SPECIAL REPORT / ANCHOR
Sarore Toll Plaza controversy and its handling is a perfect reflection of how the Bharatiya Janata Party has finally molded itself in the modern day politics mode. The transition from the ‘party with difference’ to a typical ‘modern age political outfit’ must have been a difficult one but the BJP seems to have completed the circle in one go. The handling of the Sarore Toll Plaza row reminds of the 1984 Rajesh Khanna starrer ‘Aaj Ka MLA’, which revolves a round the great actor of his times in the role of a widowed barber Ram Avtar, who joins politics by accident and treads into the power corridors as a powerful politician bringing out what actually ails Indian democracy. In one of the scenes, Ram Avtar, the accidental Chief Minister raises the prices of bread from Rs 1 to Rs 5 though having been bribed by the bread manufacturers for raising the price by just Rs 1. Surprised and excited, the bread manufacturers take leave with sloganeering in praise of the Chief Minister. The five-fold increase in the bread prices irk people, who agitate and protest vehemently. To console the protesters, Ram Avtar invites their representatives to discuss the issue. The reps agitate, complaint and make a forceful demand of slashing and fixing the rates to Rs 2 per bread. Ram Avtar agrees graciously. Again excited and surprised, the reps of protesters leave raising slogans in praise of the Chief Minister. The handling of the Sarore Toll Plaza row seems to be classic example of the Bollywood melodrama ‘Aaj Ka MLA’. The people of Jammu-the traders, the industrialists, the tour operators, the pilgrims, the tourists and the commuters, have been protesting against winding up of the Sarore Toll Plaza for quite a time. They have taken to streets, met all those who matter and also organized ‘Chakkah Jam’ in support of their demand. Finally like the story-line of ‘Aaj Ka MLA”, the administration invited the so-called stake-holders and the representatives of the National Highway Authority of India and made some assurances, which include exemption from toll taxes to all local private vehicles of the Samba district, slashing down of monthly charges from all passenger vehicles from Rs 22,000 to Rs 2,200, revision of other passenger and commercial vehicles of Samba and Kathua districts from Rs 27,000 to Rs 7,500. The irony of the entire controversy over the Toll Plaza remains the protests by the BJP, which rules at the Centre and remotely controls the Jammu and Kashmir administration. They too have been demanding abolition of the Toll Plaza. But still somebody at the helm, the like of Ram Avtar doesn’t want this to happen, notwithstanding the fact that the BJP had described levying of taxes earlier as Jaziya for the Vaishno Devi and Amarnath bound pilgrims who number more than ten million per year. How come the priorities change when some party is in the government and when in the opposition? Is the BJP reaction to the Sarore Toll Plaza just a deception? If they mean what they protest for, why doesn’t their government concede to it? Along-side the BJP, the other so-called stakeholders in trade and commerce, industry, transport and the various other political parties, who are making hue and cry over the issue, seem to have given up by conceding to the ‘assurances’, which are nothing but stay put of the Sarore Toll Plaza. Their half-hearted and lackadaisical approach exposes their concern for the Jammu interest, which has been dear to none. Jammu has been bearing the brunt of all the economic reforms and measures being imposed by the government. Before levying taxes on multiple toll plazas from Lakhanpur to this place, the administration should have given a thought to the imposition of the Cess of Rs 1 per liter of diesel and petrol for construction, upgradation and maintenance of the highways and other roads by the Centre. The Cess collection must be whopping enough, which cuts the pockets of poor people in terms of fare in public transport and transport of essential commodities. Don’t toll taxes amount to double edged punishment on the poor tax payers of the country? The ‘Aaj Ka MLA’ type approach with protesting people of Jammu is not going to calm down them. They want the winding up of Sarore Toll Plaza and not reduction or waiver of charges to various categories of road users.
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