Sunday, December 2, 2012

UP farmers’ stir may take toll on highway projects

UP farmers’ stir may take toll on highway projects

Agitation Set To Hit DND On Friday

Dipak Kumar Dash & Purusharth Aradhak TNN 

New Delhi/Ghaziabad: 
Highway modernization is facing a new threat, this time from the Bharat Kisan Union (BKU) which has warned of taking over all highway toll plazas in Uttar Pradesh if the gov
ernment and highways authority do not allow free passage to tractor-trolleys and vehicles of people living in a 10-km radius of the tolling points. 
    On Saturday, BKU activists took over a toll plaza near Garh Mukteshwar on NH-24 for several hours and removed barriers of the toll 
plaza on NH-58 (Daurala) near Meerut for the second time. On Sunday, 100-odd farmers laid siege to the Dasna toll plaza. The BKU said it would take over a toll plaza near Saharanpur on Monday. The stir may hit the DND Flyway, linking Delhi and Noida, on Friday. Standoff may continue till 2014 
The protests began on Friday even as top BKU leaders held a long meeting with officials of the National Highways Authority of India to resolve several issues. “For some hours, the NHAI contractor had started tolling on NH-58 on Friday, but we soon took control over the plaza. The protest will spread across UP and in other states,” BKU spokesperson Rakesh Tikait said. 
    The BKU may have ambitiously announced plans to take over toll plazas across UP but the outfit’s tactics may be successful only in the western part of the state, where it commands some influence. On Sunday, agitating farmers reached the Dasna toll plaza around 9.30am and threw open the toll gates for at least twoand-a-half hours. They again took over the plaza later, allowing vehicles free passage till late night. “There is no service road, which forces local commuters to pay and cross the toll 
plaza,” Rajveer Singh, BKU’s Meerut zone president, said. 
    The BKU has also threatened to re-launch its stir from December 7 on the DND Flyway to make the stretch tollfree, accusing the district administration and the DND operator of failing to meet their 
demands. They also want the extra toll that the DND operator had collected between November 9 and 17 to be handed over to the district magistrate so the amount can be given for charity or to a ‘gaushala’. After increasing the toll to Rs 25, it was rolled back to Rs 22 after the BKU launched a protest. 
    There are also reports of the BKU taking over Itaunja and Atariya toll plazas in the next few days and the agitation moving to Sitapur, Hardoi, Unnao and Lucknow districts. The BKU seems to be using the standoff to gain greater support before the next general election and there are indications of protesters continuing with their agitation till that time. The organization’s top leaders are likely to decide which other toll plazas will be 
targeted. Tikait said the fight was not just for farmers’ vehicles, but against the “wrong policy” of the government that allows toll operators to charge hefty user fee from locals who use the highway for 5-10 km. “We will continue the protest against the present practice as NHAI told us that change in norms is possible only when there is legislation. They are doing nothing despite stretches reporting high number of fatalities,” he added. 
    When the highway projects were started, under-passes were a common sight, aimed at helping locals cross over to the other side without paying toll. But several new stretches either do not have the facility or are so far apart that people are forced to take the highway. The BKU is demanding a policy 
that provides free passage and special discount for vehicles owned by people living close to the toll plazas. For example, they want identification of a second zone — 20km around toll plazas — and vehicles from this region should get substantial discount. “We will not allow NHAI to charge hefty toll from people for crossing a plaza daily since they live in that area. They are also allowing contractors to charge toll for stretches which are still not complete,” a BKU leader said. 
    NHAI officials said they had called a meeting of BKU leaders and district magistrates of Muzaffarnagar and Meerut on Friday. They added the representatives were unreasonable in demanding free passage for local vehicles. “Even at present, the user charge for these (local) vehicles is only one-fourth of the normal fee. We have told them we will talk to the concessionaires,” an official said. He 
added that the NHAI had agreed to build foot overbridges and underpasses on NH-58 as sought by the BKU representatives. NHAI is worried about the results of BKU activists opening toll barriers as the contractors would send in bills of their revenue loss. 
    (With inputs from Ayesha Arvind)

The Bharatiya Kisan Union protested at NH-24 on Sunday

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