Mumbai, Aug. 22: Three MLAs from the three poles of Maharashtra politics are accused of brawling at road toll plazas this week, refusing to pay charges of Rs 40 or less.
Now one of them expects support from all parties when he tries to teach toll plaza staff a further lesson by bringing in a breach of special privilege notice in the Assembly tomorrow.
“MLAs are public servants and aren’t expected to pay toll. We’ll haul these toll plaza operators and their staff over the coals. Who has given them the right to flex their muscles with public representatives?” Samajwadi legislator Abdul Momin said.
Local news channels today beamed footage of two MLAs threatening women staff and vandalising two toll booths in Nashik.
“I was not in my official car but I was carrying my MLA’s I-card. But they humiliated me. I didn’t vandalise anything,” Anil Kadam of the Shiv Sena said.
TV shows him abusing the Pimpalgaon booth’s all-women staff. An FIR has been registered against him.
“Unruly motorists often pose as VIPs to dodge the toll,” an official at the toll plaza said. “It takes time to determine who’s genuine and who’s fake but big people don’t have the patience to wait.”
The problem is not specific to Maharashtra or any single party. Former Gujarat Congress MP Vitthalbhai Radadiya, who allegedly brandished his gun at toll plaza staff last October, has been inducted into the BJP. But Maharashtra has logged a hat-trick since Tuesday.
Footage shows Congress-backed Independent MLA Shirishkumar Kotwal and his supporters threatening staff at another all-women toll plaza, at his constituency of Chandwad. His complaint: trolleys and tractors of local farmers, exempt from the toll, had been asked to pay up.
Toll plaza staff claim that when they asked the farmers to prove they were local people, they refused and, led by Kotwal, created a ruckus. Kotwal denied the vandalism charge.
Late on Tuesday night, local Samajwadi MLA Abdul Tahir Rashid was crossing a toll plaza at Bhiwandi in Thane, adjoining Mumbai, with his family in an official car.
Asked to pay the Rs 30 toll, Momin allegedly got off his car, threw his MLA pass at the toll plaza employee and slapped him. Momin denied slapping anybody and claimed he had to call the police as toll plaza staff surrounded his car.
Before the police could arrive, a mob of 40 to 50 people, who Momin claims were local villagers and toll plaza staff say were his supporters, vandalised the plaza, smashing cabins, furniture and computers.
Momin plans to bring all parties together to fight “unfair toll rates” and toll plaza staff’s “highhandedness”.
In June, an RTI query revealed that the toll collected by some booths in Gujarat were way over what the roads had cost to build. One booth on the Ahmedabad-Mehsana road had collected Rs 391cr against a construction cost of Rs 342cr.
Toll collection on roads laid under a build-operate-and-transfer basis is controlled by the Planning Commission.