NH-expansion Takes its toll

tree kerala.JPG

Kozhikode: The Mannuthy-Angamaly stretch of the National Highway, the first major part of the national highway network in the state to become a toll highway, is turning out to be a major hurdle for the expansion of the rest of the NH network in the state.
The frequent increase in the toll here has encouraged anti-toll activists in the state to drum up public opinion against the build-operate-transfer (BOT) mode adopted by the National Highways Authority of India for the expansion of highways in the state.
The bone of contention between the anti-toll activists and promoters of the expansion centres on the NH-47 and NH-17, the two main highway networks connecting Salem to Kanyakumari and Kochi to Panvel in Mumbai.
Most parts of these two highways are still two-lane. Plans to elevate them to four-lane and a width of 45 metres are being stiffly resisted for two reasons: land acquisition and toll.
The resistance at the local level can be gauged from the fact that every household and shop from Kuttipuram in Malappuram district to Idimuzhikkal in Kozhikode displays a board saying ‘No to BOT; attempt to acquire land at 45 metres will be opposed’.
Ramanathan, the NHAI official in-charge of the Mannuthy-Angamaly section says that the opposition to toll collection is meaningless because the increase in toll charges is part of the concession agreement between the NHAI and BOT partner. The agreement stipulates that the company entrusted with the toll collection is entitled to revise the toll according to changes in the wholesale price index every year.
“These are public documents and can be accessed by anyone from the website of the NHAI,” he said. Collection at the toll booth set up at Paliyekkara near Thrissur commenced from February 9, 2012.
The Hyderabad-based KMC Ltd is the BOT partner that undertook the expansion work. But the company handed over the toll collection to another firm called Guruvayur Infrastructural Private Ltd and at present a French firm called ESG is collecting the toll from December 2012.
A fresh round of controversy erupted when ESG notified an increase of 10 per cent in the toll charge. According to Ramanathan, the company collecting the toll has not taken a unilateral decision and the hike will be subject to the approval of the state government.
The company was entitled to increase the rate in September 2012 but has desisted on a request by the state government, he said. According to the rules, the company will have to notify the new rates and the same has to be ratified by the NHAI and the state government.
Those opposing the increase in toll rates allege that the NHAI and the state government are just rubber stamps of the toll company entrusted with collecting the toll. A series of protests have been held in Malappuram and Kozhikode districts with land acquisition being the ostensible reason for the opposition.
On Wednesday, hundreds of people took part in a rally protesting against the hike in toll rates at Malappuram. The Malappuram district unit of the NH Action Council that is spearheading the agitation against the acquisition of land, plans to organise similar meetings in all affected areas in the coming days, said Abulais Tenhippalam, convener of the Council.
C.A. Ajithan, an activist who undertook a 21-day hunger strike against the levying of toll last year, does not accept that the yearly hike according to the changes in the wholesale price index is permissible.
The political and bureaucratic leadership in the state are either completely ignorant about the concession agreement signed between the NHAI and the BOT partner, or are hoodwinking the people in a systematic manner, he added.
The recent statement by the Union minister for surface transport Oscar Fernandez, that the ministry is not insisting on a 45-metre width, has boosted the claims of the activists opposing the expanded toll way width.
The experience of Paliyekkara shows the pitfalls of going for the BOT model, said Abulais. “Nobody in Kerala has any clear idea about the company engaged in collecting the toll or the persons behind it,” he said.
ESG, allegedly a French company, stonewalled every query about the toll collection, saying that they are only a franchise of Guruvayur Infrastructural Private Ltd. Representatives of the company at the tollbooth said that they are not authorised to speak to the media and any questions should be addressed to Guruvayur Infrastructural Ltd.
As the war of words between the supporters and opponents of the BOT model of development drags on, the expansion of the national highways in the state — a dire necessity in view of the mounting number of accidents —  has been stalled for many years. 
Next: Co to collect Rs 6,000 cr in 17 yrs: Study

Co to collect Rs 6,000 cr in 17 yrs: Study
Nadeesh Kareemadathil | DC
Thissur: Guruvayur Infrastructural Private Limited (GIPL), the company that is in charge of the collection of toll at Paliyekkara on the Mannuthy-Angamaly stretch of National Highway 47, will collect Rs 6,000 crore in the stipulated period of 17.5 years, according to a study conducted by the Kerala Sasthra Sahitya Parishad, a well-known people’s science movement in the state. 
According to KSSP State convener (development) T.P. Sreesankar, a day’s average collection at the Paliyekkara toll plaza is around Rs 30 lakh. “At this rate, the company will collect Rs 108 crore a year. Considering the increase in vehicle intensity, the collection of the company will touch Rs ,000 crore in 17.5 years,” he said.
The company has invested only an estimated Rs 600 crore in the project, he noted. The study claimed that the common man would be affected by the toll collection as 58.82 per cent of the toll burden would fall on goods carriers, who will pass on the cost to consumers, leading to rise in prices of essential commodities.
Criticising the argument of the government that it had no money to develop roads, the KSSP said that according to the Directorate of Commercial Intelligence and Statistics, Rs 699.47 crore was collected from the State in 2010-2011 as diesel and petrol cess. The Parishad has said that it will intensify its protests against the collection of toll from motorists on National Highway 47.

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