The NHAI is all set to set an example for women empowerment, by deploying all women toll staff on International Women’s Day. The national body has decided to the lady toll collectors in a day shift on at least one toll plaza close to a city area in every state and union territory on March 8.
The Ministry of Road Transport and Highways, in a statement, revealed that the plan was a pilot. If the initiative was successful, it would be implemented across all toll plazas under operation by NHAI within the next quarter. The Regional Officers will oversee this.
The NHAI wishes to improve the condition of toll plazas and foster a competitive environment and is ranking toll plazas based on various parameters, such as ETC (Electronic Toll Collection) adaptability, the condition of the ETC infrastructure, and time taken in passing through the toll using the FASTag lane.
The NHAI is adopting a slew of other measures, like deployment of Road Marshals, putting sign boards, general cleanliness, neat gender-based toilets. The NHAI is also constructing a short duration parking, called Nest (Mini), at toll plazas, which will have litter bins, toilets, water booths, ATMs, and coffee/tea kiosks, as well as provision for pre-packaged food items, etc.
While all these measures are great for highway travellers, the toll attendants need facilities as well. It isn’t uncommon to learn of hapless toll attendants being assaulted by drivers or occupants of vehicles passing through toll gates. And this might happen for the simplest reasons, like the driver’s unwillingness to pay the toll.
In January 2017, a group of people attacked a toll plaza on the Delhi-Gurgaon expressway. The staff were beaten up. The entire incident happened because a man was incessantly honking, wanting to cross in a hurry.
In December of the same year, a woman toll collector was allegedly assaulted by an unidentified driver, in Gurgaon. The reason? She refused to open the gate, on the insistence of members of a political party, travelling in their SUV.
In September 2017, a supervisor on the famous Bandra-Worli Sea Link was stabbed, when he stopped the driver of a car, trying to get away without paying.
On February 14th, this year, a politician’s son and his supporters thrashed a toll employee at a Uttar Pradesh toll plaza. The man’s SUV was trying to speed through the gate, behind the car that had been cleared before it, without paying. When the barrier fell on the SUV, the man and his supporters got out and beat one of the toll attendants, with his politician father sitting inside and watching.
Toll attendants, like others in public service, are easy targets for the temper tantrums and whims of irresponsible people. It is the poor attendant who suffers and has to go back to work with a huge psychological scar.
A lot of these violent assaults are caught on camera, as some toll booths have CCTV coverage. However, a few stringent safety measures must be adopted, especially if the NHAI wishes to have more women working at toll plazas.
1. Shatterproof and Bulletproof Glass:- Most violent incidents at toll booths occur when people refuse to pay toll attendants and start getting violent by trying to enter the booth. Shatterproof glass will prevent them from smashing in the windows, and injuring the toll collectors inside.
2. Re-inforced Doors:- The attackers will not be able to enter the toll-booth if the doors don’t have an opening mechanism from outside. Since toll-collectors are the only authorised people, they should have the liberty to lock their doors securely behind them, so as to prevent any break-ins.
3. Alarms:- A loud alarm system can deter violence. A panic button may be affixed to the toll collectors desk. The alarm should also alert the nearest police patrol car/station, so they may rush to the spot and mitigate any violence immediately.
4. Pepper Spray:- For women toll-booth employees, having access to a can of pepper spray can be invaluable. The authorities would do well to provide cans of pepper spray, or a similar deterrent, to women toll booth employees.
5. Armed Guards:- If possible, a small contingent of guards could be posted at toll plazas with a primarily female workforce, with the logic that they can avert any violence that suddenly erupts.
6. CCTV Coverage:- All toll plazas should be extensively wired with CCTV cameras, so that all the happenings can be recorded, for future references. Additionally, CCTV cameras also help a toll collector, as he/she doesn’t have to strain out of the window every time an automobile passes and can look at information on a screen.
Toll attendants work long shifts, in cramped spaces, and often are at the mercy of abusive drivers and people who are mean to those who cannot retaliate. It would do well to show compassion to the hardworking toll booth workers.
We may pass through toll gates maybe once or twice, but for them, it is a 24X7 job and quite a stressful one at that!