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CM help sought in freeing toll plazas

Calcutta, Nov. 25: The public works department has sought chief minister Mamata Banerjee’s intervention in helping the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) hand over four toll plazas to a new agency.

The state government could not assist the NHAI in handing over the toll plazas to the new agency last December because of alleged resistance by Trinamul union-backed employees of the agencies that used to operate them. The employees had refused to move out and demanded jobs in the new agency, forcing the NHAI to close down the toll plazas last month.

“The NHAI had requested the state to help it hand over the toll plazas to the private agency so that better revenues could be generated. But because of muscle-flexing by the Trinamul union, the government could not initiate any step,” said a senior official at Writers’ Buildings.

As the handover process could not be completed, the NHAI has lost revenues worth Rs 18 crore till October this year.

The Telegraph had reported on February 17 how the employees, with the backing of the INTTUC, had prevented the NHAI from handing over the toll plazas to the new agency — MEP Toll Roads Pvt. Ltd.

After the NHAI expressed dissatisfaction several times with the government’s failure to help it, the PWD took up the initiative to facilitate the handover of the toll plazas at Palsit (Burdwan), Dankuni (Hooghly) and Garui (Burdwan) on NH2 and Rampura (West Midnapore) on NH60.

“The PWD has decided to seek the chief minister’s intervention as it feels that if the toll plazas are not transferred to the new private player, the NHAI may lose interest in future projects in Bengal. The agency has already scrapped the four-laning of NH35 (Barasat-Bongaon road) because of the state government’s failure to provide land for the project,” a senior PWD official said.

NHAI chairman R.P. Singh had written to the state government in August expressing dissatisfaction over the alleged strong-arm tactics at the toll plazas and making it clear that if they were not handed over to the new agency for better revenue generation, it might have a negative impact on future projects in the state.

“The state could not help the NHAI only because unions affiliated to the ruling party are supporting the agitating employees. Now, the PWD has urged the chief minister to resolve the issue as she is the supreme authority in her party,” the Writers’ official said.

PWD officials said that if Mamata intervened to resolve the toll plaza impasse, the department might seek her permission to evict encroachers from NH34 and clear the road for widening the highway that connects Barasat in south Bengal to Dalkhola in north Bengal.

“If the chief minister sends the message to her party colleagues that politics should not come in the way of development, it would become easier for the department to remove the encroachers,” an official said.

The PWD has prepared a note for the chief minister mentioning the “ground reality” at the toll plazas.

“Since December, the NHAI has lost Rs 7.60 crore in Garui, Rs 4.90 crore in Palsit, Rs 3.53 crore in Dankuni and Rs 1.50 crore in Rampura as the plazas could not be handed over,” the note, submitted to the chief secretary, said.

The PWD also mentioned that according to an agreement signed between the government and the NHAI, the state is supposed to provide the agency all the support it requires.

Senior NHAI officials said that if the central agency does not get any assistance from the government, it would float fresh tenders to select a new company for managing the plazas.

“The MEP Toll Roads Pvt. Ltd was supposed to get the plazas by December last year. But as they could not be handed over the plazas, we may have to float fresh tenders,” a senior NHAI official said.

The four toll plazas were managed by agencies run by ex-servicemen.