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Old 26th March 2006, 13:16   #1
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Default For whom the Bridge Tolls???

This is the tale of two bridges and that of a community of people who suddenly find that a project that was originally supposed to provide relief is now bleeding them.

Mattacherry is part of old town Cochin. This was Cochin as it was originally known to the rest of the world in the eras gone by, and an area that boasts trade links to Egypt, Persia, Greece, and various other nations. An extension of Mattacherry is Fort Cochin, a strategic fort that was set up by the Portuguese, then taken over by the Dutch and finally taken by the English. Together, Fort Cochin and Mattancherry provide an eclectic mix of cultures, with settlements of (descendents of) Greeks, Arabs, Pathans, Bahaai Muslims, Jews (Jew Town has the oldest synagogue in the orient), Kutchchis, Bohras, Marwari traders, Marathi spice merchants, a large population of Gowda Saraswats and a very diverse Anglo-Indian community that comprises of Portuguese-Indian, Dutch-Indian and Anglo-Indian people.

All in all this is a very mixed up place. This is also the favourite haunt of tourists (especially the foreign ones) and has a great collection of coffee-houses, art cafes and boutique hotels. Kaika's at Mattancherry also serves the best biryani in this side of the world. I dare say its the best I've ever eaten.

As the years went by, Mattancherry remained in a time-wrap while the rest of Cochin developed in the mainland (Ernakulam) and the man-made Wellington Island.

Mattancherry was connected to the mainland thru Wellington Island by the very picturesque Mattancherry Bridge, which featured a raisable mid-section to allow ships to pass underneath. While not in the scale of other famous bridges worldwide, the bridge had a certain charm to it with its silhoutte becoming a sort of mascot for the city.

A few years ago, the 70 year old iron bridge was (finally) deemed unsafe to handle the levels of traffic that it does today. It was also a major bottleneck, with its 1.5 lanes being hardly sufficient for two lanes of buses, trucks and container-hauling trailers headed for the port.

A contract was awarded to Gammon Indian Limited to build the bridge on a B.O.T (build, operate, transfer) basis. In about a year, a new 500m long bridge came up parallel to the old bridge that has served the city for decades. For the sake of nostalgia, it was proposed to keep the old bridge open for two and three-wheeled traffic. Subsequently there were plans to turn the old bridge into an informal bazaar over water, with food stalls, curios and other miscellaneous vendors being permitted to operate temporary stalls while the bridge was turned into a sort of promenede. This never materialized.

Trouble began soon after the bridge was completed. People who were used to paying nothing were soon asked to pay up exhorbitant charges to travel to and from the mainland - something that people did as part of their day-to-day life. Worse still, the tolls were valid for just one trip, whereas people routinely went to and from the island to the mainland several times a day.

Protests and boycotts became a mode of life for the people of mattancherry who had to take a boat (or swim) while these protests were on - they braved it out. For a bridge that allegedly cost Rs.20 crores to build, toll receipts were in the order of a 2.5 lakhs plus per day, working out to about 7 Crores per year. The company was given the rights to collect tolls for 13 years - work out the math!

The conspiracy theory started gaining ground with news that the son of the local MP had a high-ranking position in the company that built the bridge. There was also talks about vested interests holding shares either, direct or 'benami' in the new company that was formed to 'run' the bridge.

To make matters worse, toll collectors acted like goondas, often damaging vehicles in the name of stopping evaders. A brand new Accent Viva that was being driven home from the showroom had its roof smashed by overzealous toll collectors who brought the barricade down just as the owner was driving away from the toll booth.

The final straw on the camel's back came when the bridge company started raising tolls every year in line with some price index that was probably invented by them. Toll rates started rising in geometric progression, till public agitation forced the government to roll back tolls to older levels. A slew of litigation also followed from members of the public.

Finally, under a compromise the toll-concession was extended from 13 years to 20 years.

Recently, the toll company brought about a new regulation, forcing private buses to pay a toll of 25 paise per passenger they carried. This was struck down in court and all buses boycotted the bridge for over 2 weeks as a result of which the bridge company was forced to offer buses a multiple-entry pass per day.

What was not known then was that as part of this compromise the bridge company also negotiated a Rs.1.6 crore per year subsidy from the state government for the loss in revenue on account of issuing multiple-entry passes to the buses. If the government had this kind of money to pay out every year, couldnt they have built the bridge in the first place.

