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Bid to avert collection of toll at Amaravathy bridge

L. Renganathan

Government may come to the rescue of Karur Municipality

KARUR: Sensing that any move to re-introduce toll collection at the controversial Amaravathy bridge here that suffered damage during last year's floods would meet with resistence, the State Government may bear the balance amount to be paid to East Coast Construction and Industries Limited (ECCI) the firm that constructed the bridge under the build, operate, transfer (BOT) mode.

But senior bureaucrats seemed to be a divide lot as to who should bear the cost — public or the government? Locals have expressed concern that any move to reintroduce toll would meet with resistance.

After the approach road to the bridge collapsed, the CB-CID on December 24, 2005, had filed a first information report alleging irregularities in the construction of the bridge under the BOT scheme attracting provisions of the Prevention of Corruption Act and named among others the Chief Minister, M. Karunanidhi in the list of accused. The cost involved was cited as Rs.11.55 crore.

On the judicial front, things started moving after the DMK regained power in the State. The CB-CID, nearly two months back, withdrew the FIR it had filed before the Chief Judicial Magistrate, Karur, citing "mistake of facts'' and subsequently the case was dismissed. This paved the way for the ECCI to press its claim for repayment of the balance or allowing it to repair the bridge and resume collection of toll.

High-level discussions

A high-level team including the Local Administration Minister, M.K. Stalin, top bureaucrats including the Finance and Highways secretaries, Commissioner of Municipal Administration, deliberated the issue.

The Karur MP, K. C. Palanisamy, DMK district secretary, Vasuki Murugesan, the Karur Municipal Commissioner and local officials gave them political and administrative inputs.

Sources privy to the deliberations held at Chennai a couple of days back reckoned that while officials pressed for reintroduction of toll collection to offset the balance to be paid to the ECCI, the politicians saw red in the move and urged the government itself to bear the cost, something close to Rs.3 crore.

The politicians felt that any move to reintroduce toll collection at the bridge would not go down well with the public here and would prove counter productive to the DMK.

Then the matter was referred to the highest echelon of power. The sources say that in principle, it has been decided not to re-impose toll collection, fearing public retribution.

Meanwhile, the Karur MLA, V. Senthil Balaji, told The Hindu that any move to reintroduce toll collection, abolished by the former Chief Minister, J. Jayalalithaa, would be met stiffly as it was an "anti-people, retrograde step''.

No longer the public should be burdened with the exorbitant toll, Mr. Balaji pointed out.

He said he would take up the issue with the party leadership and would highlight the people's plight in case the State Government re-imposed toll.

The DMK camps is aware of the consequences and that's why indulging in a frenzied lobbying to force the Government to bear the cost of repaying the balance amount as the Karur Municipality was in no position to repay the amount. By present reports, the Highways would be required to repair the damaged bridge and hand it over to the municipality.

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