THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: The toll collection at the newly opened toll plaza at Thiruvallam on the Kazhakoottam-Karode NH66 bypass is likely to be continued with the Centre making it clear that the fee will be collected for the completed stretch and that too without any waiver for local passengers.
This has been stated in a letter by Union Minister for Road Transport and Highways Nitin Gadkari to Shashi Tharoor, MP, in reply to two representations that he made recently. Gadkari said the user fee notification provided for a monthly pass of Rs 285 for local non-commercial vehicles of those residing within 20 km of the toll plaza is valid. However, the minister never mentioned any point to waive off the toll for local residents.
“User fee for these two packages will be collected on Thiruvallam toll plaza for the completed stretch only. Hence, at present, user fee for the 26.5 km length of completed stretch of Kazhakoottam to Mukkola will be collected at Thiruvallam fee plaza,” the letter stated. He also said the bypass project was being implemented in two packages, that is the completed stretch from Kazhakoottam to Mukkola and another from Mukkola to Karode along the Kerala-Tamil Nadu border. Gadkari said 94 per cent of the second phase work was completed and was targeted to be finished by December.
Meanwhile, protests continued on Friday with Youth Congress workers gheraoing the project director of National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) in connection with the toll collection move last Tuesday. CPM-affiliated student outfits also staged demonstrations at the toll plaza . They were arrested and removed by the Thiruvallam police.
The YC protesters barged into the cabin of project director P Pradeep at the NHAI office at Vallakadavu around 11.45 am and gheraoed him for around two hours demanding not to resume toll collection until the entire 43 kilometres stretch from Kazhakoottam to Karode is completed. The activists said the protests will continue in the coming days and will not allow the NHAI to start collecting toll. Around 1.45 pm, the Fort police removed and arrested them who were booked under rioting and obstructing the duty of public servants. The state government is likely to convene a high-level meeting to resolve this issue. The meeting will be chaired by PWD minister P A Mohamed Riyas.
An official proceeding: NHAI
Pradeep told TNIE that the NHAI was informed by the higher officials that the toll collection would continue as it is an official proceeding. “Higher officials have asked us to continue toll collection. If toll collection is happening at all roads in the country by NHAI, then why not here? We also did not get any communication from the state or Union government not to resume toll fee collection,” Pradeep said.
The protest by the political parties started on Tuesday.
According to them, the move by the NHAI is unscientific as people needed to pay a toll for travelling just three kilometres for reaching Kovalam or Vizhinjam from Thiruvallam. They also said the local people should get an exemption from the toll as they have been using the stretch for the past 35 years. At present, traffic is allowed till Kovalam. The highway is blocked from Kovalam to Mukkola even after its construction is complete due to the pending work of the 16.3-km stretch from Mukkola to Karode, near the Kerala-Tamil Nadu border.
Service road bridge on cards: Minister
Gadkari, in his letter also, said the NHAI proposed to construct a service road bridge in Thiruvallam and it is under active consideration. While the contract agreement for the four-laning of the NH66 bypass Kazhakoottam-Mukkola stretch did not contain provision for the bridge, it’s feasibility was being studied on account of the demands raised by the local community. A detailed project report was also prepared for the same.