New Delhi: Although the collection of user charges on a key route of India’s national highway network—between Delhi and Mumbai—has fallen compared with a year ago, it has risen in several other stretches, data from the country’s apex highway body show.
While some highway officials say the fall in road traffic between Delhi and Mumbai could be due to the slowdown in the economy, others attribute it to reasons such as an increase in the carrying capacity of trucks.
Toll collection from 12 plazas along the Delhi-Mumbai corridor of the so-called Golden Quadrilateral fell by 6% in February from Rs28.9 crore in the same month in 2008, according to data from the National Highways Authority of India, or NHAI, that was reviewed by Mint. NHAI expects toll collection from this route for the full year 2008-09 to decline by 8% from Rs351 crore in 2007-08. The rates on these plazas weren’t raised from last year.
The toll collection from 56 other plazas, comprising other arms of the Golden Quadrilateral as well as the north-south and east-west corridors, port connectivity projects and others, however, continued to grow, collecting Rs91 crore in February this year as opposed to Rs69 crore a year earlier.
Revenue leakages: The Delhi-Gurgaon plaza on NH 8, which is a part of the Golden Quadrilateral. Harikrishna Katragadda / Mint
NHAI expects to collect Rs1,036 crore in tolls from these 56 plazas in 2008-09 compared with Rs725 crore it collected last year.
To be sure, several publicly funded highway stretches are plagued by what the authority called revenue leakages as people evade paying toll. NHAI has in the past filed police cases against agencies it had hired to collect toll.
An NHAI official, who didn’t want to be identified, said several road stretches are showing the effect of the downturn. “In several stretches, the toll officials say that traffic has lessened because some factory has closed down or the other,” said this official.
Another official with the authority said the decline in toll collection between Delhi and Mumbai is due to several reasons—including the fact that many transporters have shifted from the two-axle, 16-tonne trucks to three-axle, 25-tonne trucks. He requested anonymity. He said increased haulage capacity of the trucks won’t be reflected in NHAI’s toll earnings because trucks weren’t tolled by weight.
Only a 10th—6,212km of the total national highway network of 66,000km—is currently tolled. Of this, 1,280km are operated and tolled by private developers. NHAI will, however, meet its toll target of Rs1,600 crore for the fiscal year, said the second official.
According to Arvind Mahajan, an executive director with consulting firm KPMG Advisory Services Pvt. Ltd, much of the traffic along the Delhi-Mumbai corridor was either export-oriented traffic heading to the ports in Maharashtra or commerce between two of India’s largest urban centres. “On an average, there should be a 15-20% growth in this corridor,” Mahajan said, adding that the decline in exports could lead to a reduction in traffic. India’s exports have been declining since October as the economic slowdown cut demand from major markets such as the US.