Pallavi Sareen and Syed Junaid Hashmi
Jammu, Oct 13: Gone are the privileges which Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir state used to enjoy prior to dilution of Article 370 and division of J&K into two Union Territories viz Jammu & Kashmir and Ladakh.
Though Jammu and Kashmir is a Union Territory with Legislature but the Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir along with legislators, as and when they are elected, would have protocol far below to that of an IAS babu or an IPS officer. What makes this more interesting is exemption of Lieutenant Governor from paying user-fee on a Toll Plaza while the Chief Minister along with his Ministers and other legislators will get no such exemption till the time a notification in this regard is not issued by the Central Government.
Since none of the eight Union Territories has Toll Plazas within the Union Territory, sources said that there was no need for Central Government to issue a notification in this regard. But if the notification is issued, it will be specifically for Jammu and Kashmir.
An official of National Highway Authority of India (NHAI) told Straight Line News, “Who stops a Chief Minister or a Minister or even Legislators at the Toll Plaza? National Highway Authority of India is not the one responsible for the collection of Toll tax. It is the contractor. And no contractor dares to stop a Chief Minister, Minister, Legislator or even an ex-legislator for that matter.”
Chief Spokesman of Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) Sunil Sethi on being asked said, “It is a matter of debate whether there should be a Toll Plaza in a Union Territory or not because no other Union Territory has a toll plaza within its borders.”
As for the exemption of Chief Minister, Ministers and Legislators, Sethi said, “Ministry of Road, Transport and Highways shall issue a notification regarding the same.”
Chief Spokesman Congress Ravinder Sharma while talking on the matter said, “When BJP was not in power, they themselves opposed the Toll Plazas, even the one in Ban saying that it was Jaziya on the Mata Vaishno Devi pilgrims, but now since they are in power, they have shown their true face. The toll plazas are not even at a 60km distance and the commoners of Jammu are being unduly taxed heavily.”
He further said, “If a common man has to pay heavy taxes, why not the Chief Minister, Ministers and Legislators too?”
Harshdev Singh, Chairman Jammu Kashmir National Panthers Party while commenting on the matter said, “There is no such thing as rule of law here. The regime is a dictatorial regime where if you ask a question, you are anti-national. If you ask why is there a toll plaza, then you are a Pakistani. There is a proposed toll plaza in Hiranagar, one on Ring road and another before Lakhanpur. Already they have turned J&K into a Union Territory and now these Toll Plazas are nothing but a menace for the commoners of Jammu.”
As per the amended rule 11 of National Highways Fee (Determination of Rates and Collection) Rules, 2008, many dignitaries and vehicles are exempted from paying Toll Tax.
However, since Jammu and Kashmir will be a Union Territory from November 1st, only the Lieutenant Governor, Chief Justice and the Judge of High Court as well as Executive Magistrate on duty will be exempt from paying toll in the Union Territory. Even the Police of Union Territory since it is neither State Police nor Central Police will have to pay toll tax.
The list states that “No fee shall be levied and collected from a mechanical Vehicle transporting and accompanying–the Governor of a State; the Speaker of the House of People; the Chief Minister of a State; the Lieutenant Governor of a Union territory; the Speaker of the Legislative Assembly of a State; the Chief Justice of a High Court; the Judge of a High Court; the Member of Parliament; the Chief Secretary to a State Government within concerned State; The Member of Legislative Assembly of a State and the Member of Legislative Council of a State within their respective State, if he or she produces his or her identity card issued by the concerned Legislature of the State” among others.
For official purposes only, “an executive Magistrate and the Central and State armed forces in uniform including paramilitary forces and police” among others are exempt.
Without their name on the exemption list, whoever gets elected the Chief Minister of J&K or Member Legislative Assembly in J&K will have to pay Toll Tax at recently operational Thandikhui Toll Plaza as well as Ban Toll Plaza, Chenani Toll Plaza and Chachkoot Toll Plaza.