This issue has now raked up a political storm.

The moot point here is - can the government ask people to pay for BASIC infrastructure? I agree that costly new projects cannot be financed by the state, but this is the case of a SMALL bridge that is so crucial to day-to-day life. The Brits who built the first bridge did not charge a toll on their foreign subjects, but our own rulers look at this as an opportunity to fleece people WHO HAVE NO OTHER OPTION.

Is it right to ask people to pay for infrastructure that should've been provided as a matter of course? If yes, is it right to ask people to pay for replacing or renewing a facility that has been provided free of cost? If yes, it is right to allow a company like Gammon to have the right to fleece people day and night, bringing in ridiculously high fees and hiking them from time to time? Is it right for the state government to allow a company earning over 7 crore every year in revenues to increase the tenure of their concession to 20 years? Finally, is it right for the state government to provide a subsidy to a private undertaking to compensate for the loss of revenues?

In every other country that I have seen, consumers always have an alternative to the paid highway / bridge. It could involve the use of a long winded or a less developed route.

In this case, the people of mattancherry either have to pay or swim. This is criminal in a situation where a suburb was allowed to develop using an existing bridge and after it was sufficiently developed the noose was tightened around its citizen's necks.

The injustice of the whole situation and the total helplessness of the people of Mattancherry made my blood boil. I spent a day in Fort Cochin visiting old friends and relatives and the only topic of discussion there was the toll bridge and how the government and its shenanigans are fleecing the very people it is supposed to represent.

Last edited by Steeroid : 26th March 2006 at 13:35.
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Old 26th March 2006, 15:09   #2
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Quote:
I spent a day in Fort Cochin visiting old friends and relatives and the only topic of discussion there was the toll bridge and how the government and its shenanigans are fleecing the very people it is supposed to represent.
Steer, two questions:

What is the current situation?

What is govt planning (if at all) to answer this?
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Old 26th March 2006, 18:15   #3
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I get fleeced each time I go to visit the inlaws. We need competition - put in a couple of large roll on/ roll off ferries between Ernakulam and Fort -that will really reduce prices
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Old 26th March 2006, 20:41   #4
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steer, good job of bringing this topic to light.

here is a similar story of how mumbai and new mumbai are connected and how does the toll affect us.

way back in 1980's when navi mumbai was just a formation of villages and CIDCO ( city and industrial development corporation) had started a industrial area and had the thought of developing navi mumbai into a residential city. everything came up very fast in matter of few years and there was a need to connect navi mumbai over the thane creek from chembur side. there was a connection from thane side which was way too far if somebody had to travel from mumbai.

they came up with building a two and half lane each side, bridge and mumbai was connected with navi mumbai. the traffic started increasing and they also built a bridge for trains as the harbour line was born. we navi mumbaikars still have to pay a surcharge of rs 2.50 extra per ticket to travel to mumbai.

the bridge may be wasnt built with best of materials and soon in 8 to 10 yrs time started giving away loose at certain places.

it was time to build a new bridge. they built one and then the trend continued and lot of other flyovers too were built all over mumbai. one fine day, somewhere between 1996-1997, they built toll booths and started charging 5 rs one way. then for regular travellers like me who used to travel from ghatkopar ( in mumbai ) and my office in industrial area ( in navi mumbai ) had the privelege to buy a return ticket for rs 10. in last ten years the toll rates have shot up by five times for a single journey and we pay Rs 25 for one trip and rs fifty for round trip. and above all we cant buy a return ticket too now.

at a average rate of 15 rs for any size of vehicle for last ten years, they have earned more then what they have invested in all the flyovers built all over mumbai.

the company that has been awarded the contract, has every right given to them about increasing the amount by rs 5 every two years or so.

every time there is a increase in the toll rate , there are some morchas or some rallies taken but everything dies in a week or so and it is back to square one. i mean for how many more years are they gonna fleece us by taking these exhorbitant amounts and this is above all the tax that we pay to the government to give us roads that are in such pathetic conditions all the time.

but as i end this write up, i cant help but think, will anything concrete be done to stop all this, can we really do something??????
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Old 27th March 2006, 01:41   #5
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I'm surprised, this being Kerala, the toll-collectors and even the bridge haven't been smashed up by the irate public by now.

