Dead end

Toll road triggers protests

By Nidhi Jamwal
Published: Sunday 29 February 2004

-- the Maharashtra government's decision to convert the old Mumbai-Pune highway (National Highway-4) into a toll road has driven the commuters round the bend. The move is supposed to help in generating funds to sustain the controversial Mumbai-Pune Expressway, which has turned financially unviable. But, in the process, the people would lose their only option of tax-free road travel between the two cities.

The nh-4 project is expected to earn Rs 110 crore per annum, with a potential of 8 per cent annual revenue growth. It is being administered by the Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation Limited (msrdc). However, the abject failure of the Mumbai-Pune Expressway calls into question the very raison d'etre of this venture.

The expressway was constructed by the msrdc at a cost of Rs 1,600 crore. It connects Kon village (near Mumbai) with Dehu road (near Pune). The venture had faced stiff resistance on various grounds. "It was taken up without any environmental impact assessment and financial viability studies. Suggestions from citizens were also disregarded," says Kisan Mehta of Mumbai-based non-governmental organisation (ngo) Save Bombay Committee.

"In the mid-1990s, when the expressway was proposed, we raised objections and wrote to both the Union and state governments. But the latter went ahead with the project. Now they are turning nh-4 also into a toll road, in effect, blocking out all options for the people," laments Sujit Patwardhan of Parisar, a Pune-based ngo. Besides, the new move would lead to a rise in prices of commodities as the cost of transporting goods would increase, warns Mehta. For its part, the state government concedes that the expressway project has not taken off. State finance minister Jayant Patil has been quoted as saying that traffic along the road has not increased and traffic projections have gone awry. Media reports say msrdc is bearing an annual interest burden of Rs 240 crore while earning only Rs 28 crore as toll from the expressway. The corporation officials were not available for comment.

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