MNS workers vandalise toll booths in Maharashtra

Toll plazas on highways and roads just outside the peripheries of at least eight towns in Maharashtra were vandalised, allegedly by Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) workers, in the early hours of Monday.

The vandalism followed a speech by MNS leader Raj Thackeray on Sunday at Navi Mumbai, urging people to abstain from paying toll. “If they (toll check post officials) insist, then oppose. Do not bother if the refusal leads to traffic jams,” he said.

Taking a cue from the speech, MNS workers went on a rampage at eight to nine toll posts.

“The toll posts vandalised are in Navi Mumbai, Thane district, Kalyan outposts, Pune district, Aurangabad outer Sangli district, Jalna district and Nagpur district. Nobody was injured and at least 30 cases of rioting have been registered. Around 70 people have been arrested,” police sources said.

The state government came out strongly against the vandalism, with Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar saying that if the hooliganism did not end, “the police will not handle them with kid gloves”.

“We are also planning to take legal action against MNS leader Raj Thackeray for allegedly instigating people to resort to violence. The speech is being studied by the legal cell,” he said.

Toll collection on various highways has become a sore issue. The IRB, which manages these toll outposts, have refused to stop collection despite Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan on Sunday admitting that a new toll policy was “under process and will be announced soon”. The chief minister said if toll collection was stopped, then construction of new roads would come to a halt. But, he grudgingly admitted that there “can be manipulations in the bidding process as well as calculation of toll amount”.

“It is necessary that a regulatory body be instituted, which can bring about transparency in the system. But, the public should remember that these construction companies collect toll and then construct highways,” Chavan pointed out.

Agitation draws criticism

Maharashtra Minister for Port, Industry, Employment and Self-Employment Narayan Rane has come out strongly against the MNS’ alleged hooliganism, threatening that those involved would face stringent legal action, including jail terms, reports DHNS from Mumbai.

Public Works Minister Chhagan Bhujbal, who used to spearhead the Shiv Sena’s violent agitations in Mumbai in the 70s and 80s before joining the NCP, said it was an irony that MNS leader Raj Thackeray was one of the proponents of the public-private partnership model when the Shiv Sena-BJP coalition was in power.

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