The National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) will resume toll collection on national highways from April 20, 2020 as per a government communication.
However, this move is being opposed by the transport fraternity.
On March 25, 2020, the Central government had announced a temporary suspension of toll collection over national highways to ease emergency services in view of the coronavirus outbreak. “In view of the relaxations provided by the Ministry of Home Affairs for the inter state and intra state movement of all trucks and other goods / carrier vehicles, NHAI should take actions necessary for compliance of the orders of the Ministry of Home Affairs and tolling operations be resumed from April 20, 2020,” the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways said in a letter to NHAI.
Replying to the NHAI, the ministry said the authority in letters dated April 11 and April 14 had highlighted reasons for resuming the collection of user fee on national highways, saying that the Ministry of Home Affairs has allowed a lot of activities with effect from April 20, including commercial and private establishments and construction work. “It has been further highlighted that user fee collection contributes to the government exchequer and also provides financial strength to NHAI in terms of budgetary support,” the letter mentioned. However, transporters apex body All India Motor Transport Congress (AIMTC) has opposed the move.
“This is appallingly preposterous. On one hand the Government wants the continuity of essential supplies and which our fraternity is doing against all odds and at loss, in service of the nation,” it said. AIMTC represents about 95 lakh truckers and transport entities.
AIMTC President Kultaran Singh Atwal said, “The entire transport fraternity is financially broke and does not have finance for operations and bringing back drivers either, which is another big challenge. Yet the government instead of extending this sector a helping hand by giving a bare minimum rescue package, submitted by AIMTC, it is burdening it with toll charges that account for 20 per cent of the operating costs.”
Indian Foundation of Transport Research and Training (IFTRT) Coordinator SP Singh said in the past 21 days, the benefit of toll fee not being levied was hardly being passed on in form of any reduction in truck rentals across the country.
“In view of COVID-19, it has been ordered to temporarily suspend the collection of toll at all toll plazas across India,” Road Transport and Highways Minister Nitin Gadkari announced on March 25. This will not only reduce inconvenience to emergency services but also save critical time, he had said.
The minister has now said maintenance of roads and availability of emergency resources at toll plazas will continue as usual. Earlier, the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways had advised the NHAI to follow the Home Ministry’s guidelines about toll plaza operations following the lockdown.
The prevailing condition may be treated as “Force Majeure” of concession or contract agreement in terms of the finance ministry, it had said. The NHAI had rolled out the electronic toll collection programme across India in December on its 500+ toll plazas while doubling toll charges from the vehicles entering FASTag lanes without the tag.