Shillong, Feb. 17: The Khasi and Jaintia hills in Meghalaya and Cachar in neighbouring Assam were cut off from the rest of the country after truck drivers torched a toll gate and blocked the Guwahati-Shillong Road this morning.
Ri Bhoi deputy commissioner W.L. Lyngdoh said the drivers were infuriated when some officials of the toll gate near Dulongnar, 3 km from Nongpoh, allegedly pelted stones and broke the windshields of several trucks around midnight.
“The truck drivers have blocked the road and brought traffic to a standstill on National Highway 40,” he said. Senior police officials said the report of arson has yet to be confirmed.
The blockade has forced Assam governor Lt Gen. (retd) Ajai Singh to cancel his trip to the Meghalaya capital where he was to attend a seminar on the special economic zone. The governor had to turn back and return to Guwahati.
Ambulances and vehicles carrying essential commodities were stranded on the highway till tonight. Additional director general of police W.R. Marbaniang said: “Police officials are trying to ease the congestion.”
Witnesses said the truckers went on a rampage after officials at the toll gate run by the Syiem of Mylliem asked for an exorbitant amount.
Lyngdoh said the authorities had reached an agreement with the drivers to lift the blockade. He assured the truckers that officials of the toll gate would be arrested if the truckers filed an FIR.
Section 144 has been clamped and the district administration would use force if the truck drivers failed to respect the agreement, he added.
The incident is a culmination of the illegal collection by the toll gates run by district councils and the Syiem of Mylliem.
The Joint Action Co-ordination Committee, comprising several farmers’ organisations, truck drivers’ association and traders, have been expressing concern over the spurt in illegal toll and check gates along the national highway.
The co-ordination committee had called a 24-hour road blockade on February 9 and even threatened to move the Supreme Court against the district councils and the Syiem.
The alleged illegal collection, which runs into several crores of rupees annually, have left farmers, truck drivers and traders frustrated since the state government has failed to take any action.
Last week, The Telegraph found that two district council check gates — located close to each other near Umphyrnai under Sohryngkham, were charging different toll rates from different trucks.
“I paid Rs 80 twice at two check gates situated in the same place. However, a non-tribal driver will have to shell out anything between Rs 500 to Rs 800,” a Khasi truck driver said.
The Meghalaya Democratic Party government is aware of the “illegal” toll gates in the state, especially along national highways.
However, due to a court stay order, which the district council and the Syiem had procured, the state government has not been able to take a decision.
Former chief executive member of the Khasi Hills Autonomous District Council, Bindo Lanong, admitted that toll gates like the one at Umphyrnai “are highly illegal”.
He said as per norms, the lessee who runs the tollgates of the district council can charge a minimum of Rs 10 and a maximum of Rs 50. There are nearly 20 check gates in Ri Bhoi and East Khasi Hills districts, he added.