The National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) has stated that exemption from payment of toll on national highways to defence personnel is available only when they are “on duty”. No exemption is available if they are travelling in a private vehicle while being “off duty”. It is also not available for retired defence personnel.
This was clarified by the NHAI headquarters in New Delhi in reply to queries by The Indian Express through the Right to Information Act seeking details of exemption from paying toll to defence personnel, especially in light of the introduction of FASTags.
There have been numerous complaints recently where defence personnel have not been allowed to proceed in private vehicles without paying toll by the personnel manning the toll plazas even when they produced their identity cards. There have been contradictory instructions issued at several toll plazas in the states of Punjab and Haryana wherein in some instances the defence personnel are allowed to proceed in their private vehicles upon production of identity cards while in other cases they are stopped. There has also been an incident near Bikaner in Rajasthan where an Army officer was assaulted by toll personnel following an argument.
While furnishing the reply to the questions seeking a copy of policy letters which govern exemption to defence personnel from paying toll, whether the exemption is “on duty” or “off duty” as well and any policy direction regarding exemption from FASTags, the NHAI cited a letter dating back to 2014 on the issue.
“User fee exemption on the NH fee plaza is available to defence personnel as per Rule 11 Sub Rule b(i) of the National Highways Fee (Determination of Rates and Collection) Rules, 2008 as amended. Further, Ministry of Road, Transport and Highways (MoRTH) wide its office memorandum dated June 17, 2014 has clarified that exemption under Indian Toll (Army and Air Force) Act, 1901 is available only to the persons who are ‘on duty’ and does not pertain to retired personnel,” the reply to the RTI application says.
The NHAI further added that, “No exemption is available on the use of personal vehicle if it is not used for discharging any official purpose and duty even if it accompanies the said official. The exemption is available only on production of pass as specified in the Indian Toll (Army and Air Force) Rules, 1942”.
Several serving Army officers, who get harassed on toll plazas, have taken up the issue with the Army Headquarters through the online grievances portals of the organisation. One such missive addressed to the Chief of Army Staff requests him to ask the Adjutant General’s branch to “look into the recent toll tax fiasco created by a letter by NHAI that armed forces people only on official duties in official vehicles are exempted from paying toll tax”.
The officer adds that because of this they are facing embarrassment at toll plazas where the toll personnel are asking for leave certificate and even movement order in precedence over the identity card. “Another recent incident of manhandling by toll tax employees with an officer cannot be ignored,” it adds.
Reacting to the NHAI reply, Major Navdeep Singh, advocate, Punjab & Haryana High Court, who is conversant with the issue said that the requirement of “duty” is not applicable to personnel of the regular forces.
“Section 3(a) of the Indian Tolls (Army & Air Force) Act, 1901, provides toll exemption to all personnel of the Regular Forces without the requirement of being ‘On Duty’ whereas Section 3 (b) provides toll exemption to Territorial Army and NCC personnel when on duty. The requirement of ‘duty’ is hence not applicable to personnel of the regular forces but only applicable to Territorial Army (TA) and NCC. This was also clarified by the MoRTH and Law Ministry on 12th November, 2003. Any letter purportedly issued under the garb of a reply under the RTI Act cannot hence override legislative provisions of the Act,” he said referring to the June 2014 letter of NHAI.
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