The first one, however, proved difficult to implement, with many states asking for a rollback of the stringent fines and punishments. The second one did not.
As a result, collections from Fastag has done wonders to National Highways
Authority of India (NHAI) revenues. Despite an almost complete shutdown in April, collections till the end of May has reached 12.3 per cent of the total for FY20, at Rs 11,294 crore.
So though Covid-19 slowed the collections, the trend is clear. This has enormous implications for the economy. Investment in public infrastructure will be essential to pull the economy out of the massive downturn the pandemic has imposed. Investment in roads will be a critical part of the building that infrastructure. Minister for Road Transport and Highways Nitin Gadkari
says he expects to begin work worth Rs 15 trillion in the next two years. Tightening rules for paying toll plaza is a basic need to make this happen.
Fastags have begun to throw up an impressive body of data on the number of cars that use a stretch of road, proving invaluable for bidders for toll-operate-transfer road projects. Concessionaires had often cheated on the revenue their toll plazas generated which made the monetisation of road projects weaker. It is not surprising that soon after the imposition of the higher penalty last month, the NHAI
announced last week that it had launched an Artificial Intelligence-powered Big Data Analytics platform to totally transform its functioning. Data processing capacity would be needed big time to hand out mega road projects, monitor their performance and cut arbitration.
On the other hand, the amended Motor Vehicles Act was meant to remove India’s dubious distinction as the country with the highest number of persons killed in road accidents in the world. According the World Road Statistics, 2018 report 151,417 Indians were killed on the roads. The fatalities were 2.37 per cent more than the year before.
The level of embarrassment was high. Gadkari did not participate in the fifth UN Global Road Safety Week which was held from May 6-12, 2019. The ministry ascribed no reason but the conclusion was obvious. India would have stood out for its dismal record. The ministry had hoped to get the amendments passed in the Budget session of Parliament in 2019 but when the states dug in their heels, the Bill had to be postponed to the monsoon session.
The ministry claims there has some reduction in the road accident rates since the Bill was passed in September, 2019, quoting data from 12 states for five months (till January-end). The list includes high-traffic states such as Delhi, Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh and Haryana. But a closer look shows a reduction in ten of the 12 states. The problem is that the Motor Vehicle (Amendment) Act, 2019 has many great features focussing on road safety, revision in penalties for traffic violations, electronic monitoring of offences, enhanced penalties for juvenile driving, computerisation of vehicle fitness and driving standards and so on but it is entirely up to the states to implement those. The Constitution offers the Centre only an advisory role except for streamlining of the rules for third-party insurance and payment of increased compensation for hit-and-run cases etc.
So, the ministry could only note that it has developed an “Integrated Road Accident Database System” and implemented publicity measures and awareness campaigns on road safety. But it is nowhere near the spending of $109 billion recommended by the World Bank over ten years to halve the number of deaths on Indian highways.