Delhi toll tax—corruption, or daylight robbery?

The toll tax was introduced with the objective of dissuading heavy vehicles going through the national capital territory with an aim to minimize pollution. Today, it has turned into a revenue- gathering exercise that is encouraging more and more vehicles to come into the city

Some of the biggest and worst traffic jams that motorists coming and going out of Delhi, face on a regular basis, are at the borders of the national capital territory. One reason for this is that there is a 'toll tax' to be paid to the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD), by all commercial vehicles, including buses and taxis. This results in long queues and delays, often extending for hours. The best part is that this particular MCD toll tax was introduced to reduce pollution. But what happens actually is hundreds of vehicles moving slowly leads to more pollution than if they had just been let through!

On Saturday, several Delhi newspapers published a half-page advertisement by the MCD for a tender for handling the toll paid by commercial vehicles entering Delhi. While this article will go through the numbers in due course, it is also interesting to go into the history of how and why this toll came to be collected, in the first case. The minimum reserve price per annum, by the way, is Rs225 crore. The income, incidentally, is expected to be over Rs1,000 crore per annum. And therein rests an interesting background, on how all this came about, and why the Delhi toll tax is such a great game for those who win.

Some years ago, the Supreme Court of India, in the landmark MC Mehta vs Union of India and others case on environmental issues, ruled that truck traffic going through Delhi had no reason to do so as it simply added to the already heavy pollution, and so it stipulated that these trucks would need to take an alternate route. Since an alternate route was not available, grand plans were drawn up to construct bypasses around Delhi - which have still not seen the light of day. In the interim, this is what the judgement said, and more, as quoted in a Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) report:
(www.cpcb.nic.in/divisionsofheadoffice/pci3/Truck_report_No_12.doc) "Given the menace of non-destined trucks, the court has intervened on many occasions, and has issued various orders over the years to prevent truck traffic that is not destined for loading or offloading in the city, from entering Delhi.

From the order of the court on 6 December 2001:

"It appears that vehicles which transit through Delhi do not adhere to the vehicular standards, which are applicable in Delhi, namely they are not Euro II compliant nor are they using low sulphur and low benzene fuel. There is no reason why very large number of goods vehicles should transit through Delhi, thereby adding to the pollution level and traffic on the roads. It is therefore, proposed that with effect from 15 January 2002 no heavy, medium or light goods vehicles will ply on inter-state routes by passing through Delhi or New Delhi. It is only those goods vehicles, which on payment of octroi/toll tax carry goods to or from Delhi, which would be allowed to ply. The commissioner of police is directed to formulate a scheme in this behalf and give due publicity to all concerned and implement the same."

From the order of the court on 15 July 2002:

"We are informed by the learned counsel for the NCT (National Capital Territory) of Delhi that despite the order of this court in 2001, no heavy vehicles in transit have been stopped at the border and all of them are allowed to pass through Delhi. Learned counsel states that a scheme is prepared, which of course, is not disclosed to the Court. How any scheme prepared by the department will supersede an order of this court is difficult to comprehend. If the said scheme permits any trucks in transit to Delhi, police commissioner to show cause why the compliance of this court's order dated 6 December 2001 has not been effected and the NCT of Delhi and the police commissioner are directed to show cause why the plying of all heavy vehicles through Delhi which do not comply with category-II norms should not be stopped, especially when no effective steps have been taken by the respondents to comply with the orders of this court of December 2001. We further make it very clear that there can be no corridor or bypass joining different national highways through Delhi. The corridors, if and when proposed and constructed, will have to bypass Delhi. Case to come up on 29 July 2002."

From the order of the court dated 16 December 2002

"The matter of bypassing of trucks was discussed in this hearing. Delhi traffic police was directed to file a status report on this matter."

The matter went through various stages, in the course of which the estimate of trucks entering Delhi varied from 6,500 a day to 50,000-60,000 a day, in the years around 2002, depending on the agency involved and the point in question. But the thrust was that trucks in transit were adding to the pollution and were therefore to be dissuaded. Till a Delhi bypass was built - and till then, therefore, tolls would be collected.

Over the years, more and more roads for truck traffic have been built in Delhi, and the traffic has only grown. But meanwhile, the tolls business meant to reduce pollution by charging trucks entering Delhi in transit, has expanded in scope to include all forms of commercial vehicles entering Delhi-by some estimates between 2 lakh and 3 lakh commercial vehicles enter Delhi every day. The net effect has been that instead of reducing pollution, the MCD has converted the whole exercise into one where there is more pollution-by allowing all trucks to pass through Delhi for a fee, including those in transit. And increasing the number of private vehicles, since all buses and taxis also pay fairly high tolls now.
 
