|Monday, May 29, 2000,
Fleecing motorists Himachal way
SHIMLA, May 28 —Tax collection barriers on the national highways are mushrooming in Himachal Pradesh in utter violation of the directives of the Centre and have become a source of grabbing crores of rupees every year with the connivance of the state government.
There is not even a single national highway on which such tax collection barriers have not come up. It is alleged that political favourites are being given contracts for setting up of barriers.
Although the state government claims to have taken steps for the comfort of lakhs of tourists visiting the state, yet these barriers have become a source of irritation for them. On some highways motorists are made to stop after every 15 to 20 km for paying the tax.
The Centre, it is learnt, has taken a serious view of the state government allowing the setting up of such barriers by the respective panchayat samitis through whose areas the highway crosses. The panchayats or any state government agency has no business to collect tax on the highways which are entirely financed and maintained by the Ministry of Surface Transport.The money being collected on these barriers is in no way being contributed for maintenance of the highways.
However, it has become a big racket in the state where there is hardly any panchayat which has not set up a barrier for collecting tax from motorists on the highways.
Light motor vehicles are made to pay a tax of Rs 5 at each barrier,while the tax for heavy vehicles is between Rs 10 and Rs 15. This is in addition to the tax of Rs 20 on light vehicles and Rs 30 on heavy vehicle which one has to pay for crossing the bridges. According to rough estimates,after entering the state a tourist has to pay over Rs 100 at these barriers.
There are eight national highways in the state. The motorists travelling on the Shimla—Kangra national highway are fleeced the most as the panchayats and town area committees enroute have tied ropes across the road to stop vehicles for collecting tax. The latest to put up barriers are the panchayats of Ghumarwin, Kangra and Jawalamukhi.
Motorists are also being made to pay tax on the Kandror and Nadaun bridges on this route.The tax rates have been doubled this year for light vehicles from Rs 10 to Rs 20 and heavy vehicles from Rs 15 to Rs 30.
The tax collecting business has become so lucrative that the contract for the Kandror bridge was given for Rs 54 lakh this year against Rs 31 lakh last year. The contract for the Nadaun bridge which was given for Rs 12 lakh last year, went for Rs 23.10 lakh this time.
There are reports that such barriers have also been set up at Chamba, Dalhousie and Manali.
In the past there were very few such barriers in the state,but now with the connivance of the authorities of the Urban Development Department almost every nagar panchayat is setting up such barriers even on the national highways. A barrier has also been set up near Baddi which has become a great irritant for the visiting industrialists who have to pay the tax every day.
While the highway authorities have reportedly described the barriers as illegal, officials of the Urban Development Department claim that the Section 57 permits the setting up of barriers to raise resources by the nagar panchayats.
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