Raj Thackeray
Raj Thackeray (a file photo)Reuters

Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) president Raj Thackeray has demanded Maharashtra government to withdraw cases filed against his party activists, who protested against toll collection in the state. Raj's demand comes in the wake the State government's announcement to close down 44 toll plazas on the State-operating roads.

Raj claimed that the agitation by MNS activists against toll collection was right as the State government woke up regarding the matter only after the agitation. Hence, the cases filed against the activists must be withdrawn, Raj said. The MNS activists had reportedly created ruckus by refusing to pay toll and ransacked toll plazas in the state, which lead the police to file cases against them.

However, Raj said that MNS is not in a hurry to celebrate the State's announcement to close down toll plazas on its roads. He told a TV news channel that earlier when MNS had launched it first phase of agitation against toll collection in the state, the State government had declared that it would shut 65 toll centres in the state. However, later the Maharashtra government closed only 25 toll stations, which collect toll for road projects built below a cost of ₹1 crore. Hence he expressed apprehension over the State's latest statement over closure of 44 toll plazas.

Raj also demanded the government to reveal the total number of toll stations in the state. He wanted to know from the State government if the 44 toll plazas announced now are part of the 65 toll plazas, announced earlier to shut down. If the 44 toll plazas are part of the same 65 plazas, then the governement is cheating, Raj added.

The MNS chief also raised travails of road users in the state, where toll is being collected twice on a single stretch. Road users in Thane area, travelling towards Konkan have to pay twice - at Mulund and Airoli. Raj cited that the Union government has mandated the distance between two toll stations to be a minimum of 80 km. But Maharashtra has brought down the minimum distance between two toll plazas to around 30-40 km in the state, Raj said.

The distance between Mulund and Airoli is just a couple of kilometres and road users are forced to pay toll at both the places, Raj said and called it an unjust policy. He made it clear that MNS is not opposing toll collection by the State government, but it should be just and transparent.

Political ambitions of Raj have gone up recently despite the debacle of MNS in the last Lok Sabha elections. To fill energy in the desperate MNS cadre, Raj has said that he will contest the forthcoming Assembly elections in October and also declared himself as the party's chief ministerial candidate.

Following Raj's announcement, Uddhav Thackeray-led Shiv Sena has also declared that its chief (Uddhav) too would contest the October elections as party's chief ministerial candidate. Shiv Sena-BJP combine has won majority MP seats in Maharashtra in the last April-May election. However, so far, the Thackerays have not contested elections directly since the days of Bal Thackeray, the Shiv Sena founder.