This sucks...it really does...
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Old 27th March 2006, 06:02   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Steeroid
The injustice of the whole situation and the total helplessness of the people of Mattancherry made my blood boil.
it does, and more so on the realisation that we are absolutely helpless in a system where accountabiltiy is unheard of. the only thing on anybody's mind is making money (more than one is allowed to). so even if we create a group of people to take steps in right direction, the group will end up in doing you know what.

we have a simiar situation back in chennai where development of It corridor is dead slow, and a group of people from my company has started a campaign. with the right of information, they are trying to do everything legally and with decorum.

they have created an online petition
http://www.gopetition.com/region/97/8046.html

and unfortunately i don't see as many signatures as i would see for some XYZ dying with some scary disease in some town in nigeria that probably doesn't exist.

if anybody from chennai is interested in getting in touch with this group, please let me know, I can direct you to them.
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Old 27th March 2006, 06:29   #7
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Very well written Steeroid. This 'disease' of BOT is spreading really fast and something needs to be done fast. I totally agree with you on why we should pay for basic infrastrucuture like smooth roads and flyovers and bridges. I guess the government is still in 1950's and thinks only roti, kapda and makan are basic infrastrucuture. The problem is they can't even ensure that to their citizens!

Quote:
at a average rate of 15 rs for any size of vehicle for last ten years, they have earned more then what they have invested in all the flyovers built all over mumbai.
hey manaa, I read somewhere that the government is levying a surcharge on petrol and diesel in Mumbai to recover the cost of building those 50 odd flyovers. Fine lets say the government needs money for roads and fly overs , I don't mind paying the toll but what do we get in return? Does the government ensure smooth, wide roads? Where does the money go? And very soon the bridge linking mumbai to navi mumbai is going to get blocked with traffic. I think there are only 3 lanes on each side. There is no provision for creating extra lanes if needed. I guess the government will build one more bridge next to it in a few years and further increase the tolls.

And what a shoddy job they have done on those flyovers. Every time I used to drive on the Vashi and Anushakti Nagar flyover, I was never sure if I would reach the other side before the flyover falls down! Both the Vashi and Anushakti flyovers were closed for a month or so last year because they were crumbling! Drive on any flyover in Mumbai or Navi Mumbai and you can feel the roads sinking on the joints. Some joints are a few inches below the one next to it! (engineers can better explain what I am trying to say). I used to feel my car bobbing down as it went over the joints, thats how bad it is.

And aren't people travelling by BEST in Mumbai still paying 5 paise(?) surcharge on every ticket for the Bangladesh war?!

Last edited by amit : 27th March 2006 at 06:37.
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Old 27th March 2006, 09:24   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ajmat
I get fleeced each time I go to visit the inlaws. We need competition - put in a couple of large roll on/ roll off ferries between Ernakulam and Fort -that will really reduce prices
Such RORO Ferries did exist, but they were run by the Corporation of Cochin - you can imagine the condition they were in. Besides, they were run between Vypin and Fort Cochin as there was a free bridge between FC/Mattancherry and the mainland.

The point is that these ferries never HAD to develop as there was no need for an alternative till this new bridge came up. People could travel freely and even after factoring in peak hour traffic the road route was faster than the ferry.

What is even more galling is that the toll for TWO new bridges from the National Highway to Wellington Island, spanning about 2.5 kms and going over a larger stretch of backwaters AND a railway line and built barely 3-4 kms away from this Gammon India bridge, collects a toll thats just 50% of what they ask for ONE much smaller and less challenging Mattancherry Bridge (Rs.5 for a car for the two bridges which together span about 4 kms as against Rs.10 per car for the barely 1/2 km long Mattancherry Bridge). PLUS the toll receipt there is valid for the day, and not just for the trip like the Mattancherry Bridge.

@ Rudra - agitations and boycotts have been going on for 3 years now. There's been no action from the government in favour of its citizens even though it quickly allocated a "subsidy" of Rs.1.6 crore to Gammon India.

More novel protests are planned - they plan to build a bridge of boats and also hold a swimming protest with people swimming from one shore to another while buses and other public transport boycott the bridge.

Quote:
Originally Posted by v1p3r
I'm surprised, this being Kerala, the toll-collectors and even the bridge haven't been smashed up by the irate public by now.

