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Tendulkar speaks out against toll tax in Maharashtra

Mumbai

14-March-2015

Cricket legend Sachin Tendulkar has written to Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, drawing his attention to the "physical and mental toll on citizens" over toll tax.

"I am deeply concerned about the present state of affairs concerning the operations of toll gates around the city of Mumbai," Tendulkar said in a two-page missive on the letterhead of the Rajya Sabha, of which he is a nominated member.

The letter was sent to Fadnavis on February 20 and was made public on Friday.

"I would sincerely request you to kindly reconsider the model of operations to reduce the physical and mental toll on citizens who travel in and out of Mumbai," the letter said.

Tendulkar urged the chief minister to ensure that motorists have an easier time navigating the country's commercial capital and reduce the anguish being faced by citizens.

Reciprocating, Fadnavis assured the legislative council that the state government would look into the concerned expressed by the icon on the vexed toll tax issues.

"We have taken note of his letter... I assure the house that we will overcome in a transparent way the legal hurdles to bring an end to toll plazas... We are committed to clear the legal hurdles in shutting down the toll plazas in the state," Fadnavis said.

He pointed out that a review of the agreements of major toll operators revealed that there was no "buy-back" clause for which a probe has been initiated with possibilities of seeking legal redressal.

Maharashtra PWD Minister Chandrakant Patil and Transport Minister Diwakar Raote have largely welcomed Tendulkar's initiative on the prickly issue of toll tax.

However, Raote of the Shiv Sena told a private TV channel that by raising this issue at least "Sachin finally remembers Mumbai and Maharashtra".

"Is he ignorant about the issues plaguing farmers," he retorted at the master-blaster's unexpected sympathy for the people of Mumbai and others parts of the state reeling under the burden of toll tax since nearly two decades.

Later this evening, Raote tendered an unconditional public apology for his statement to Tendulkar, saying they were not intended to insult the sentiments of the cricket icon in any manner.

Shiv Sena President Uddhav Thackeray and Maharashtra Navnirman Sena leaders welcomed Tendulkar's intervention in the issue.

"With the growth of the city, there is a lot of travel that happens from satellite towns especially from Vashi and Thane. In this context, there is a need to re-look at the number of toll gates rather than keep adding to the list. These tolls (gates) have become major road blocks resulting in traffic snarls, burning fuel and adding to pollution levels," Tendulkar wrote.

Moreover, he rued how the hike in the toll tax has added to the woes of people as the time taken to complete the transaction for each vehicle has increased on account of issues of small change (Rs.5).

Castigating toll operators, Tendulkar said they need to invest in technology which can help alleviate the limitations of collecting toll, including using RFID enabled cards within India and other similar solutions used worldwide.

"One must bear in mind that Mumbai as a city as always lead the way in terms of adoption of technology and modernisation, but sadly we seem to be lagging behind on the convergence of toll collection and technology," he pointed out.

Tendulkar also delivered his piece of mind on the conditions of roads and cited the examples of the toll posts connecting Vashi and Airoli in Navi Mumbai.

He urged Fadnavis to ensure a 24x7 dedicated and open lane for ambulances which routinely get stuck in traffic jams at toll tax lanes.

"I have seen on multiple occasions, where ambulances are unable to cross a toll gate as they are stuck in the traffic snarl, compromising the person in need of critical care. Movement of ambulances have been an issue in the city and we should make a start by ensuring smooth passage at the toll gates," Tendulkar pleaded. - IANS