Toll plazas: nothing but a golden goose for governments
The majority decides the government in any democracy. The government, in turn, ensures the welfare of the people through revenue, collected as taxes. It also safeguards the rights and the dignity of the common man.
The three pillars of democracy are empowered by the Constitution to guarantee that the government does not stray from its duties. These essential wings of democracy are funded by public money.
But, what is happening today? A flurry of taxes has been imposed on the masses. The ever-increasing inflation rate is sucking their blood. Yet, state revenue falls short of paying even the salaries and pensions of government employees.
To add to the woes, the system does not move unless oiled with bribes.
Development cannot happen without foreign money, borrowed on heavy interest rates. The burden of repayment is left to future generations.
Arrogance of power
The recent deaths of specially-abled children at a government-run home near Jaipur revealed the gory aspect of this so-called 'development'. Governments don't even shy from lying to the courts and the houses of elected representatives in the name of the same mendacious welfare.
Nobody seems to care for the democratic rights of the people. A large number of citizens are deprived of the right to even walk on their own land.
An overwhelming majority can sometimes become synonymous with the arrogance of power. The hegemony of the Central government, for example, led to the recent Uttarakhand fiasco. How can one expect the hapless common people to withstand such conceit?
The land reform Bills recently passed by the Rajasthan government have enabled the authorities to acquire land without farmers' consent. Despite a brute majority in the state Assembly, the Vasundhara Raje government chose to go ahead with the Bills in a surreptitious manner. Why?
Should the government not have initiated a public debate before taking such a decision? The government is ruthlessly selling public resources, or making every effort to do so. It goes totally against democratic values.
The acquisition of agricultural land for industrial purposes or road projects is necessary only when the state lacks the land pool. A large number of industrial areas owned by the Rajasthan State Industrial Development and Investment Corporation (RIICO) remain unused. Most of these areas have access to roads, electricity and water. Some have even been inhabited. Then, what was the need to introduce such draconian provisions? The judiciary should take cognisance of the matter.
The golden goose
The road infrastructure is often considered a barometer of development. The Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana has connected many towns and villages to the road network. Several other road projects are in the pipeline.
Roads have become a golden goose for the government. The concerned departments play little role in the development of road infrastructure. A large chunk of money allocated for such projects goes into the pockets of corrupt officials.
Most roads are constructed by contractors. Usually, the contractors collude with the various departments to loot public money.
A large number of road projects utilising the BOT (build, operate and transfer) model are mired in legal entanglements. Why doesn't the government focus on the leakage of funds in such cases?
Contractors must be paid the construction expenses, along with the interest money. The concerned department would be relevant only if manages to take out the maintenance cost from this budget itself. Otherwise, why do we need these heavily-paid departments?
Today, a lot more money has been recovered from road projects than the construction cost. Yet, toll plazas continue to extract money from the people. Why has the government adopted a feudal mindset to continue with this injustice?
In many cases, the collection of toll money starts well before the completion of the road.
There are five toll plazas between Udaipur and Dungarpur, a stretch of about 110 kilometres. Nobody has clarified which law validates their operation.
In fact, the issue of toll tax has come to epitomise the real intent of the government. One may find many kith and kin of influential people involved in this business.
Who will then tighten the noose around these toll plazas? All it takes is a monthly commission of Rs 1-1.5 crore to some relevant high official, and the entire system turns a blind eye to this undeclared extortion.
Halt at any toll plaza and you can witness this open loot. Lathi-wielding musclemen would never allow your vehicle to pass without paying money. As if you are in some alien country! This is somewhat reminiscent of the feudal era. Can you not even travel in your own country without paying tax? Is this the democracy that we are so proud of?
Filling its coffers
The Rajasthan government has signed many MOUs under the 'Resurgent Rajasthan' mission. Many of them have already been nullified. Past experience suggests the remaining ones could become a source of usurping of land at cheap rates.
The government must refrain from handing over fertile land to industrialists. It must fix a percentage of the total area of the state for roads.
We see old roads lying unused near new ones at many places. Why is such land not put to good use?
Trees have been cut indiscriminately and innumerable birds killed during the building of roads.
These old roads could, at least, be utilised for constructing dhabas, motels and emergency services etc.
However, the government seems least bothered to undertake such an initiative. It is only concerned about filling its coffers.
Toll plazas have become the gateways for the development of the leaders. This is the reason the establishment is not willing to address this issue. There is little hope it would do so in the near future.