Opinion

Are toll plazas bypassing safety rules?

Swapna Sundar / PVS Giridhar | Updated on December 20, 2019 Published on December 20, 2019

The rape and murder of a vet near Tondupally Toll Plaza could have been prevented if proper processes had been followed

The bloodthirst of the populace over the brutal rape and murder of #Disha1 on November 29 near the Tondupally Toll Plaza in Telangana was somewhat satiated with the encounter killings of the four alleged perpetrators. The extra-judicial killings have come under the scrutiny of the Human Rights community and the courts. There is a complacent lull which may be conducive to raise less glamorous (but possibly more fecund) questions that address inadequacies in the system and failure of processes — that could have prevented the crime or led to apprehension of the offenders at the stage of their attempt.

The CCTV camera footage from November 29 shows the victim parking her vehicle within the premises of the Tondupally toll plaza which connects the Outer Ring Road to NH44. The rape occurred barely 50 metres from the toll plaza2 behind a wall which has since been torn down by the villagers; the remains were found on NH44, 29.6 km away from the plaza.

The Hyderabad Metropolitan Development Authority (HMDA), the Tondupally toll plaza concessionaire — Eagle Infra India Ltd, along with the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI), the highway concessionaire engaged under Section 8A of the NHAI Act — the Jadcherla Expressway Private Ltd (JEPL), and the State police contingent deployed on NH44, all bear responsibility for safety and security of users.

The toll plaza is not only a public place but also a workplace under the Prevention of Sexual Harassment Act. The ‘employers’ — the Concessionaire, HMDA and the State Government — are jointly and severally responsible for protecting all women from persons entering the workplace (not just staff) and for complying with Indian Roads Congress (IRC) standards (IRC:SP:84:2014) integrated in the Model Concession Agreement for PPP projects in the highway sector, adopted by the Central Government.

The standards incorporate the global best practices in the domain:

Toll plazas shall have Emergency Call Boxes (ECB) housed in vandal-proof casing, enabled with loud speaker, microphone and activation button with LED indicating conversation.

The toll plaza operation and maintenance centre shall have a 24-hour facility for public interaction, with parking spaces, medical aid posts and ambulance(s) manned by at least two certified paramedics.

Fully equipped vehicle rescue posts shall be stationed to clear disabled/accidented vehicles.

Lighting within the toll plaza and on NH44 carriageway and service roads shall comply with IS:1944 - Code of Practice for Lighting of Public Thoroughfare standards.

An extensive surveillance and monitoring network shall be implemented, comprising day/night infra-red integrated CCTV cameras at each booth, pedestrian walkways, truck lay-byes and bus bays, with a coverage of 2 km of highway.

The main control centre of the toll plaza shall be equipped with a central computer, call centre, terminal junction box, UPS, console with monitors, rack accommodation, large display board, printer and general purpose office computer with monitor, fax and telephone. An operator shall monitor the CCTV footage 24/7 in real time, and change the pan and tilt of cameras using joysticks. The centre is supported by a transmission system capable of handling composite audio, video and data signals at various interface levels and a network management system for real-time monitoring of ECBs.

A tolled expressway is a controlled access road, hence JEPL and the police are in possession of complete traffic data that shall be monitored to detect untoward incidents. Various technical circulars and directives of the department of surface transport require the establishment and operation of traffic aid posts every 50 km along National Highways.

CCTV cameras must be positioned every 200 metres which are monitored by the highway Central Control Room (CCR). The CCR acquires data from the road and plaza through cameras, the maintenance and operation patrols, the ambulance and intervention teams. The CCR, the Automatic Traffic Counter and Classifier (ATCC), and the Highway Traffic Management System (HTMS) shall collate data for use in providing rescue and relief to the users in distress. The HTMS shall also display emergency numbers on Variable Messaging Service (VMS).

The concessionaire has been invested with the power to designate parking places and halting stations in accordance with the Motor Vehicles Act. On the 29th, the State police had identified the truck used in the crime, as being parked on the service road. Neither the concessionaire nor the police took steps to ensure that the truck was parked at the designated truck lay-bye.

When a stranded user is identified, the relevant information is communicated to the maintenance and operation patrol of the toll plaza, and the ambulance and intervention teams. JEPL Highway Patrol Units, functional within 50 km of the toll plaza, shall also be alerted. The patrol would, by themselves, render assistance to users in distress and disabled vehicles or call for further assistance from CCR.

Had the concessionaires fulfilled their obligations, the crime could have been prevented. Safe roads are a constitutional right of citizens. The concessionaires need to be reminded of their constitutional obligations.

The object of PPP, according to the Department of Economic Affairs’ ‘PPP Guide for Practitioners (2016)10’, is development of infrastructure or delivery of services to the public. Driven by performance-linked payments conforming to measurable performance standards, the key aspect of PPP is risk-sharing. Risks comprehended include developmental and sponsor risks, counter-party risks, completion and commissioning risks, technology risk, market risk, performance risk, environmental and social risks and force majeure risks. Risks are allocated between the parties based on their ability to manage and mitigate it.

An oft-overlooked feature of PPP is that it actually represents a triadic partnership — with the citizens as users — forming a third, priority stakeholder. Risk to the user of the installation remains unmeasured during the project planning and implementation. User risk arises from unsafe maintenance and operation by the concessionaire, behaviour of staff or other users, or environmental or social situations that could cause harm or injury.

Performance risk, within which user risk would fall, is allocated to the private party. However, it is the public entity who enforces standards and legal and contractual obligations. The public entity is duty-bound to ensure that specifications are tailored to the private partner’s ability to deliver. Periodic monitoring of service delivery quality, safety, user satisfaction and emergency response through site visits, reviews and project monitoring committees would identify failures that provide opportunities for crime. Where the private party is unable to prevent or mitigate user risk, the public entity is wholly responsible for the outcome.

Public entity officials must ensure that private partners are monitored continuously and with integrity in accordance with the standards set by the government. In addition, all user risks must be stated on the website of the project, along with plans to mitigate the risk.

Most importantly, the PPP project standards in India must comprehend risk and threats to users based on social and cultural studies and location parameters. Careful analysis of each user risk and allocation of risk and responsibility will go a longer way to protect user life and safety, than demanding inhuman and extra-judicial punishments for perpetrators.

Sundar is CEO, IP Dome, and Giridhar is a lawyer at Madras High Court

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Published on December 20, 2019
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