The National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) in a stern warning to its officials, has instructed them to ensure proper maintenance of toll roads across the country, failing which the toll charges levied would be halved.
This comes in the backdrop of a Madras High Court ruling which asked the NHAI to reduce its toll by 50% on the Madurai-Virudhunagar highway due to poor maintenance. The Madurai bench in its interim order stated that 100% toll can only be charged at the Kappalur toll plaza after the stretch is repaired and a report regarding the same is submitted to the court.
As per the Union road transport and highways secretary – Yudhvir Singh Malik, he has asked the NHAI to not challenge the High Court order, and take it in the right spirit. Further he claimed that they are proposing to establish a protocol to assess maintenance of roads, which will bring in accountability.
This order issued as a result, has asked for a preventive maintenance of roads to avoid incurring a reduction in toll charge.
As per an official, this effort of the NHAI strives to drive home the point with concessionaires and highway operators that, toll is paid by the people for good service, who then have the right to relief, owing to service deficiency.
Even though various stretches of Indian road network boast of a four lane highway network, many of them over the years have been marred by bad maintenance, even though commuters continued to pay premium toll charges.
The condition has been so pitiful in the sense that the Bihar government had slammed the NHAI in 2015 for a poor maintenance of its 2,560 KM roads in the state. The Bihar government also claimed that the NHAI had decided to allocate a mere Rs 68 crores for the maintenance and repair of National Highways in the state.
In 2015, the Supreme Court had come up with a landmark judgement in this regard by observing that, the NHAI and concessionaires cannot collect toll from commuters if the road was in a bad shape. The bench of Justice T S Thakur and Justice Kurian Joseph while hearing the case about a poorly maintained 26 KM stretch on Raipur – Durg stretch of NH-53, observed that the public cannot be made to suffer both bad roads and heft toll. It thus ordered the refund of Rs 11 crore in collected toll to the Central government, which had taken over the road from a private contractor.
Incidentally the troubles of the commuters aren’t limited to the bad condition of roads and also extend to toll operators.
As per a 2013 report, Delhi was at the third place when it came to the list of complaints against the toll users. One of the main culprits being the Delhi-Gurgaon expressway, which accounted for the majority of complaints. The complaints included overcrowding and a lack of proper infrastructure.
Incidentally, going by a DNA report, there are also checks and balances in this regard which are, being able to refuse toll payment, if you are stranded at a NHAI toll plaza for more than three minutes. Besides this you can also refuse toll payment if there are six vehicles or more ahead of you.
This issue though might be eliminated in the near future via a proper implementation of the FASTag technology. In this technology a device operating on Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) technology is fixed on the windscreens of a vehicle. Using this toll payments are automatically deducted from an account linked to it, while one passes through a toll plaza.
Such a fixture of FASTag has been made mandatory for all new four-wheelers post December 1st.