And now the effort, instead of trying to reduce pollution, is to increase revenues by ensuring that more and more vehicles have to enter or transit through Delhi.

The toll rates proposed to be levied with effect from May 2011 are listed in the table below. Note how taxis and buses have so smoothly been added to the rather amateurish list of trucks, defined by generic nomenclatures, in some cases pertaining to vehicles long rendered obsolete. (eg: Nissan, a generic term for all used ¾ toners sold by the armed forces as scrap, now extinct)
 
(Read the details of the tender at: http://www.mcdonline.gov.in/tenderlistdetail.php?id=NjE=)

Revised toll tax rates

Fees chargeable in respect of specified commercial vehicles entering Delhi at toll plazas/posts/barriers of the Municipal Corporation of Delhi.

S.No.

Type of vehicle

 

Entry charge per visit (Rs)

 

Monthly pass charge

(Rs)

 

1.

Taxi, tempo, Tata 407

and such type of other

commercial vehicles

45

1,350

2.

Bus, truck –Nissan,

Tata – 709/ Canter and

such type of other

commercial vehicles

85

2,550

3.

6-wheel trucks

165

4,950

4.

10-wheel truck

330

9,900

5.

14-wheel truck

820

24,600

(Note: These revised toll tax rates will be applicable with effect from 16.05.2011 - 6am - with the next toll tax contract.)

In addition, smart cards, which will work at computerised toll plazas only, shall be issued to interested commuters at the same discount rates and structure as relevant to the pass holders. (Note: No toll tax shall be payable or collected in respect of : (a) ambulances, (b) fire-fighting vehicles, (c) police vehicles, (d) government vehicles having red and amber lights, (e) defence vehicles and (f) hearses.

The toll tax rates, the categories of vehicles exempted from payment of toll tax and the name, address and telephone number of the authority to whom complaints, if any, should be addressed, shall be conspicuously and prominently displayed at two places which are at a distance of 500 metres ahead of the user fee booths as well as at the user fee booths in Hindi and in English with proper hoardings. The height of the display boards and size of letters should be such that it is easy for drivers to read the display boards.

That the toll tax aimed at reducing the number of trucks passing through Delhi is not having the desired effect is one part of the story. That it is also being used to increase dependency on private transport is yet another part. But the real part is about how the whole thing has become a game to generate money on a regular basis, which would make the Commonwealth Games scam look like a child's piggy bank, and I will cover this in the next and concluding part.

The tender, referred to earlier, states that "the average monthly traffic of specified commercial vehicles was 22,57,568" for 2010, or about 75,000 or so per day, and therefore the potential for the forthcoming three years is almost the same. That's using a total of 121 entry points. According to other estimates, including that by some entities that may bid for the contract, anywhere between 2.5 lakh and 3 lakh commercial vehicles enter Delhi daily. Some friends in the police put the number between 1.75 lakh and 2.25 lakh a day.
 
The wide difference is, obviously, because a lot of the toll collected is never declared. Drive through, especially at night, and see the bunch of young men wielding lathis, enforcing their own version of the law, often not issuing the regulation receipt while snatching money from hapless drivers. Then, what else is new?

What's new is the MCD, in its brilliance, gets a fixed sum per month, regardless of the toll tax collected. And that's, by most estimates, between about a quarter and a third of what's actually collected. The tender, interestingly, does not mention the requirements on the part of the toll tax contractor to ensure that the staff perform their duty as per specific minimum standards of adherence to existing labour laws; nor does it have any information about any redressal mechanism for issues that a consumer may have. The grapevine has it that the actual collections are further sub-contracted downwards, often on a daily basis.
 
The collection of toll on roads and highways all over the country is big business now, and growing to a point where it is attracting heavy international attention, with people smelling good and easy money for the taking. It is also a major pain, with toll booths resembling bombed out shelters, and collection usually taking more than a few minutes per vehicle. On the upside, hopefully, we get better roads and facilities on highways-mostly.

But this particular MCD toll tax has nothing to do with any additional facility or new roads-it's simply about making commercial vehicles cough up, literally. And on the strength of a Supreme Court order, apparently, hitting that segment where it hurts most-the person riding a bus to and from Delhi and its satellite cities in Haryana and Uttar Pradesh. And most of the money collected does not even reach government coffers.

Is this corruption or simple daylight robbery?

