A couple of days back, Raj Thackeray – a politician, announced that people should no longer pay toll on the highways and if need me resort to violence. To carry out his diktat, his party members/ supporters started vandalizing toll booths across Maharashtra. I read about it in the newspapers and didn’t really think about it much, forgetting the fact that I use the Western Express highway to travel to work everyday and there are two toll booths that fall along my route to work. The next day while driving I encountered bumper to bumper traffic atleast a 1.5kms before the toll booth. I was thinking that the reason for such traffic could be an accident on the highway. However, on reaching closer to the toll booth, I saw a lot of people from his political party stopping cars and speaking with passengers. I was fearing the worst – that they might vandalize the car. On reaching my car, they requested me to not pay toll. I continued to move ahead and found the toll booth heavily guarded by the police. I was wondering how will someone avoid paying the toll with such heavy police presence. The entire ruckus cost me an extra 45 mins to reach work.
I wonder what do political parties achieve by such populist measures. As per Raj Thackeray, the companies should provide better amenities for the toll tax charged. I, in principle, agree to what he says and means. But I also would blame the government who agreed to the current agreement with the contractor. If the agreement does not mention anything about better amenities, then the contractor is not obliged to do anything. Incidentally, the agreement was signed by Shiva Sena, BJP combined (Raj Thackeray was earlier part of Shiva Sena). There is also other argument floating around which says that since the project cost is recovered, toll should not be collected. To makers of such argument, I just have a simple argument to offer – the contractor is in the business to make money and earn profits. No company is going to invest in India if politicians start putting perceived thresholds on profit. Currently we have a wave of populist measures which the governments are announcing, from AAP in Delhi to NCP Cong in Maharashtra. If you look at it, all subsidies are generally paid by the government and how does the government get money – from you and me. So indirectly the tax paying people end up footing the bill and at the same time increasing the debt. I wonder when will we have governments who really understand the need of the hour and stop implementing populist reforms just for votes.