The central government may have extended the nationwide lockdown till May 3, but the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) has decided to resume toll collection on national highways starting from April 20.
Last month, NHAI had temporarily suspended toll collection on national highways to ease emergency services in view of the 21-day nationwide lockdown caused by the coronavirus outbreak.
Reports suggest NHAI’s poor financial condition is the real force behind its latest decision, which is being opposed by the transport fraternity.
“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 Ministry of Home Affairs … and tolling operations be resumed w.e.f. 20th of April 2020,” the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways said in a letter to NHAI.
Replying to communication from 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) that represents about 95 lakh truckers and transport entities, has opposed the move.
Its 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 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 has announced on March 25.
This will not only reduce inconvenience to emergency services but also save critical time, he has said.
The minister has said maintenance of roads and availability of emergency resources at toll plazas will continue as usual.
Earlier, the road transport and highways ministry 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.