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Is the toll for Atal Setu too high?: Busting propaganda tropes by Congress ecosystem denigrating India’s longest sea bridge

If Congress supporters and trolls were not enough, Pankaj Pachauri, former journalist and PMO official—in another language, one of the members of the darbari media from the UPA era—notched the propaganda to the next level when he compared the annual bridge pass with India's per capita annual Gross Net Income. 

Earlier yesterday, PM Modi inaugurated the Atal Bihari Vajpayee Sewari-Nhava Sheva Atal Setu, India’s longest bridge, in Maharashtra. 

The Atal Setu, an engineering marvel that stands testament to the country’s rapid infrastructural growth, is the longest sea bridge in the country and one that would augment connectivity between Navi Mumbai and Mumbai, two important financial nerve centres of the country. 

Maharashtra Governor Ramesh Bais, Chief Minister Eknath Shinde and Deputy Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis were also present on the occasion.

The foundation stone of the bridge was also laid by the Prime Minister in December 2016.

Atal Setu has been constructed at a total cost of more than Rs 17,840 crore.

It is a 21.8-kilometer-long, 6-lane bridge with about 16.5 km of length over sea and about 5.5 km of length on land.

However, no sooner did PM Modi throw open the new bridge to public use, a large number of social media users, presumably supporters of the Congress party and Congress IT cell members, took to X, formerly known as Twitter, to either downplay the engineering ingenuity or raise aspersions on the toll fare to be charged to traverse through the Atal Setu.

Congress ecosystem runs down Atal Setu by citing ‘exorbitant’ toll charges

Rezina Sultana, an otherwise #FreePalestine bot on X, shared the picture of the fare chart at the Atal Setu and took a swipe at the Modi government saying a car will have to pay Rs 250 for a single ride or Rs 12,500 monthly, which according to her is higher than the housing rent of a middle -class family. 

Never mind that the bridge is in Mumbai and the cost of house rent for a middle-class family in Mumbai is nowhere close to Rs 12,500 by any stretch of imagination. But for folks like Sultana, who, according to her X profile, lives in Kolkata, among the dirtiest cities in India as per a recent survey, making unfounded but scandalous but unfounded claims could attract eyeballs and shift the public focus from the ease of commutation the new bridge will provide to lakhs of daily commuters to a much for visceral issue of its financial viability. 

Congress loyalists pretending to be ‘neutral’ political commentators, too, jumped on the bandwagon of trashing the central government over the toll charges at the Atal Setu. 

Sandeep Manudhane, a vocal supporter of Congress and its senior leader Rahul Gandhi, tried to belittle the opening of the bridge, tweeting that the annual cost of riding a car through the bridge would come to around Rs 1,50,000 and for a truck Rs 500,000, after paying a host of other taxes such as GST, fuel tax, income tax etc.

This, again, is a preposterous argument, to begin with, but the benefit of the doubt must be granted to Congress supporters, who are either genuinely dumb or pretend to one to make their supreme leader appear smarter. Only a low-IQ compulsive critic would compare indirect taxes like GST with toll charges for using a bridge. 

If Congress supporters and trolls were not enough, Pankaj Pachauri, former journalist and PMO official—in another language, one of the members of the darbari media from the UPA era—notched the propaganda to the next level when he compared the annual bridge pass with India’s per capita annual Gross Net Income. 

Throwing shades on the financial viability of the toll, Pachauri tweeted that an annual bridge pass for Atal Setu is Rs 150,000 (for cars) while India’s per capita annual Gross Net Income is just Rs 113,395. 

While this infantile comparison should be dismissed with the contempt it deserves, let me try to explain with logic, even though rationality eludes the Congress IT cell and, dangerously, even its leaders.

Pachauri’s argument implies three things: 1.4 billion people in India own a car. Second, 1.4 billion will use their vehicles to travel through the Atal Bridge. Third, people from all over the country, from Dwarka in Gujarat to Guwahati in Assam, Leh in Kashmir to Kanyakumari in Tamil Nadu, will be using the Atal Bridge daily for their commutation.

More importantly, India’s per capita annual Gross Net Income is a metric to measure what an average Indian earns in a financial year. Statistically speaking, it is a median figure; there exist people on both sides of the median, people with both earnings lesser than the per capita annual Gross Net Income and those who earn significantly higher than that. To claim that the fare is exorbitantly high using the argument of India’s per capita annual Gross Net Income is grossly misleading and fallacious. There exist people in India whose annual income is several times higher than India’s per capita annual Gross Net Income and who would not mind shelling out Rs 250 daily at the toll at Atal Setu, just to save them time and distance. But such basic understanding is predictably missing among the members of the Congress ecosystem.

And to imagine Pachauri was a part of PMO India during the UPA days, one can rationalise why the Congress government at the centre was synonymous with incompetence, corruption, and policy paralysis.

Hatred for PM Modi and the country now bordering on insanity

Such denigration could be at best described as carping by a bunch of folks desperate to show the Modi government in a bad light and criticise their every move and decision. The hatred for PM Modi and the country is now bordering on insanity for the detractors, who don’t mind making a fool of themselves by offering foolish and vacuous arguments in the hopes of reversing their inexorable march to political oblivion. 

To give a perspective, the Bandra-Worli sea link, a 5.6 kilometre-long bridge, charged Rs 80 one way as of 4 January 2024. The per kilometre cost of driving through the Bandra-Worli sea link comes to Rs 14.28. The Atal Setu on the other hand, is 21.8 kilometres long and charges Rs 250 one way, which comes down to Rs 11.46 per kilometre. This is, in no way, an endorsement of the fares charged at Atal Setu. Nor is this an attempt to treat the fare at the Bandra Worli sea link as a touchstone for ideal toll charges. It is only cited as an example to debunk the propaganda tropes peddled by the Congress ecosystem. 

Commuters not wanting to spend on tolls at Atal Setu can continue to use existing routes

It is worth noting that the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) has provided an Official Development Assistance (ODA) loan for the ambitious Mumbai Trans Harbour Link project or Atal Setu. Japanese banks financed the construction of the bridge. Those arguing that the bridge should not have any toll charges at all need to understand that the Indian government has to pay back the loans to the Japanese banks. The development of infrastructure incurs costs, and it has to be paid by those who are going to avail of the facilities.

But more importantly, the Atal Setu only adds to the commutation options that the people of Mumbai and Navi Mumbai presently have. For years, people in the Mumbai Metropolitan Region have been demanding the construction of the bridge to ease their daily commutation and reduce their travel time. As per reports, the new bridge will reduce the distance from Mumbai metropolis to Navi Mumbai International Airport, Pune, Goa, and the rest of South India. It would also divert traffic and ease congestion on the present route via the Vashi Creek bridge. Residents who believe the toll charges are exorbitant can opt for the traditional route via Vashi Creek Bridge or go for the locals if are fine with travelling in public transport. Those who have enough time on their hands and do not want to pay the toll charges can give Atal Setu a skip and opt for the traditional route to reach their destination.

However, above everything, this criticism by the Congress ecosystem reflects their inability to appreciate the good work accomplished by the Modi government and their inveterate habit of denigrating the Centre for no good reason.

And to conclude, what amount can be labelled as “too high”? The answer to this question is philosophical rather than analytical. For those used to freebie culture and free services, shelling out even a single rupee on a better service would be a burden on their pockets because they are used to handouts and doles by the governments in every aspect of their lives. For others who are willing to pay, the new bridge would serve as a gateway to new opportunities to enhance their lives, save time, and create more wealth and render the argument of toll charges infructuous.

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Amit Kelkar
Amit Kelkar
a Pune based IT professional with keen interest in politics

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