FOR WHOM THE BILL TOLLS

If amend­ments to CRF Bill are passed in Par­lia­ment, the NHAI will get less funds from Cen­tre, and there could be a rise in toll rates on high­ways; ex­perts say long-term so­lu­tion lies in in­creased public fund­ing

Sunday Express - - SUNDAY STORY - SA­MUEL MERIGALA @Chen­nai

If the Cen­tral Road Fund (Amend­ment) Bill 2017 is passed in the mon­soon ses­sion of Par­lia­ment, the Na­tional High­ways Au­thor­ity of In­dia (NHAI) will lose an es­ti­mated `2000 crore in fund­ing. The im­ple­men­ta­tion wing of the Ministry of Road Trans­port and High­ways (MORTH), the NHAI might have to com­pen­sate the fund­ing cut through user fees col­lected at toll booths on na­tional high­ways.

This could mean high­way travel could get dearer for both com­mer­cial and non­com­mer­cial trav­ellers.

In 2015, the Na­tional High­ways Au­thor­ity of In­dia (NHAI) re­ceived `6885.89 crore from the CRF and gen­er­ated `6700 crore through user fees from toll booths on na­tional high­ways. While th­ese two sources of fund­ing are in the same ball park, the NHAI will have to in­crease its de­pen­dence on user fees if the Cen­tral Road Fund (Amend­ment) Bill 2017 is passed.

The bill in­tro­duced by Min­is­ter for Road Trans­port and High­ways, Nitin Gad­kari, pro­poses to cut the fund­ing given to the devel­op­ment/main­te­nance of na­tional high­ways from the Cen­tral Road Fund from 41.5 per­cent to 39 per­cent. This 2.5 per­cent cut in fund­ing will be al­lo­cated to­wards the devel­op­ment of wa­ter­ways in the coun­try.

“The Chen­nai By­pass is a NHAI funded project and we are strug­gling to get re­turns on the project,” says Athipathi, project di­rec­tor at NHAI re­gional of­fice in Chen­nai. “All the other high­ways in the State are still in the con­tract pe­riod,” he says.

The NHAI was launched in 1988 to de­velop/ main­tain/ ren­o­vate na­tional high­ways as a nodal agency un­der the MORTH. The eco­nomic lib­er­al­i­sa­tion which the 90s ush­ered in saw the nodal agency award­ing con­tracts to pri­vate en­ti­ties to build, op­er­ate and trans­fer (BOT mech­a­nism) roads and col­lect user fees over an agreed con­ces­sion pe­riod to re­claim the costs in­curred along with in­ter­est.

The pend­ing leg­is­la­tion, by cut­ting fund­ing for NHAI, will ham­per it from break­ing the habit of award­ing con­tracts to pri­vate play­ers on BOT ba­sis and charg­ing com­mis­sions on the user fees col­lected by the pri­vate play­ers.

Ac­cord­ing to the Na­tional High­ways (Col­lec­tion of Fees by any Per­son for the Use of Sec­tion of Na­tional High­ways/ Per­ma­nent Bridge/ Tem­po­rary Bridge on Na­tional High­ways) Rules, 1997, the gov­ern­ment can con­tinue to charge user fees even af­ter the con­ces­sion pe­riod. This means even af­ter the costs of the project are borne and the pri­vate en­ti­ties ex­tract their agreed upon in­ter­est, na­tional high­ways will still have tolls.

Tolls aren’t fair

We con­trib­ute to the devel­op­ment of na­tional high­ways even with­out us­ing a na­tional high­way or pay­ing user fees at the toll booth. Ev­ery visit to the petrol sta­tion puts money in the cof­fers of the CRF.

Two ru­pees from ev­ery litre of petrol/ diesel you con­sume goes to the Cen­tral Road Fund (CRF), out of which 41.5 per cent goes to­wards the devel­op­ment/ main­te­nance of the na­tional high­ways.

A 625 km drive from Chen­nai to the south­ern district of Tirunelveli will cost you `700 in toll, which will be col­lected across 12 booths be­tween the two cities.

In just a one way trip from Chen­nai to Tirunelveli, you will be con­tribut­ing roughly `34 solely to­wards the devel­op­ment/main­te­nance of na­tional high­ways ( as­sum­ing your car gives you 15 km/litre of petrol).

This might seem like a pit­tance, but through this road cess levied on mo­tor spirit, the gov­ern­ment col­lected 21,054 crores in the 2015 fi­nan­cial year.

The NHAI’s de­pen­dence on com­mis­sions on user fees is not a healthy trend for its growth as a gov­ern­ment body serv­ing the cit­i­zens by de­vel­op­ing high­ways.

“Ide­ally public fund­ing for NH projects will in the long run cost the com­mon man less. Pri­vate play­ers only in­vest to gain from the in­evitable in­crease in traf­fic that will trans­late into toll money,” says Venkatesh Athreya, an econ­o­mist.

Ide­ally, public fund­ing for NH projects will in the long run cost the com­mon man less. Pri­vate play­ers only in­vest to gain from the in­evitable in­crease in traf­fic that will trans­late into toll money

– Venkatesh Athreya, econ­o­mist

PICS: K JAWA­HAR

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