Suhail A Shah
Anantnag: The government seems to have gone back on its promise of toll tax exemption for people living in the vicinity of the newly established toll tax plaza at Chechkoot, along NH-44, here in south Kashmir’s Pulwama district.
The announcement was made in April this year, by the government, soon after the toll plaza was made functional by the National Highway’s Authority of India (NHAI). The announcement came after protests by trader’s bodies and transporters who sought exemption of toll tax for all the locals.
The government, however, announced that the tax will be exempted for commuters living within a 20 Kilometer radius from the toll plaza at Chechkoot.
“The government announcement was acted upon at the toll plaza all these months,” said Mubashir Khan, a daily commuter on the NH-44, “For all these months a free pass was issued every month after we provided the photocopies of our vehicle registration certificates and our Aadhar card,”
This month, however, the employees at the toll plaza have refused to issue free passes and are charging an amount of Rs 265 for issuance of the monthly pass.
The commuters say that they feel betrayed by the government and there seems to be nobody to complain to on this issue.
“The phones are not working and the civil administration seems to be non-existent at this point in time. They have carefully chosen the time to reverse the government decision,” another daily commuter, Imtiyaz Ahmad, told Kashmir Reader.
He said that arguments with the employees on duty have proved to be futile.
“They are not ready to listen to us. They want money.”
Kashmir Reader also talked to the employees at the Toll Plaza who confirmed that they will charge from this month onwards for issuance of passes.
“It was the toll plaza contractor who was suffering the losses or in a way we people. There were no free passes, we were providing them on our own and we were paying towards NHAI regardless,” one of the employees, who refused to give out his name, told Kashmir Reader.
Hemraj Bhagat, Regional Officer of the NHAI in Kashmir told Kashmir Reader that the passes were never meant to be free.
“I do not know about the government announcements. The fact of the matter is that these passes are never free. They are provided at a particular cost all over India. Free passes might have something to do with the local contractor,” Bhagat told Kashmir Reader.
Whatever the truth might be, the commuters here are feeling cheated and dejected. And they are paying for their passes now.