False data, money swindling: RTI data hint at massive toll-gate scam in Tamil Nadu
This indicates that a few lakh motorists’ fees could have been kept off the records at the toll gate every month in 2019, and perhaps even before.
Published: 04th October 2021 04:13 AM | Last Updated: 04th October 2021 11:54 AM | A+A A-
CHENNAI: Ever since the Electronic Toll Collection (ETC) system was introduced on National Highways (NH), there has been a huge surge in the user fee collected, fuelling allegations that data was falsified, and crores of rupees swindled.
Take the month of July for instance. This year, 7.39 lakh more vehicles were levied a toll, compared to the same month in 2019, at the Paranur toll gate on the Chennai-Tiruchy NH.
Since February 15 this year, the toll was only collected through the FASTag system.
This indicates that a few lakh motorists’ fees could have been kept off the records at the toll gate every month in 2019, and perhaps even before. Fees have been collected at the Paranur and Athur toll gates since April 1, 2005.
As per the National Highway Fee (Determination of Rates and Collection) Rules, 2008, user fee ought to be reduced by 60 per cent on realisation of the entire project cost.
If payments are not accounted for, the realisation of the project cost gets delayed, allowing toll gate operators to collect a high user fee even after the concessionaire agreement ends.
Truckers’ associations said their allegations — that corruption was rampant in toll collection — are justified, and an inquiry is needed.
‘FASTag has brought in transparency’
NHAI officials said there won’t be any irregularities now that FASTag has been implemented. In July 2019, about 5.08 lakh vehicles crossed the Paranur toll plaza, yielding a collection of Rs 3.14 crore.
In July 2021, about 12.47 lakh vehicles passed the toll gate, yielding Rs 8.83 crore, as per data sourced through an RTI enquiry lodged by TNIE.
The information was furnished by PT Mohan, project director, Project Implementation Unit, NHAI, Kancheepuram.
Incidentally, in July 2019, just about 20 per cent of the toll collection was via FASTag, and the rest was paid in cash.
This July, however, 91.6 per cent was collected via FASTag, and the rest was paid in cash, including a penalty for using the wrong lane.
GR Shanmugappa, general secretary, South India Motor Transport Association (SIMTA), said there can be no scientific explanation for the increase in toll collection post the implementation of FASTag, unless there are irregularities.
“At Paranur toll gate alone, crores of rupees seem to have been swindled every year. If we do a similar assessment for all toll gates for the past 10-15 years, the toll-collection scam would run into several hundred crores. There should be an inquiry into this,” Shanmugappa said.
SP Somashekar, regional officer, NHAI, Chennai said fee collection witnessed an upward trend at many toll plazas functioning under the Build Operate Transfer model.
“FASTag has brought much-needed transparency in toll collection,” he said.
In January 2015, three toll gates on the Madurai Ring Road, operated by the Madurai Corporation, were closed following an order of the Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court.
C Sathiah, from Madurai, who is one of the litigants against toll gates on the Madurai Ring Road, said the toll gates around Chennai should be closed at the earliest.
Tamil Nadu State Lorry Owners’ Association State president MR Kumaraswamy said the government should accept their demand of paying the entire toll fee at one time.
“Contractors should provide facilities such as emergency sale of diesel in case of truck breakdowns, and toilets, at toll gates,” he asserted.
When asked whether the role of toll operators would be investigated, NHAI RO Somashekar replied in the negative.