Sometimes it takes an hour to pass from a toll booth due to heavy traffic and people have to go through a long period of waiting time at toll plaza before their chance comes. Well, dating back to the years 2015 and 2016, the Member of Finance of National Highway Authority of India (NHAI) had written to all regional offices of NHAI. They expressed their concern about the congestion taking place at various toll plazas in India.
In the letter, he had mentioned two specific provisions as a part of the Toll Booth Rules which are part of various concession agreements and are signed with the toll plaza operators. Since it's evident that people travelling from national highways often face the issue of congestion at many toll plazas. India has over the time developed its national highways according to the toll plaza rules. But is everyone aware of them?
What Is Toll Tax and What Are the Toll Tax Rules in India?
The Government builds highways for better connectivity between states and they cost a lot of money. This is later recovered by charging a toll tax from people who use the highways.
Now, you always have the option to take up another road and choose to not enjoy the expressway or highway in order to save some money. But a highway really eases your efforts on the road.
So, the tax you pay at the toll plaza on highways in different states across India is the Toll tax.
However, the rate of toll tax differs on every toll plaza in India. This is based on a certain distance of the road, that each traveller is accountable for.
These provisions of toll plaza rules in India talk about the maximum waiting time, or the number of vehicles in the queue in peak hours at toll plazas which is mentioned below.
- Not more than 6 vehicles per lane in the queue in the peak hours
- The number of toll lanes/booths shall be such as to ensure the service time of not more than 10 seconds per vehicle at peak hour flow
- The number of toll lanes shall be increased if the maximum waiting time of the users exceeds 3 minutes
However, there is still no clear answer in the concession agreements about what happens when these provisions of the toll rule are violated. Hopefully, the letter of NHAI official and various other documents of the NHAI Rules gave us the answer.
Need for Paying Toll Tax in India and Who Get Exemptions in it?
Tolls in India are like a tax that applies only to the users of the toll road.
Toll Plaza Rules allows to build new roads and maintain them without raising taxes on the general public. Generally, the removal of tolls on roads takes place once the Government recovers the entire cost of construction.
The Toll Naka Rules exempts certain people such as VIPs and many Government Officials like:
A display board is placed at all the Toll Naka mentioning the persons and dignitaries exempted from paying Toll Tax. All Police Vehicles are exempted from paying Toll.
There are some other vehicles as well that avail National Highway Authority of India toll exemption from toll tax such as:
- Defence services vehicles
- Paramilitary forces
- Fire-fighting department
- A funeral van, etc.
Incident That Brought NHAI Rules at Toll Plaza in India to Limelight
Back in 2017, pertaining to this issue of National Highway Authority of India rules, Mr. Hariom Jindal, an advocate, filed an RTI about the waiting rules at the toll plaza in India. The social media was abuzz with this news about the RTI filing in Ludhiana with the Jalandhar office of NHAI. You must have seen that on most occasions, there is no choice but to wait at the toll booth for an unwarranted toll time before the car right in front of us moves. This rule is applicable only to the cars stuck in the toll plaza area and not in the queues.
Now, thanks to the 3 Minute rule of the toll rules in India coming to light, many travellers will at least save some money in lieu of the time wasted at the plazas.
The Right to Information (RTI) application sought answers from the NHAI for the following questions:
- What is the total waiting time at toll plazas for vehicles on national highways?
- How much compensation do travellers get if the total waiting time is more than 3 minutes at the toll?
The NHAI Jalandhar office replied to the RTI filed by the lawyer stating that the time required for a vehicle to wait at the toll booth for its turn is 2 minutes and 50 seconds.
If the waiting time exceeds 3 minutes, the vehicle is not required to pay toll tax as per the NHAI rules for toll plaza. Then one can pass free of cost i.e. the toll tax-free after 3 minutes of waiting.
The information that he finally received from RTI came across as a big relief. Since most of us have been unaware of the toll tax 3 minutes rule.
As per the information Mr. Jindal received about NHAI toll plaza rules:
- One should ensure that vehicles complete the process of paying fees at the counter area within a span of 3-minutes as per the toll plaza rules.
- One doesn't have to pay the toll fees if any vehicle fails to complete this process due to:
- Congestion at the booth
- Or because of the delay at the toll collector’s end
- Or due to any similar situation
This led to a mass outrage as people everywhere in India are subject to long waiting time at a toll booth on national highways across the country.
After receiving criticism from the masses, the NHAI clarified that the 3-minute rule of waiting at the toll plazas on national highways was only applicable to highways in Chandigarh and no such rule is applicable PAN India that allows the vehicle to pass free of cost if the waiting time exceeds 3 minutes.
Karnataka office of NHAI said that NHAI toll waiting rules state - "that no toll after 3 minutes must be collected from a vehicle, but cities like Bangalore have narrow lanes and small land which makes it difficult for the state to construct more lanes and ease the waiting time at toll booths."
All the above makes it clear that no such rule for toll plaza free pass exists and the 3-minute timeline is an indicator to increase the capacity of the toll plaza. The incidents of free passage have been random. The district authorities enforced it whenever there was a long delay.
There is still ambiguity about the exact 3 Minute toll tax rule at the national highway toll plazas.
However, the RTI application filed by the lawyer has shown the power of the right to information. Also, how one can use to seek information from government bodies and officials. Both about the functioning and activities of government bodies.
Want to File an RTI?
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 Toll-Tax Rules: A detailed view of the Toll Tax Rules