has become a free zone. Commuters can use it for now without paying tax.
The Centre on Friday accepted Bihar’s proposal to discontinue the practice of collecting toll from vehicles using the Gandhi setu conditionally. Till further order, commuters would not have to wait in spiral queues for paying the toll.
Bihar Rajya Pul Nirman Nigam Limited collected the toll. The money collected as tax used to go to the Centre. The state got nothing from it.
Road construction minister Nand Kishore Yadav told The Telegraph: “It is good for the state that the Centre has finally accepted our proposal. We had first proposed suspension of toll tax collection in 2011. The second request was sent in 2012. The proposal took its final shape when chief minister Nitish Kumar met Union road transport and highways minister C.P. Joshi during his recent visit to Delhi.”
The central government gave in-principle approval to the Bihar government’s proposal to discontinue the practice of collecting toll from vehicles using Gandhi setu on July 13.
Nand Kishore said: “The bridge across Ganga connects north Bihar with the state capital. Once there is a traffic jam on the bridge, commuters used to get stuck for hours in the queue for paying toll tax. Now, commuters will not have to wait for paying the tax.”
He said: “Ideally, the practice of toll tax stops once the money spent on constructing the bridge is recovered. Gandhi setu was constructed at the cost of Rs 87 crore. Till now, more than Rs 140 crore has been collected through toll tax. The letter sent by the Centre says toll collection will remain suspended till further order.”
On an average, over 25,000 heavy vehicles pass through the 5.575-km-long bridge daily.
Road construction department secretary Pratyaya Amrit told The Telegraph: “The main reason to stop the practice of toll collection is the dilapidated condition of the bride, which cannot take much load. A long queue of heavy vehicles for paying the toll exerted pressure on the pillars of the bridge. It is practically not possible for the bridge to take so much pressure of vehicles.”
The suspension of toll collection came as a pleasant surprise for most car owners. Unaware of the decision, most of them took out money and slowed down near the toll counter only to learn the tax collection practice had been suspended.
“What happened? Is there no toll today?” asked one such car driver, stopping near the toll counter.
A man selling mineral water told him: “No more toll now. Just go, there is no one at the counter. It seems it has been stopped for now.”
Expressing happiness over the development, Sanjay Kumar (40) from Muzaffarpur district said: “It is surely a big relief for us. Earlier, we used to wait on the bridge for hours. There used to be huge traffic jam over the bridge, which is not visible today (Friday).”
Babita Devi, having a boutique in Muzaffarpur, said: “I visit Patna twice a week and the bus used to halt at least for an hour for paying the toll. Thank God! We will not face that problem anymore.”
Deepak Kumar, a resident of Mahnar in Vaishali district, said he used to be scared whenever he saw heavy vehicles passing through the bridge despite it not being in a good shape.
“I always used to pray to God while passing through this bridge. The sight of heavy vehicles passing one after the other and several others standing in a queue on the bridge frightened me,” Deepak said.