FASTags to help NHAI bring transparency, check underreporting of collection

The Union road ministry’s effort for better movement of traffic on national highways through introduction of FASTags is expected to bring in accountability in toll collection. Industry officials and experts say the digital system will help check underreporting of toll payments.


The move is expected to bring in greater transparency and eliminate underreporting of toll collection by both contractors manning highways operated by the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) as well as those of private concessionaires.


“When you leave an audit trail, it will bring some sanity in the system. If you look at FASTag penetration, it has gone up from 30 per cent to 55 per cent; revenue of the NHAI has gone up by 10 per cent. The only logical reason is that it was the amount of money that was being underreported,” said Kushal Singh, partner, Deloitte, adding, “A vehicle being missed on a toll plaza is unheard of,” implying the underreporting, if any, is deliberate.


In November, the road ministry had said all lanes (except one lane on each side) of fee plazas shall be declared ‘FASTag lane of fee plaza’ by December 1, 2019. The deadline was later extended to December 15. In its release, the ministry noted the move will help save time, pollution, and ensure seamless movement of traffic.


However, the immediate gains for the NHAI have also been monetary.


“FASTag has already resulted in higher toll revenue for NHAI, perhaps due to lower leakages or underreporting of toll collections,” said Shailesh Pathak, chief executive officer for L&T Infrastructure Development Projects.


Industry sources add underreporting so far may have been prevalent in the form of under-classification of vehicles, undue exemptions, and in some cases by switching off the electronic monitoring system on some lanes.


Pathak added the transition to FASTag also helps save on cash-handling charges. “Companies like ours have enhanced user experience and reduced cash handling by two-thirds. This cuts down on potential malpractices, cash handling charges, and insurance,” he said.


One is not sure if the transition to a cashless system will leave scope for investigation on previously underreported toll. “How does one start an investigation and prove the 10 additional vehicles reported now were also plying earlier before the introduction of FASTag?” asked Singh.


State road development companies in the past have floated tenders for engaging toll audit firms. These firms help assess traffic and hence, the toll collection due to the state body on stretches which have been bid out for toll collection to private concessionaires.


Both state agencies and the NHAI, however, allowed for less than 100 per cent accuracy in the data collected by these firms. Migration to FASTags across highways may bring more accuracy to such data.

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