Political parties unite to protest toll collection on Pune-Satara highway

Legislators and MPs from different political parties came together on Sunday to protest the collection of toll at the Khed-Shivapur toll plaza on the incomplete Pune-Satara national highway (NH4).

Members of an all-party action committee demanded that the plaza be removed. The agitation was temporarily suspended following assurances from officials of the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) that no toll would be levied on vehicles from Pune district and Pimpri-Chinchwad going to and fro from Satara until Union Minister for Road Transport and Highways Nitin Gadkari had taken a meeting in Delhi on the matter.

Prominent among the demonstrators were Nationalist Congress Party MP from Baramati, Supriya Sule, Congress MLA from Bhor, Sangram Thopate, and Bharatiya Janata Party legislator from Khadakwasla, Bhimrao Tapkir. The three were also present in the meeting with officials of the NHAI and Reliance Infrastructure.

“We held a meeting with authorities from the NHAI and Reliance Infrastructure on Sunday. I had already spoken to Mr. Gadkari on Saturday. However, as he is in Sweden presently and will be back within eight days, we will be meeting again in Delhi. Till that time, we have received assurances that no toll would be levied on vehicles coming from Pune, Bhor, Velhe-Mulshi, Purandar and Khadakwasla to Satara,” Ms. Sule said, adding Mr. Gadkari would take the final call on the matter as he had the authority.

Last month, Thane-based lawyer-activist Praveen Wategaonkar, along with Sanjay Shirodkar, a Pune-based activist, had filed a complaint with the Central Bureau of Investigation against P.S. Toll Road Private Ltd — a special purpose vehicle promoted by Reliance Infrastructure — for allegedly having illegally amassed a toll revenue of nearly ₹1,780 crore in the last nine years despite the non-completion of the highway.

“The first step in our agitation has been successful and we have received a written assurance from the NHAI that no toll would be collected. We have temporarily suspended our agitation and not taken it back. If the Central ministry fails to fulfil its promises of abolishing toll, we will resume it again,” a member of the committee said.

As per their contract, P.S. Toll Road was to complete the six-lane development of the 140-km Pune-Satara highway within a 30-month period beginning October 2010, but has been dragging on for nine years. On December 16, 2013, the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways had issued amended rules pertaining to the levy of toll on national highways, which prohibited toll collection on highways where the six-laning process had been delayed beyond scheduled completion dates.

The abysmal condition of Pune–Satara road with its incomplete bridges, pot holes, and congestion points have been a major source of vexation for harried travellers, doubling their commute time.

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