By Abdul hafiz lakhani
Our Correspondent, Ahmedabad
On high ways, toll tax is a very boring experience. Long queues are scene at every toll plaza. But now it will be a past on Ahmedabad-Mumbai highway. With the inauguration of Electronic Toll Collection (ETC) System by the Minister of Road Transport & Highways, Shri Nitin Gadkari on October 27, uniform and acceptable standard of service to the commuters would become a reality.
ETC has already been installed at 55 Toll Plazas and their integration with Central Clearing House (CCH) operators has almost been completed. A pilot project for Interoperable ETC system of 10 toll plazas between Mumbai (Charoti) and Ahmadabad has already been tested and seamless ETC on this section is successfully in operation.
The Central Government has issued orders to incorporate ETC lanes as a mandatory clause in the contracts awarded for all the Highway projects in future. Action will be taken to include ETC system by means of supplementary agreement in those projects which have not yet been started. For implementing ETC across the country, a new Company under Company`s Act 1956, with equity participation from NHAI (25%), Concessionaires (50%) and Financial Institutions (25%) has already been constituted. The name of the new company is “Indian Highways Management Company Limited”.
The objectives of the proposed new company are collection of toll through Electronic Toll Collection (ETC) System and to manage the project strategically, administratively, legally, technically and commercially, providing services of central ETC system which includes toll transaction clearing house operations, helpdesk support and setting up of call centers for incident management, intelligent transport systems among others. Necessary amendments have already been made in the Central Motor Vehicle Rules, 1989 for fitment of Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tag on vehicles for ETC. Apart from Rs. 2.48 crore released in 2012-13, an amount of Rs.17.288 Crore has been released during the Financial Year 2013-14 for implementing ETC on 51 public funded projects operated by NHAI. A Service Provider Agreement for Central Clearing House Services for Electronic Toll Collection (ETC) between Indian Highways Management Company Ltd. (IHMCL) and ICICI Bank along with Axis bank, has been signed.
The Government of India has embarked on an ambitious plan for building India’s highway network through various phases of the National Highways Development Project (NHDP) which are being financed largely through user fees collected from the users of the improved highways. The existing National Highways need regular maintenance and upgradation for which fund mobilisation is an important factor. This underlines the need for a large scale tolling of the highways. The common method of toll collection is by having a vehicle pass through a toll plaza where it pays the toll.
The user fee (toll) for the National Highways is levied as per the National Highway Fee (Determination of Rates and Collection) Rules, 2008 and its amendments. For projects completed and for which agreements/contracts signed before 5th December 2008, the earlier set of National Highways (Rate of Fee) Rules, 1997 apply. The user fee is collected at the toll plazas as per the notifications issued under Section 7 of the National Highways Act, 1956.
At present there are some problems in collecting tolls. These are by way of not having a uniform rate throughout various sections of National Highways in India. Secondly, BOT (Toll), BOT (Annuity) and Public Funded Projects have different toll collecting agencies, which is an impediment for a uniform acceptable standard of service to the commuters. There are many complaints of overcharging and undercharging. There are many complaints of non-reporting/under-reporting of the toll fee collected by the agents who are entrusted with the job. The problems include congestion and crowding of vehicles at toll booths leading to wastage of time and fuel.
In order to remove the bottlenecks and ensure seamless movement of traffic and collection of toll as per the notified rates, Government had constituted a committee on Electronic Toll Collection technology for use on National Highways under the chairmanship of Shri Nandan Nilekani, Chairman, Unique Identification Authority of India. This Committee`s mandate was to examine all technologies available for ETC and recommend the most suitable technology for local conditions. Considering user convenience, rate of acceptance and ease of implementation, the passive Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) based on EPC, Gen-2, ISO 18000-6C Standards for ETC technology was adopted by the Government.