The report by the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) on the “Toll Operations of National Highways Authority of India in Southern India” for the time frame of April 2017 to March 2021 was made public recently.
Audit on Toll operations was conducted with respect to
- Toll collection,
- Maintenance of National Highways and
- Availability of amenities on National Highways.
In the five southern Indian states of Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, and Kerala, this audit randomly chose 41 Toll Plazas.
From 2017–18 to 2020–21, the Southern States contributed 28,523.88 crore (28.75%) of the toll revenue that the NHAI and its Concessionaires made.
Excess Toll Collection
The amended toll fee rules states that user fee should not be charged during the delayed time of construction. In violation of these rules, during the upgradation of an existing four-lane highway, the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) collected user fees at three toll plazas (Nathavalasa, Chalageri, and Hebbalu) during the months of May 2020 to March 2021, totaling 124.18 crores.
NHAI delayed reduction of user fee to 75% of fee applicable in case of Paranur toll plaza. Furthermore, NHAI updated the user fee every year in the Madpam toll plaza, violating the rule on user fee revisions during construction and upgrade projects. From August 2018 to March 2021, NHAI collected user fees at the two toll plazas in Paranur and Madpam totaling Rs. 7.87 crore. Therefore, the collecting of tolls at these five toll plazas resulted in a 132.05 crore unnecessary burden on road users.
Additionally, from 2017–18 to 2020–21, NHAI collected a toll revenue of Rs. 22.10 crore from road users who crossed a bridge under the Paranur Public Funded Toll Plaza. But the rule states that fee is to be collected only for the bridges constructed after September 1956, wherein this left-hand side bridge was constructed in 1954.
Loss of Revenue due to Missed Toll Collection
The audit also revealed that due to the delayed charging of user fees for elevated bridges/structure on Madurai-Kanyakumari stretch of NH 44 in Tamil Nadu, NHAI had short collections of user fees totaling Rs. 16.68 crore.
The NH Fee Rules, 2008, states that fees must be collected 45 days after the date of completion of the construction. But there was a delay in toll collection for four stretches of public funded projects through which NHAI suffered a loss of Rs. 64.60 crore.
Due to the lack of a revenue sharing provision in the concession agreements for the two sections of NH 44 in Tamil Nadu that NHAI built and turned over to Build, Operate and Transfer (BOT) Concessionaires for toll collection, NHAI lost 133.36 crore rupees in revenue.
According to the audit, NHAI failed to collect from a concessionaire negative grant/premium and interest thereon totaling Rs.295.78 crore.
Additionally, the NHAI waived the Corporate Guarantee for a Concessionaire in the amount of Rs.1,073.55 crore and failed to collect the Bank Guarantee for another Concessionaire in the amount of Rs.43.93 crore as well as the premium due with interest on the deferred premium totaling Rs.18.29 crore as of March 2021.
High number of exemptions and violations at Public Funded Toll Plazas
The audit reviewed the data of exemptions and violations in 10 Toll Plazas including 4 public funded Toll Plazas namely Paranur, Athur, Kappalur, Lembalakudi and 6 BOT(Toll) Toll Plazas namely Sengurichi, Kaniyur, Velanchettiyur, Palayam, Vaiguntham, Kodai Road and found that the percentage of the vehicles exempted from payment of toll and the vehicles those do not pay toll due to forceful entry, citing other reasons etc., through Public Funded Toll Plazas was high.
Percentage of exempted category/violating vehicles was in the range of 18.32 per cent (Lembalakudi Toll Plaza) to 53.27 per cent (Paranur Toll Plaza) when compared to BOT Toll Plazas which was in the range of 6.06 per cent (Kodai Road Toll Plaza) to 12.60 per cent (Sengurichi Toll Plaza) only.
However, we found The Hindu article stating that the government announced temporarily suspending toll collection on national highways in view of the coronavirus outbreak on 20, March 2020 and it resumed from 20, April 2020.
Maintenance of National Highways
BOT(Toll) Concessionaries delayed completion of overlay for around 2 to 76 months in seven stretches for which NHAI failed to recover Rs.391.27 crore as damage cost and Rs.53.84 crore as risk and cost damages from one Operation and Maintenance Concessionaire.
BOT(Toll) Concessionaires failed to conduct regular maintenance works in four stretches for which NHAI failed to recover Rs.174.63 crore for non-maintenance of the stretches. It also failed to award Annual Maintenance Contracts in a time bound manner in respect of five Public Funded stretches.
Six stretches of road did not have a Network Survey Vehicle Road Survey completed on them. Additionally, it was noted that despite the bad state of the NHs in four stretches when road survey utilising a Network Survey Vehicle was undertaken, overlay works were not started as of March 2021.
Availability of Facilities and Amenities to Road Users
Ministry of Road Transport and Highways of India (MoRTH) directed NHAI to provide 24/7 toilet facility under Swachh Bharat Mission on both sides of all Toll Plazas. Out of 41 Toll Plazas, toilets were not constructed in 5 Toll Plazas, 13 Toll Plazas have toilets only one one side, constructed toilets found to be non-operational in 3 Toll Plazas.
Highway Nest Mini facility was to be operational by March 2018 on both sides of Toll Plazas. This includes essential facilities like toilets, water ATM, packaged food, and hot and cold beverages. Out of 41 Toll Plazas, 11 do not have such facilities, and is available only on one side in 1 Toll Plaza and in 6 Toll Plazas they were not operational after construction.
Landscaping and plantation of trees along the NHs had to be done but audit observed that on the total project length of 8,814 km under five Regional Offices, the shortfall in avenue and median plantations was 65.63 per cent and 34.65 per cent respectively from the set target plantation as in March 2021.
NHAI issued guidelines on strengthening the Incident Management Services that includes Ambulance and patrol vehicles, but 14 Toll Plazas including 6 public-funded and 8 BOT(Toll) Toll Plazas did not have the services upgraded in line with NHAI policy. The vehicles were old, overused and condemnable; the ambulance was of smaller dimension against norms and envisaged equipment in Patrol Vehicles were not available.
During the audit from October 2020 – January 2021, it was observed that Weigh Bridges were not installed in 11 Toll Plazas namely Paranur, Athur, Lembalakudi, Kumbalam, Rolmamda, Gamjal, Manoharabad, KN Hundy, Kannolli, Harval and Pottipadu. In remaining nine Toll Plazas namely Kappalur, Hebbalu, Chalageri, Madapam, Nathavalasa, Vempadu, Unguturu, Eethakota, Krishnavaram, In-motion Weigh Bridge/Static Weigh Bridge were installed but either not integrated to Toll Management Software or not in working condition. Thus, applicable fee for overloaded vehicles was not charged in these Public Funded Toll Plazas.
To guarantee prompt response by the NHAI, the report also included “Audit Recommendations” wherever necessary.