This sucks...it really does...

And therein lies a tale - everyone knows that the violent protests/bandhs/harthals that Kerala is infamous for are orgnized by the political parties. Neither of the two political fronts will organize any violent protest against the Mattancherry Bridge because we believe both of them have vested interests in running the bridge. THe protests here are organized and run by citizen's forums and communities and normal people ARE NOT VIOLENT - the goondas are all protected by political parties, not the common citizen.

The Communist Party of India (M) is one of the largest corporates in Kerala, and probably the country too, with DOCUMENTED assets worth Rs.400 Crores. God knows how much the undocumented part is worth. This is also probably the only political party that runs a TV Channel, Advertising Agencies, a Super/Hypermarket Chain, an Amusement park and a lot of other enterprises. The CPI(M) and another political party are vying for a site in North Kerala to set up a minor port....about 2 years ago communal violence flared in that area and it became 'difficult' for people to live there. Who benefits if the land is abandoned or sold cheap?

Last edited by Steeroid : 27th March 2006 at 09:43.
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Old 27th March 2006, 10:24   #9
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How much is the toll/entry?
Here for Delhi Noida Delhi flyway its 17rs per pass(for cars/vans/jeeps), one way. If you dont like it, there are 3 other bridges coming to noida. The prices are increased here also, around 1rs/year.
But then its a 3+ kms 8 laned toll bridge and you will end up spending fuel worth more than 17rs if you take the other bridges during rush hours!
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Old 27th March 2006, 10:40   #10
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Very shocking state of affairs, Steer. I do not see any harm in the BOT method, but the fact that the Kerala Government seems to have favored the builder over the public, and unjustly so, is particularly galling.

Can the government/such projects be brought under the ambit of the consumer courts?
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Old 27th March 2006, 10:48   #11
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Hi steeroid,

i was not aware of the MATHS behind that...!

See the bridge and the "State Transport Bus" which is moving "freely" through it !!!


cheers
aNu
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Old 27th March 2006, 11:18   #12
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Shucks!!! All these sound like anarchy on the loose end of the thread. I wonder why this matter has not yet been challenged with all the points that you raised in a PIL, in the supreme court. I am sure this is one fit case that if opened will result in a huge scam being unearthed.
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Old 27th March 2006, 14:27   #13
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Update from The New Indian Express

http://www.newindpress.com/NewsItems...Kochi&Topic=0&

Irregularities in BOT contract: Probe sought
Monday March 27 2006 09:57 IST

FORT KOCHI: With the unveiling of the details of the BOT contract between Gammon India and the State Government, more organisations have come out with protests demanding a probe into the irregularities in the BOT contract.

The Kerala State Private Bus Owners’ Federation demanded a CBI probe into the corruption involved in the construction and toll collection of the Mattancherry BOT bridge.

The actual expenditure for the construction of the bridge is estimated to be around Rs 15 crore, but the Gammon India claims that it is Rs 25 crore.

The total expenditure to construct Goshree bridges, which are three times lengthier than the Mattancherry bridge, is Rs 37 crore.

It is obvious that there were financial irregularities in carrying out the BOT project. The company is exploiting people of West Kochi in the name of ‘toll- collection’ in addition to the benefits given by the government.

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Old 27th March 2006, 15:02   #14
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Coimbatore also has one such bridge... while getting into town from Palghat side...its called "Aathu Paalam" or something.. L&T was awarded the contract and they have been chaging 6/car for EACH ONE WAY journey - for many years now. All of you talking about bridge lenghts - get this-...ITS ALL OF 30MTRS LONG over some silly creek called NOYAL!!!!!

This has to take the cake!..


The CBA and the ROI is mind boggling!!
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Old 27th March 2006, 16:08   #15
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This is really pathetic, but very close to what I used to follow about New Jersey Turnpike which is a 170mile long highway in New Jersey. This road was built more than 50 years back and the drivers are paying the supposed loan even now. In fact 70% of the collected toll goes for paying the toll collectors.

Few years back they replaced most of the toll booths with automatic toll machine (called EZ pass) to reduce the cost of toll collectors. The new system was installed at a huge cost and new loans were taken. Therefore the toll prices went up to pay for the new automatic toll machne!
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