Mamata Banerjee government revives highway toll plan
The Mamata Banerjee government is taking the first steps for levying toll tax on state highways, a measure the chief minister had in her initial years rejected and later delayed implementing out of concern for people’s pockets.
A source in Nabanna said the first meeting to frame the guidelines on toll collection will be held on Monday.
“On Monday, the PWD will as a first step identify the state highways where toll will be levied. The rates will be fixed sometime later,” the official said. “The final approval will have to come from the chief minister.”
The decision has become a talking point in administrative circles as the chief minister had long considered highway tolls an unnecessary burden on the public.
“The situation has changed rapidly over the past few years. The state is in financial distress with the pandemic hitting revenue generation and the welfare expenditure skyrocketing,” a bureaucrat said.
Some officials said the state government was likely to portray the toll as a means to maintain the roads, citing its stretched coffers and the Centre’s failure to release funds for multiple schemes.
“The state is trying to provide work to the MGNREGA workers from its own resources. It’s also trying to repair rural roads and provide dwelling units to the rural poor in the absence of central funds. In such a situation, levying toll on state highways was inevitable,” a senior official said.
Sources said the toll was likely to be levied on most of Bengal’s 19 state highways, except for those that witness low traffic volume or pass through areas rich in agriculture.
Some officials underlined that a similar initiative had been taken in 2016.
The board of directors of the West Bengal State Highways Development Corporation had approved a toll policy, the state cabinet had ratified it, and the West Bengal Highways Act, 1964, was amended to levy toll on state highways. It was then decided that the toll would be levied after the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.
“But with Trinamul’s setback in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, the plan was put on hold.... Now it has become difficult for the cash-strapped state to push the date back any further,” an official said.