CHENNAI: Even as RTI data reveals that two toll plazas on Chennai Bypass road have been collecting more than Rs 100 crore a year totally for the past two years, National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) documents claim that only Rs 187 crore has been adjusted towards the principal expenses till December 2016, making one wonder as to how many years more motorists have to pay the toll.
The first phase of Chennai bypass road, a six-lane access controlled road was developed between Tambaram and Maduravoyal in 2003, and later extended up to Madhavaram in 2011. The two toll plazas at Vanagaram (Porur) and Surapattu in 44.6 km road have been collecting toll since 2003.
According to the RTI reply obtained by Express, 78.73 lakh vehicles passed through Vanagaram toll plaza between April 2017 and March 2018, yielding an annual collection of Rs 42. 91 crore. Similarly, Surapattu toll plaza collected Rs 67.28 crore a year as user fee from 52.94 lakh vehicles.
While the toll collection for 2017-18 stood at Rs 110.19 crore, between April 2016 and March 2017, motorists paid about Rs 101 crore, reveal RTI documents.
Official records of NHAI, however, revealed that as on December 2016, Rs 187 crore was the cumulative revenue earned from the road, for which the actual expenses was pegged at Rs 956 crore. The data has left people puzzled as the user fee is adjusted towards the project cost.
S Yuvaraj, president of Tamil Nadu State Sand Lorry Owners Federation (TNSSLF), said there is complete lack of transparency in toll collection system.
“None of the toll gates in Tamil Nadu display the actual number of vehicles passing through it. During peak hours, the contractors open the additional lanes and issue tickets generated from a handheld machine. We do not know whether such tickets are getting accounted,” he charged.
He added that the government should display digital boards at all the toll plazas as to how many more vehicles should pass the gate to realise the project cost so that the road gets converted into non-toll road.
According to official sources, the road was developed using funds from the Union government. The fee collected by NHAI through a contractor is being paid to the Centre. Authorities were tight-lipped when queried further.
Though Rs 30 lakh is collected as toll a day at both the plazas, the stretch between Ambattur and Tambaram does not have street lights putting motorists at risk. The absence of service road and lack of a two-wheeler lane has made the bypass road dangerous for two-wheelers.
Besides, the toll gates do not have any amenities such as toilets and emergency ambulances as mandated by NHAI rules.
NHAI sources, however, said that money collected through user fee will get adjusted in the order of maintenance, interest and the principal amount.
S Soundarajan, a retired Manager, Finance, NHAI Chennai, said during the second phase of widening of the highway, NHAI incurred huge expenses in developing the elevated bridges at Maduravoyal and Ambattur.
“About 12 per cent of the user fee will be allocated for annual maintenance, while a huge portion will go as interest. The remaining money will get adjusted towards the principal. Since the road was developed using public funds, NHAI will settle toll fee with the Union government and same will be utilised for other projects, he said.
Explaining further, he said once the project cost is recovered, the toll rate will be reduced by 60 per cent. “Only 40 percent of toll fee will be collected for maintenance. I hope in another five years, toll rates will be slashed in Chennai bypass road,” he said.
The retired official also said until 2011, hand-held devices used at toll plazas for issuing tickets had been linked to automatic fee collection system. “If motorists suspect that data is fudged at toll plazas they can lodge a complaint with NHAI,” he said.
Retired IAS officer M G Devasahayam, however, terms the toll gates ‘daylight robbery’. “Foreign countries charge user fee only in Autobahn road system, where the road will be free from disruption. The common people are being looted in a systematic manner. Why should the government collect user fee for the road which is developed using public funds. Then what happened to the road tax paid by motorists,” asks the retired official.
ACCESS-CONTROLLED Highway from 2003
The first phase of Chennai bypass road, a six-lane access controlled road was developed between Tambaram and Maduravoyal in 2003, and later extended up to Madhavaram in 2011. The two toll plazas at Vanagaram (Porur) and Surapattu in 44.6 km road have been collecting toll since 2003. According to the RTI reply obtained by Express, 78.73 lakh vehicles passed through Vanagaram toll plaza between April 2017 and March 2018, yielding an annual collection of Rs 42. 91 crore.