The National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) and the state government have nailed the lie of political parties and said no ‘official concession’ had been granted to the local commuters at the Ban Toll Plaza on the Jammu-Udhampur national highway.
The move has, however, created confusion and chaos at the Ban Toll Plaza, triggering verbal spats and clashes between the local commuters and those looking after the affairs of the plaza on a daily basis.
The BJP — partner in Mufti Mohammad Sayeed-led government — was the first to take the “credit” of a decision which was not endorsed by the NHAI and the state government.
On September 10, the BJP media cell issued a statement of BJP state president and Member of Parliament Jugal Kishore Sharma, wherein he said he had used his “good offices” and “got exemption of toll tax for locals of Nagrota, Jammu and Katra” from the Union Ministry for Road Transport and Highways.
Jugal Kishore had claimed that “the demand for exemption of tax at the Ban Toll Plaza, raised by the locals of Nagrota and other adjoining areas, had been fulfilled by the Union Ministry for Road Transport with his efforts”.
“According to the decision taken by the Road Transport Ministry, the people living within 20-km radius will not have to pay toll tax while plying on the Jammu-Udhampur road and those from Jammu district and Katra will have to pay only Rs 220 per month for the same purpose,” he had said.
After the BJP, the National Conference issued a statement, saying the party’s long struggle and series of protests had forced the toll authorities to waive tax for the people of the Nagrota constituency.
The party, which had launched an indefinite dharna at the Ban plaza in support of its demand for immediate rollback of toll tax and service tax on the chopper service for Vaishno Devi pilgrims, said it had forced the toll authorities to charge ‘no toll’ for locals of the Nagrota constituency and rationalised toll for the residents of Jammu and Kathua districts.
The claims of the two political parties were contested by senior officers of the NHAI, who denied any such concession. “There is no such official communication with us. No decision with regard to any concession has been taken,” said RP Singh, Project Director, NHAI, Jammu.
He, however, said there might be the possibility that the local contractor, engaged by the NHAI for operating the toll plaza, could have extended some concession but he was not aware of it.
“As per the provision, the people living within 20-km radius (travelling distance) are being charged Rs 225 per month for using the highway. Other than this, there is no provision of exemption or concession,” RP Singh said.
Rohit Kansal, Secretary, Roads and Buildings Department, J&K, also feigned ignorance over any such communication.
Meanwhile, Raj Kumar, the contractor managing the affairs of the toll plaza, said: “There is no official order with us to grant any exemption in toll tax to the motorists. Keeping in view the public demand, we have decided to issue passes to the locals residing within the radius of 20 km. No particular block (Dansal or Nagrota in the Nagrota Assembly segment) has been kept out of the purview of toll tax. We have been providing good roads and infrastructure and there is no harm in paying a small amount for the facility.”