Govt should walk the talk on highway extortion

THE home minister has warned the people involved in extortion at ferry terminals and on highways of stern action. The minister, as New Age reported on Friday, after a home ministry meeting on security and law and order at ferry terminals, also said that the government had prepared a list of the extortionists. The warnings, however, appear to be anything but reassuring to especially transport owners who have for long been pressing the government to stop extortion. If the government, in the first place, meant business, it would immediately take action against the criminals instead of sounding the warning as the extortionists have already been identified. Moreover, this is not the first time that the home minister or a government functionary warned stern action against people collecting illegal tolls from buses and trucks on highways and at ferry terminals. At Eid time, particularly when public transports become busy making as many trips as possible amidst a heavy rush of home-goers to celebrate the festival with families living in outlying areas, highway extortion has increased manifold in the past few years and government functionaries have pledged to stop the crime only to forget soon.
Allegations have it that the people involved in extortion on highways and at ferry terminals are understandably, mostly, connected to the ruling party. Even law enforcement personnel deployed there to manage traffic and keep law and order are allegedly engaged in extortion. In this context, of course, one has little reasons for surprise at the apparent government inaction about the crime. In any case, illegal toll collection from buses, trucks and other vehicles gives rise to a host of problems. First of all, it encourages bus operators, having a general tendency to make quick money, to charge additional fares, which apart from increasing goods carrying cost, eventually leaves consumers to bear the brunt. Additionally, drivers of buses and trucks running on highways, in particular, have several times so far put highway extortion down to be a cause contributing to tailback as it usually hampers the smooth operation of vehicles. It is pertinent to note that, according to experts, acute tailbacks on roads and highways not only cause huge sufferings to passengers but also make the economy suffer a huge loss, financially and otherwise, every year.
As extortionists at ferry terminals and on highways have been committing the crimes, in most cases, in daylight and, that too for long, it does not require intelligence agencies to identify them. What we all suggest by referring to the fact is that the government immediately needs to translate into reality its promises of stern action against the menace. However, transport owners and others who want an immediate end to the menace need to realise that unless and until they are mounting pressure on the government, the government will continue with the rhetoric at hand.

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