Mumbai: The Narendra Modi government has set itself a final deadline of October to make every single toll lane on all national highways electronic toll collection (ETC)-enabled, according to two people aware of the development.

“Post demonetisation, the government had relaunched the National (ETC) programme and given us till August to ensure that every toll lane at the over 400 toll plazas on national highways are radio frequency identification device (RFID)-based ETC-enabled. Since the progress on that was slow, we have now got a final deadline of October," a senior NHAI official, one of the people cited earlier, said on condition of anonymity.

Currently, while a majority of the toll plazas on national highways are ETC-enabled, only one or a maximum of two lanes at each of the toll plazas has the facility. This creates congestions and delays and also dis-incentivizes those opting to pay electronically.

Hence, the government has decided to make the remaining over 3,000 lanes at toll plazas ETC-enabled, said the second of the two people cited earlier.

The plan to decongest Indian highways with the help of a nationwide automatic electronic payment system goes back to 2009-10. The United Progressive Alliance (UPA) II government had then setup a committee under UIDAI chairman Nandan Nilekani to look into the matter.

The committee had, in fact, recommended an Aadhaar type unique identity for each vehicle and making them RFID enabled which would not only help faster movement at toll plazas, but also stop their theft.

Later, the Indian Highways Management Co. Ltd (IHMCL), a company promoted by the NHAI, was set up to exclusively deal with this issue. Like the Nilekani-led committee’s recommendations, IHMCL too wants to address multiple issues with the RFID tags.

“The RFID infrastructure will be further integrated with weigh-in-motion (WIM) equipment to monitor the weight of freight vehicles and penalize overloaded vehicles via the NETC programme itself. The WIM equipment will be installed at all lanes allowing freight-carrying vehicles to enter," an IHMCL document reads.

But while the Modi government launched the NETC programme in October 2014, the same got the attention it deserved only after demonetisation.

“Today, only 12-15% of the toll collected at national highways is through RFID tags, but we want to increase this manifold. Towards that, we are tying up with more banks to make pre-paid tags available at more places and of course, ensuring that all toll lanes are ETC-enabled," the NHAI official quoted earlier said.

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