Odisha: Resentment over collection of tolls on NH-20

Pvt bus owners and passenger vehicle associations threaten indefinite strike
Report by Malaya Mohapatra; Keonjhar: The NH-215 presently named as NH-20 connecting Panikoili Rajamunda passing through the heart of Keonjhar district was in the worst condition few years back due to transportation of ores on the weak fragile roads. Continuous public agitation had forced the govt to construct the four lane road through built and operated Scheme(BOT) in which Gayatri Construction company had taken the bid between Panikioli to remuli. While the construction of remuli-rajamunda segment is going on, three toll gates have started collecting tolls from vehicles between remuli-panikoili segment which is nearly completion. This has created resentment among public as they have to pay three times within a 80 km stretch on the same highway which seems unfair and illogical. The vehicles from Joda to Bhubaneswar have to pass through 5 toll gates i.e Hasanpur, Khantaghar, Banajodi, Panikoili, Tangi incurring about 400 rupees toll taxes for four wheelers and even more for six wheelers and transport vehicles oneway. The Bus owners Association and four wheelers passenger vehicles have expressed their inability to pay such high prices and have threatened to suspend passenger services on this route. We are not opposing the toll collection but let there be one toll collection gate for the newly constructed highway instead of multiple collection gates for the same highway, Secretary, Keonjhar Bus owners Association said. The enforced toll collection will hike the journey ticket prices for passengers in this route. Local public passengers coming to district headquarters for work every day and employees working in the periphery have to pay heavily for their daily journey by vehicles. Even the Journalist association has demanded issue of passes for regular travelers, employees and media persons. Objecting to the collection of tolls on NH-20 Bus owners association of Champua, Keonjhar, Ghatgaon, Anandpur ,Chandikhole, Bhubaeswar, Cuttack, Karanjia met the National authorities requesting him to fix a monthly toll charges of Rs 1000 per bus plying through Keonjhar which was turned down by the authorities. A joint meeting under the chairmanship of Rajesh HarDash, Project Director, National highways authority, KV Saikrishna Rao of Maa tarini Tollways Limited, Mr Venkataramana,Ashish Swain, Vijay Bhatia, Gayatri Constructions, State Pvt Bus owners association Secretary Debendra kumar Sahoo and all affected Bus owners Association of Keonjhar and neighbouring district was held in Keonjhar to discuss about the toll collection issue but the negotiations failed. Final decisions will be taken after discussion with higher authorities and till then toll collection from passenger buses will remain suspended, Mr Venkata Ramana from NHAI informed media. However associations involved in passenger transport service have threatened to go on a strike if an amicable solution is not sorted out by the authorities.