The National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) resumed collection of toll taxes across national highways on Monday. Restarting toll collection by NHAI, in compliance with the new lockdown guidelines, has met with resistance from transporters in the country, who have demanded that the toll charges be waived off for the next six months.
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Ever since the nationwide lockdown came into effect, NHAI has been following the guidelines issued by the Ministry of Home Affairs, which stated a suspension on toll tax collection on national highways. The collection has been ineffective since March 25. Now, however, since certain relaxations have come into the picture, even as the lockdown has been extended till May 3, movement of trucks has been facilitated.
The Ministry of Road Transport and Highways (MoRTH) on Friday had asked NHAI to prepare for resumption of toll operations, noting that user fee collection contributes to the government reserves and also provides financial strength to NHAI in terms of budgetary support.
Due to restricted movement of vehicles during the lockdown, the NHAI is expected to incur losses amounting to Rs. 1,110 crore, in the time period between March 25 to April 19. Transporters in the country claim that resumption of toll tax collection will add to their woes, citing an already present glaring issue of non-availability of drivers and helpers.
In a statement, Naveen Kumar Gupta, Secretary General, All India Motor Transport Congress (AIMTC), said, “Drivers who have gone back, they don’t want to come, and those who do, they either don’t have mode of transport available, or are facing social pressure in their villages.”
On Monday, AIMTC went ahead to issue a statement, saying that resuming toll collection at this point in time is “a bad decision, since there is complete chaos amid unclear policy guidelines at ground level.”. The association is worried that this can add on to monetary and operational pressure on the transportation sector in the country, since toll fee constitutes of 18-20% of the total operational costs incurred by transporters.
Gupta added, “No direct relief to transporters has come from the government. There is no earning. In spite of all this pressure, they were standing with the country to maintain supply of essentials.”.
As per Pradeep Singal, Chairman, All India Transporters’ Welfare Association (AITWA), under the current circumstances, transporters in the country are unable to utilise more than 15% of their fleet, owing to limited availability of drivers, helpers and labourers.