There may be respite yet for the common man on Wednesday during the state-wide agitation by the Raj Thackeray- led MNS to protest against lack of transparency in toll collection. The MNS has said it would not hold violent protests or disrupt normal life and essential supplies. It will, however, shut down highways on which toll is levied from 9am onwards.
Thackeray has threatened to hold a morcha from Girgaum Chowpatty to Mantralaya on February 21 if the government did not wake up to the problem and hold discussions with the party.
"I have told my people not to destroy anything. This rasta roko is being organised as a condemnation," said Thackeray, who will participate in the agitation at the Vashi toll naka. "If the government does not listen to these protests by democratic means, other options are open for us. Maharashtra will see what we can do," he said at a media conference.
"I know that standard XII practicals are underway (so we will ensure that) the system in the city does not collapse and exams go on peacefully," said Thackeray, adding that educational institutions would not be affected. "But, we will see that all state highways which have been tainted by toll are closed after 9am," he said, adding that the party was doing this to ensure that the people's burden was reduced.
"This will be a symbolic rasta roko," he said, adding that the state government has woken up to an audit of toll nakas only now. He charged that while chief minister Prithviraj Chavan had admitted to irregularities in toll, he claimed to be in a bind when it came to taking action.
He said a government emissary had approached him, requesting that the agitation be suspended and expressing willingness for discussions, but previous talks with the government had been unfruitful. However, Chavan stated in New Delhi that he will not accept any precondition for talks with Thackeray.
"We are not against toll, but against the way in which it is collected," said Thackeray, raising questions about where the collected money was being used and the utilisation of funds generated by 13 types of taxes apart from toll. He pointed out that despite paying toll, there were potholes and lack of facilities on roads and alleged that toll was being used to generate poll funds for the ruling party's politicians.
"What discussions on theft can we conduct with a dacoit? We will talk to the chief minister. How can we discuss with those whom we have accused of corruption," he asked, referring to a senior cabinet minister. Meanwhile, state PWD minister Chhagan Bhujbal has reiterated his fear that Thackeray may physically harm him. He recalled the mysterious death of Matunga resident Ramesh Kini some years ago in a Pune cinema theatre. Thackeray was questioned by the police in this regard, but no action was taken against him.
Meanwhile, the Mumbai police on Tuesday served a notice to Thackeray, warning him of action if there was a law and order problem due to his rasta roko call.
"We have visited Raj Thackeray's residence at Shivaji Park around 11am to serve him a notice under section 149 of Criminal Procedure Code (Cr PC), 1973. Bala Nandgaonkar, an MNS MLA, who was present at the residence, received it in Thackeray's presence," said a Shivaji Park police station official.
The notice asks Thackeray to desist from indulging in any activity that would create law-and-order problems, failing which action will be taken against him and his party activists.
Ahead of the protest, hundreds of MNS activists went underground on Tuesday, apprehending a police crackdown. "We have gone underground lest the police try to arrest us," said Akhil Chitre, a prominent MNS activist