In November 2018, a new company took over toll collection at the Surathkal booth on National Highway 66. The new contractor announced that from March 1, they will not follow the old rule of exempting vehicles with registrations beginning with ‘KA 19’ from toll fees. Consequent protests by residents of Mangaluru and surrounding areas for the last four months have now finally born fruit.
The Dakshina Kannada Deputy Commissioner Sasikanth Senthil on Thursday agreed to the protesters’ demands and held talks with officials of the National Highway Authority of India to that effect.
‘KA 19' registration number denotes the vehicles are registered in the Dakshina Kannada district itself. The protestors, especially those who commuting daily between Mangaluru and Padubidri in Udupi district said it would be unfair for them to pay Rs 75 at the toll booth in Surathkal and Rs 50 at the toll booth in Hejamady, which is 11.2 km south of Surathkal.
They also pointed out that according to the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) rules the distance between two adjacent toll booths should be at least 60 km.
“We were demanding a status quo and today the Deputy Commissioner said he has already spoken with the relevant authorities. We also saw the National Highway Authority of India officials coming to his office,” Yathish Baikampady, a Mangaluru resident and a leader of the fishermen community, who led the earlier protests, told TNM.
He added that on Thursday, the protestors were spread out in three places simultaneously — one held a meeting with the DC, while the other two were in the NHAI office and the toll gate on the highway respectively, since 10 am.
Sensing the popular sentiment, Mangaluru North MLA Bharath Shetty of the BJP even threatened violence against the private contractor opposing the exemption.
In a press release on Wednesday, Shetty said, “If toll is collected from smaller vehicles, I will not hesitate to damage the plaza. The plazas are at various locations on NH 66. There are no alternative roads for locals. The authorities have not completed the service road as well.”“Earlier, vehicles were exempted from paying the toll, with an understanding between the district administration and the NHAI. The unilateral decision to collect toll cannot be accepted. The contractor collecting toll will be held responsible if any untoward incident takes place after the start of toll collection from all local vehicles from March 1,” he added.