Stop toll collection on roads that miss work deadline, NHAI says

September 3, 2013

Dipak Kumar Dash, TNN |

Stop toll collection on roads that miss work deadline, NHAI says
NHAI wants to suspend toll collection on stretches where work has fallen way behind schedule.

NEW DELHI: Faced with massive criticism over its decision allowing highway developers to charge toll on road widening projects even during the construction phase, the National Highways Authority of India wants to suspend toll collection on stretches where work has fallen way behind schedule.

NHAI has sought in-principle approval for the move from the road transport and highways ministry, citing the example of the Gurgaon-Jaipur stretch of NH-8 where the widening work has missed several deadlines. The authority says it has been receiving a number of representations from the public, questions in Parliament and adverse media attention over the messy state of this road.

TOI has been campaigning for toll to be suspended on the Gurgaon-Jaipur road, which is being widened from four lanes to six lanes, because users have a harrowing time negotiating the stretch and also have to pay for the inconvenience. Once the proposal gets the ministry’s nod, NHAI wants to apply the no-toll penalty on the developer of the Gurgaon-Jaipur highway before taking similar action on other “languishing” projects.

Among other major works that have missed several deadlines is the Panipat-Jalandhar six-laning project, which is now in the Supreme Court. Widening of the Faridabad-Agra stretch has recently started where the developer is charging toll.

As per the contract norms, developers are allowed to charge full toll on stretches being expanded from four to six lanes from the day NHAI allows work to start. The model has come under criticism for allowing developers to keep getting revenue despite failing to meet deadlines.

NHAI wants the no-toll penalty to apply to cases where the private developer has failed to properly maintain the stretch and missed completion targets despite the land being acquired for the work.

In such situations, the current contracts empower NHAI to take over the stretch and collect toll. But since this does not bring any relief to road users, who still have to pay toll for travelling through substandard and congested stretches, NHAI has suggested stopping toll collection as a deterrent for consistent defaulters.

“Since the contract agreement does not have a provision of suspending toll, we have sought permission from the ministry. This is an issue of public interest,” said a senior NHAI official.

Sources said that in such cases the contract period can be extended for developers.

A top ministry official expressed reservations over the proposal although he told TOI he had not read NHAI’s letter yet. “How can such a decision be taken just like that? The authority has never raised this issue in the past. Such a proposal should first be considered by the NHAI board since it involves contracts, private developers and bankers,” he added.

Officials said the issue involved finances and there were questions over the developer’s ability to pay loan installments during the toll suspension period.

However, S P Singh of Indian Foundation of Transport Research and Training (IFTRT), who has taken up the issue of no-toll on incomplete stretches, said NHAI’s suggestion was justified. “Toll is not a tax, but a user fee, which simply means we pay toll only when the promised services are provided. Why should one pay toll until this commitment is met?” he asked.

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