INTTUC workers shout slogans at the Palsit toll plaza. Picture by Sayantan Ghosh
Calcutta, Oct. 15: The National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) has shut down two toll plazas on NH2 because workers backed by the Trinamul union INTTUC have refused to move out and allow a new agency to take charge of operations.
The closure of the toll plazas — at Dankuni in Hooghly and Palsit in Burdwan — has resulted in a daily loss of Rs 12.5 lakh and Rs 11 lakh, respectively.
The bone of contention is the NHAI’s wish to run the toll plazas through a private agency after the due tendering process. The INTTUC, which has found support at Dankuni and Palsit, wants the old hands to be retained and have started dharnas, forcing the NHAI to close down the plazas.
Work at the Palsit toll plaza was stalled on October 6 and in the one at Dankuni on October 7.
The toll plazas on NH2, which runs from Calcutta to Delhi, were maintained by agencies of ex-servicemen that were selected through local-level bidding.
But in 2011, the NHAI decided on selecting agencies every year through national tenders to generate more revenue. A Mumbai-based agency, MEP Infrastructure Developers Pvt Ltd, was selected last year to run the Dankuni and Palsit toll operations.
“Last year, the workers refused to vacate the place. The successful bidder could not be handed over the plazas. It is almost a year since then and we will have to float fresh tenders. The plazas have been closed down to ensure a smooth handover,” a senior NHAI official said.
Sources said the NHAI had repeatedly sought the Bengal’s government’s assistance in handing over the toll plazas, but nothing was done.
According to the NHAI, revenue generation has been badly hit because of the strike. At Dankuni, the annual collection was projected to rise from Rs 35.67 crore to Rs 43.92 crore. At Palsit, the revenue could have shot up to Rs 46.80 crore from Rs 36.93 crore.
Chief minister Mamata Banerjee had in August complained to Union finance minister P. Chidambaram about the lack of maintenance of national highways in Bengal.
Soon after, NHAI chairman R.P. Singh shot off a letter to the state government citing several instances of resistance in the handing over of toll plazas in Bengal and how that could affect projects.
Senior NHAI officials said the chairman had made it clear that if such resistance continued in Bengal, the state would lose major national highway development projects.
“Nowadays, the NHAI engages agencies to develop and maintain national highways on BOT (build, operate, transfer) basis. If the tolling system is hit, it is clear that no major project would be initiated here,” an NHAI official said.
The NHAI has recently scrapped the widening of NH35 because of non-availability of land. Stretches of NH34 and NH31, where four-laning work is on, were handed over to the state PWD as the government failed to arrange for land.
“If the tolling system is hit, such blows are waiting for the state in areas of development and maintenance of national highways,” an official said at Writers’ Buildings.
The agitation at the two toll plazas has become more rigid with the involvement of leaders such as law minister Malay Ghatak. “I am the president of the Trinamul union at Palsit. So I have to intervene whenever required. We are not bothered who will run the agency but the agency has to employ the existing workers. The same is true for the Dankuni plaza,” Ghatak said.
The minister held a meeting with the MEP Infrastructure Developers Pvt Ltd in November last year. But the agency did not agree to employ the existing workers.
There have been similar problems at toll plazas on NH6 at Dhulagarh and Debra, which had to be closed down for a month as INTTUC workers refused to vacate. The matter was sorted out after the state government intervened following the NHAI’s request.