The plan to establish digital infrastructure at checkpoints and toll plazas on the highways for payments and permits may find a renewed interest within the government as its decision to discontinue old currency notes has had a severe impact on the truckers, considered to be the lifeline of transport sector in India. According to the transporters body All India Motor Transport Congress (AIMTC), nearly 55 per cent of its 93 lakh truckers have been stranded due to a constrained cash supply.
The truckers union, which met finance minister Arun Jaitley on Friday, had put forth a demand of increasing the cash withdrawal limit for truckers to Rs 5 lakh per week. AIMTC chairman Kultaran Singh Atwal indicated that on an average the cash expense for a single truck during a day was between Rs 18,000 to Rs 20,000, which included expenditures such as fuel, toll, labour, etc.
A senior government official involved with the infrastructure sector said that a fundamental problem that makes the trucks struggle to keep moving on the country’s roads was involvement of cash payments at toll booths and check points that resulted in high fuel consumption and loss of man hours. In 2014, the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) had set up an electronic toll collection system — FASTag — that was initially made operational for the Ahmedabad-Mumbai stretch of the Golden Quadrilateral highway. In July 2015, toll plazas on the Chennai-Bengaluru stretch of the Golden Quadrilateral also started accepting FASTag payments. FASTag deploys Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) technology for making toll payments directly from a prepaid account linked to it. The tag is affixed on the windscreen of a vehicle and enables the driver to go through toll plazas. FASTag has a validity of five years and after purchasing it, you only need to top it up.
The government official cited above said that implementation of the RFID tags across all toll plazas in the country was the way ahead to reduce the time and financial loss to transporters, faced by them especially at the numerous checkpoints and roadblocks on the various state and the national highways of the country. The official said that while national highways were in the process of being digitised, it was the state highways that were causing to be hurdles. “The problem arises when a truck crosses state borders. There are number of toll booths, checkpoints, etc the truck has to pass through where most of the time is wasted. All this can be created into a digital record that can ensure seamless movement of transporters,” he said. However, he added that it was the states that were shying away from investing into the infrastructure necessary for enabling digital systems on their roadways.
In a presentation made by Niti Aayog before the Prime Minister’s Office in May, the need for digitising various checkpoints and toll plazas was highlighted in the context of the average waiting time of Indian trucks at check-posts being 70 minutes, compared with 5 minutes globally. As a result, in comparison with a global standard of 700-800 km per day, Indian truckers are only able to cover a distance of just 300 km per day.
Atwal told The Indian Express that the truckers industry bears a loss of Rs 1,45,905 crore annually on account of frequent stoppages made at toll barriers resulting into loss of man hours and fuel. Against this loss, the unions have proposed paying an advance toll to the government at the beginning of the year, and are ready to pay an additional cess on diesel against removal of toll collection for commercial vehicles. However the government official cited above explained that these proposals had a number of creases to be ironed out before they could be taken up for serious consideration.