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This is my diary....what I make sense of, around me. You'll find short prose on contemporary topics that interest me. What can you expect - Best adjectives? …. hmm occasionally, tossed around flowery verbs ?…. Nope, haiku-like super-brevity? … I try to. Thanks for dropping by & hope to see you again

February 16, 2014

Tolling times

This time too Mumbai seems besieged when I landed there on the morning of 12 February this week. While entering the city one could feel hoards of palpably glittery policemen around toll booths even as early as 7 am in the morning. They were seen checking all incoming vehicles and questioning random commuters. Later that day news broke out that Raj Thackeray had been detained after the orchestrated attacks on toll booths had reached alarming levels

While Raj Thackeray may have political compulsions on mind to queer the pitch for the forthcoming Loksabha elections, the Toll Booth issue raised some questions in my mind at-least

1. It is a common perception, one that is gaining strong currency to me is that Toll booths are a organized form of hafta vasooli (Extortion Agencies) that has gained a cloak of credibility and acceptance because of Govt’s ineptitude and mishandling . Sample this - in the last 5 years there is no visible improvement in the driving condition between Bangalore & Belgaum. In fact it has worsened due to numerous diversions due to incomplete road works. Yet the Toll collected between the two cities has risen from around Rs.250 to almost Rs.500 for cars today. How is that possible? Why is nobody questioning this?

2. I can understand the compulsions of PPP (public private partnerships) engagements to involve private sector in running toll booths and the economics of charging user fees to recover the cost of providing such services. But is the state giving a free hand to private enterprise which by its very nature is a vested enterprise as opposed to the collective public interest that the Govt represents? It appears so. If the Govt can bungle on larger & more important assets like Coal and spectrum so spectacularly what credibility does it have in managing such smaller assets?

3. Can you arrive at a definitive conclusion as to how much such utilities are to be charged and the time frame for recovery that fair & equitable to all parties - the private enterprise that builds such facilities, users like us who utilize it and the Govt which facilitates ? No again if one could look at the case when Chicago city authorities leased its street-parking meters for $1.157 billion for 75-years in 2008.

So what Raj Thackeray seems to be doing to highlight this issue is pretty much like that of Arvind Kejriwal - UNCONVENTIONAL. It strikes a chord somewhere . And he has succeeded in keeping the Govt on tenterhooks going by what I saw in the city that day. Hope it helps in addressing the issue.

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