Logistics

Indian toll collectors are ‘ek alag prakar ke jaat’, says Nitin Gadkari

P MANOJ & VENKATESH GANESH Mumbai | Updated on September 11, 2019 Published on September 11, 2019

Road Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari

Minister for Road Transport and Highways Nitin Gadkari was at his wittiest and sarcastic best while talking about the sensitive toll collection challenges on highways faced by private developers and on competing toll-free roads build by state governments parallel to tolled national highways, during an investor show organised by the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) on Monday.

“Hindustan mein jitney toll collectors hain na, woh ek alag prakar ke jaat hain. Duniya ke sabse pehalwaan, gunde, ( In India, all the toll collectors are a different class of people. World's biggest goons, body builders) criminal, underworld they are the people who collect tolls everywhere. Woh maarpeet bhi karte hain, koi sophisticated log toll collection ka kaam nahin karte. Yeh bolna nahin chahiye, par mein bolta hoon. ( I shouldn't be saying this but I am saying it. No sophisticated people become toll collectors. They beat up people) They are also hand in glove with the toll contractors,” he said without pulling any punches.

Gadkari was responding to some red-flags raised by bankers and investors.

“There are lot of problems at the local level which none of us are able to manage such as setting up toll plazas, diversion of traffic and police issues,” said Suresh Goyal, India Head & Senior Managing Director, Macquarie Infrastructure and Real Assets (India) Pvt Ltd.

“If state governments build toll-free roads parallel to a tolled national highway, then traffic shifts” an executive with HDFC Bank said adding that it leads to “massive pilferage of tolls”. “This is a serious issue”, he added.

Pushkar Kulkarni, Principal, Infrastructure Real Assets at Canada Pension Plan Investment Board (CPPIB) said: “As financial investors, we are concerned by the violations that happens at toll plazas. It would be very helpful for financial investors if the same penalties (mentioned in the new MV Act) are brought in for violations at toll plazas. It will act as a serious deterrent for people to cause violations at toll plazas which, as a risk, financial investors find it very difficult to underwrite.”

“We have to go to the police station if somebody doesn’t pay tolls and the police asks what is the offence. So, something needs to be done there,” said Shailesh Pathak, CEO, L&T Infrastructure Development Projects Ltd.

“Those who collect tolls all over the country, woh vishishta prakar ka ek class hain (they are a special class of people). At one toll plaza, the contractor had kept a pehalwaan (body builder). You (highway developers) have to do this through such type of people. Toll contractors will select these type of people for toll collections because waha jagada hota hi hain, Mumbai jaise shehar mein nahin, (there fights happen. Not in cities like Mumbai) but in UP, Bihar, and such areas. Thakhatwala log chahiye, wohi kar pate, (we need powerful people) they will stop vehicles, they will follow you, kabhi marpeet hoti hai, rifle nikhalti hai, goliyaan chalti hain (sometimes there is scuffle, guns come out, shots are fired) ,” Gadkari said adding that “as per my information on our (NHAI) 350 tolls plazas, by and large, 95 per cent toll collection have been streamlined”.

Gadkari also urged highway developers “to handle media and politicians strategically”. “They all want free rides. Politicians ego will be hurt and media will write against you”.

No toll problem

Allaying investors concerns over toll receipts, Gadkari said: “Toll collections will only increase; toll will never end whatever happens in the country. Everyone is buying vehicles and vehicle population is rising, the number of buses and trucks will also rise. Yes, there could be one problem. If another highway is constructed parallel to an existing tolled national highway, just like how Gujarat government has done without collecting any tolls, then it creates problem,” he stated.

“This is political competition (building competing toll-free facilities). We built a toll road and state government builds another road that is toll free to tell people that we have saved you (from paying tolls),” he said.

ToT mix

Referring to a concern that large Toll-Operate-Transfer (ToT) packages spread across different states could lead to diversification of tolls, Gadkari said that improper mixing of highways into a ToT bundle was “bound to have issues”.

“The problem with creating a bundle for ToT is the mixing that you (NHAI) do. You (should) make separate groups for merit students, first class, second class and third class students. If third class students are sneaked into the group along with merit students, it will have repercussions. This is our mistake,” he said.

When pointed out that the third ToT bundle was spread over UP, Tamil Nadu and Bihar, Gadkari remarked: “UP hai tho third class ho gaya”. ( If it's UP then it's Third Class)

Published on September 11, 2019
  1. Comments will be moderated by The Hindu Business Line editorial team.
  2. Comments that are abusive, personal, incendiary or irrelevant cannot be published.
  3. Please write complete sentences. Do not type comments in all capital letters, or in all lower case letters, or using abbreviated text. (example: u cannot substitute for you, d is not 'the', n is not 'and').
  4. We may remove hyperlinks within comments.
  5. Please use a genuine email ID and provide your name, to avoid rejection.