Toll collection on National Highways across the country resumed on Monday in line with government directives, a move which is being opposed by transporters. The central government on March 25, had announced a temporary suspension of toll collection following directives by the Ministry of Home Affairs in the wake of coronavirus pandemic. National Highways Authority of India (NHAI), as well as highway developers, resumed collection at toll plazas.
Highways developer IRB Infrastructure Developers said all its Special Purpose Vehicles (SPVs) "have resumed their toll collection from 00.00 hours today" in line with the NHAI directives
A spokesperson of IRB Infrastructure Developers said, "we are pleased to have the directives from nodal agencies to resume toll operations. This seems to be a positive sign for the sector, with an indication leaning towards the restoration of normalcy in phased manners for the nation."
IRB Infra's projects SPVs collectively operate 50 toll plazas across India and all have now fully resumed their operations from Monday. In line with NHAI guidelines, all Project SPVs will be taking necessary precautions and care at toll plazas for highway users and employees manning the toll plazas. For this, the company has provided adequate masks, sanitizers, hand gloves, etc. to employees manning the toll plazas.
However, All India Motor Transport Congress (AIMTC), protested against the resumption of toll on national highways and said it will adversely affect rabi crop procurement, adding that over 85 per cent transporters are cash-starved small operators who will not able to sustain toll fee.
AIMTC, the apex body for transporters that represents about 95 lakh truckers and transport entities, has sought suspension of toll till May 3.
"As per inputs received from across the country, procurement of rabi crop will be disturbed, as more than 85 per cent, finance-starved small operators can't sustain toll burden starting April 20. Tolls must be suspended at least till May 3," AIMTC President Kultaran Singh Atwal has said seeking the Prime Minister's Office's intervention.
Atwal has said that more than 85 per cent of the transport fraternity have one to five vehicles and about 65 per cent of them are self-employed owner-drivers.
AIMTC Secretary General Naveen Gupta said, "Only 15 per cent of the transporters own big fleets but they are also helpless... some have vehicles transporting essential goods while others are facing shortages of drivers."
He said the transport fraternity is financially broken and does not have finance for operations and bringing back drivers, which is a big challenge.
AIMTC has sought a relief package from the government that includes Rs 15,000 per driver per month besides insurance cover to drivers and supporting staff.
Indian Foundation of Transport Research and Training (IFTRT) Coordinator S P Singh said in the past 21 days, the benefit of toll fee not being levied was hardly being passed on in the form of any reduction in truck rentals across the country.
On March, Road Transport and Highways Minister Nitin Gadkari had announced: "In view of COVID-19, it has been ordered to temporarily suspend the collection of toll at all toll plazas across India."
This will not only reduce inconvenience to emergency services but also save critical time, he had said.
The minister had also said that maintenance of roads and availability of emergency resources at toll plazas will continue as usual.
Earlier, the road transport and highways ministry 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' for 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 over 500 toll plazas while doubling toll charges from the vehicles entering FASTag lanes without the tag.