Toll collection on recovery path as Gadkari looks at higher share of PPP

Gadkari said the industry should look at public private partnerships and adopt an integrated approach for developing new models of transportation
A silver lining has emerged amid the pandemic as toll collection across many highways has seen a quick revival, with traffic on some stretches at 90 per cent of pre-lockdown levels.

“Traffic has returned for a number of stretches. It is now 90 per cent or more of pre-Covid levels,” said a top executive of a fund which owns a road asset portfolio.

As overall toll collection has gone up, the government is now banking on an improvement in the sector through private participation. Union highways minister Nitin Gadkari on Tuesday said as many as 80 per cent of the projects can be done on PPP (public-private-partnership) mode. Currently, half of the national highway projects awarded by Gadkari’s ministry are on PPP basis.

IRB Infrastructure Developers has seen toll collection numbers return to around 70 to 75 per cent of pre-Covid level. “This is a surprising recovery, because a lot of things still continue to be under lockdown and inter-district and intra district are still not very speedy,” said Virendra Mhaiskar, chairman and managing director for the company.

Reliance Infrastructure, in its annual general meeting statement on Tuesday, also said the company’s road toll collection is already at 75 per cent of the pre-Covid levels and will be back to normal in the next few weeks. Company executives added that most of the recovery is led by commercial vehicular movement.

In May, traffic on some of these highway stretches was limping back at 30 per cent to 50 per cent of the usual traffic seen before the Covid-19 hit.

Gadkari said the industry should look at PPP and adopt an integrated approach for developing new models of transportation.

Gadkari added, “There is a need to decongest metro cities and create industrial clusters as well as smart cities. To decrease migration of the rural population to urban areas, there is a need to uplift the agriculture sector, tribal and village population.”

The other reason for relying more on private participation, he pointed out, is the current financial situation of the government. The minister said that neither state governments nor the central government can afford to pump in huge money at this point.

He added the government will play the role of a facilitator and support the private sector in its initiatives for developing sustainable transportation system.

The industry should consider various aspects of a sustainable transportation system, which comprises low-carbon fuels, electric vehicles and water transportation. There should be conversion of diesel vehicles to LNG and CNG as well as use of ethanol, methanol and hydrogen fuels for vehicles.

The industry should then reach out to the concerned state governments and ministries and suggest changes in policies for developing economically viable projects, the minister said at a FICCI webinar.

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