I cannot remember the last time it took me less than three minutes to cross the toll plaza. There is invariably some hold-up; either the toll collectors do not have adequate change, or the driver is scrambling to get the money out once he reaches the toll gate. Whatever the reason might be, many other drivers waiting behind in line face the consequences.
Frustrated at being subjected to this wait day in and day out, Advocate Hari Om Jindal decided to find out what was causing this delay. Conversations with the toll officials didn’t yield any results, he says. “Those who man the toll booths are all junior level staff and would always conveniently pass the buck on to the next level.”
“I found it unacceptable that due to their inefficiency, the commuters were being put through so much hardship.”
Keeping this in mind, Hari Om started communicating with the National Highways Authority India (NHAI) and subsequently in 2016 filed a Right To Information petition. “I asked very pointed questions in my RTI and the answers I got were surprising.”
1. Total time required for a vehicle to wait for its turn in the queue, besides the 30 seconds provided for processing fees at the counter?
a. 2 minutes 50 seconds are required for a vehicle, to wait for its turn in the queue.
2. Are different times provided for the user counter and queue? Provide details.
3. If the total waiting time including the time spent in the queue surpasses 30 seconds, which means delay and harassment suffered by the commuters, what are the provisions for compensation to be paid by your office to the commuter?
c. There is total waiting time of 3 minutes. If the 3 minutes exceed in waiting then there is a provision to pass the vehicle free of cost.
4. In case of vehicle breakdown on the road, who can be contacted and what are the contact details?
d. In case vehicle breakdown, commuter can contact the toll free number 18001803636
Any grievance against the public services provided by the NHAI would be heard by a High Court alone. Hari Om challenged this and filed a complaint at the Consumer Forum. He says, “Since toll is not a tax, and is a service fee, for which the consumer must get a service in return (usage of the road), the aggrieved party must be allowed to file a complaint with the consumer forum.”
Approaching the High Court for a grievance of this nature is not only time consuming but will also cost the petitioner a lot more than the amount he would pay as toll. “Now a person in Gurgaon need not travel to Chandigarh to approach the High Court for redressal. He can do so by simply approaching the consumer forum in his city itself.”
By filing this complaint before the consumer forum and getting a favourable order, Hari Om has ensured that many more aggrieved persons come forward and seek redressal.
While the idea of waiting at a toll gate for not more than 3 minutes is a very good move, some implementation hiccups remain. For example, if one expects to be let through the tollgates free of cost after waiting for more than 3 minutes, how would it be explained to the toll operators that they have been waiting for that much time?
The need of the hour is to ensure that processes are streamlined to facilitate the smooth passage of traffic through the toll plazas.
Clarification: The 3 minute wait rule in Toll Plazas is not applicable Pan India. The rule as it stands now is applicable only in Punjab. This report by Factly explains the point further.