The National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) has knocked at the State Government’s doors – it has sought assistance from the Assam Government for “smooth collection” of toll at the Raha toll plaza in Nagaon district, which has been forced closed by 29 local organisations who claim that the toll gate is “illegal”.
The NHAI Chief General Manager (Technical) and Regional Officer, NE, RP Singh, on Monday shot off a letter to the State Chief Secretary, TY Das, stating that the toll gate at Raha toll plaza “is not illegal” as mentioned by the protestors.
A report appearing in the The Times of India stated that Singh wrote in his letter to the top bureaucrat that, “It is requested to provide necessary administrative support for smooth collection of toll and to avoid further loss to the national exchequer.”
On Tuesday, State Commerce and Industry Minister, Chandra Mohan Patowary, too stated that the Government “does not subscribe to the view of the protestors that the toll plaza is illegal”. The report further quoted Patowary as saying, “Tolls on national highways are collected to fund the maintenance of the highway. Collection of toll on national highways is done everywhere in the country and is not just in Assam… it is not illegal.”
The Raha toll plaza is situated on National Highway 37 and and has remained non-operational since its commercial commissioning in February last year following protests by people. The NHAI website mentions that this toll plaza is “not operational due to law and order problems”.
The NHAI with the help of the State government reopened the toll gate on July 12 last but had to soon wrap up toll collection process the next day due to vehement protests. The collection started again on July 18 last. On Sunday 29 organisations, including the Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti (KMSS) blocked the highway at the toll gate and forced the authorities to suspend toll collection for 24 hours. Till Tuesday, the toll gate remained non-operational.
The protestors say that the location of the toll plaza violates the National Highways Fees (Determination of Rates and Collection) Rules, 2008. Their contention is that no toll gate can be set up within 10 km of a town or municipality area and the Raha gate is located within Ward 7 of Raha town.
However, Singh in his letter to the Chief Secretary pointed out that the location of the Raha gate is in line with the Section 9 of the National Highways Act, 1956 and the and the National Highways (Rate of Fees) Rules, 199, which very much allows setting up of a toll plaza within the municipal town or area limits or within a distance of 5 kms along the national highways.