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    COMMENTS

    Sushant Gupta

    2 years ago

    Collecting toll tax is totally a white color fraud. Government don't repair the roads and policemen taking haftas from the rediwala and patriwala to create a mess on the road which lead to a massive jam.==income to police
    Now the government comes into the scene to make the public a fool by building a toll road rather than repairing the old road and take off the khomcha & patriwalas.==income to government

    In fact even after this all government vehicles are allowed to pass without toll==benefit to government.

    Toll tax collected in cash never be declared===benefit to contractor
    Toll tax collected beyond the project cost====benefit to all (except public)
    Toll tax illegal collection even courts order===benefit to all chain.

    so it is a big white color scam in which government,construction company,MCD,toll contractor,police and even a khomcha & patriwala taking benefit.

    Except public

    Saurabh Jain

    9 years ago

    I wanted to know whether a car has passed from toll booths from Kanpur to Agra NH2 route on 10th and 11th April 2010. How to get the toll receipt and details from them.

    Prakash

    9 years ago

    I have heard that Mulund Toll Naka is illegal and is no longer allowed to collect Toll. Can you/anyone tell me how to confirm.

    REPLY

    malq

    In Reply to Prakash 9 years ago

    May I suggest you first fill up the query form on the NHAI website, and seek an answer? Failing which, please file an RTI? Good luck.

    (Is the toll collected by the Centre or the State, please?)

    samit

    9 years ago

    Right, everything aside, you truly need to fact check your article.
    Delhi is a union territory? Is this 1985?

    REPLY

    malq

    In Reply to samit 9 years ago

    Delhi is not a Union Territory. Delhi does not have a Constitutional post of Governor either. No, this is not 1985.

    However, the terms used is "NCT of Delhi".

    Ani

    9 years ago

    Thank God someone finally took notice of this.
    There was a time, I think for a few months, when the Supreme court order was enforced after having just been passed. The entry points had become a breeze then and the drive after 9 PM on Delhi roads was a pleasure again. And the ominous cloud of haze and black smoke that used to hang over Delhi was actually gone.
    However, like all good things in India, that too did not last.
    I have watched with dismay for the last many years as the court orders have openly been flouted even as a sign just before the entry to Delhi on the Panipat side displays the Honorable Supreme Court's order. And every time I have wondered who are the biggest gainers from this order. I can only imagine how much money must Delhi Police make from this one judgment.
    I think the Indian System has perfected the art of making rules so that they can be broken and money made out of it.

    REPLY

    malq

    In Reply to Ani 9 years ago

    In the concluding part to this article, I shall spell out the beneficiaries who have twisted the interpretation of this judgement, and yes - DP/DTP is one of them.

    Thank you for writing in.

    Petition against All-India Bar exam on Sunday, as legitimacy issue remains unresolved

    Law students and advocates have challenged the Bar Council order that makes the examination compulsory. But while the court has not decided on the issue yet, the exam, which was postponed twice, is to be held on 6th March

    A decision on the legitimacy of the All-India Bar Examination (AIBE) is pending in the Supreme Court. However, without any further announcements from the court or the Bar Council of India, the exam is set to be held on 6th March, as scheduled. But according to activists, if the exams are held without the matter being resolved, there could be legal complications.

    "If the exams are allowed to be held as scheduled, and later the court decides that the exam itself is invalid, all the students and advocates will suffer. There will be legal complications, which may harm their careers and hamper proceedings in court," said RTI activist Babubhai Vaghela, who has petitioned the court to cancel the exam.

    The confusion was set off when the Bar Council of India (BCI) decided to hold an all India exam in 2010. The Bar Council declared that it was compulsory for law graduates to pass the exam in order to become advocates and appear before the court. This condition, however, violated the provisions of the Advocates Act, 1961, which does not make any such exam mandatory. According to the Act, any law student who has acquired his degree, can register as an advocate with the local bar council and start his practice.

    But the Bar Council, through a resolution, declared an amendment to the Act and declared the exam compulsory, which anyway is strictly the power of Parliament to do so.

    Many writ petitions were filed before several high courts, challenging the BCI's authority to hold such an exam. Both activists and law students opposed the exam, saying it was arbitrary and violated Article 14 of the Constitution that gives citizens the right to equality. Many regional bar councils also opposed the exam, questioning the rationale of adding one more exam in the already long list of exams that law students have to take to earn their degrees.

    "This exam is not going to improve the quality of legal education," Mr Vaghela said. "It will be an additional harassment and will prove disadvantageous to students who come from rural or impoverished background."

    Following this controversy, the exam was postponed twice, first to December 2010, and then again to March 2011. Taking note of the situation, the Supreme Court allowed the BCI to transfer the petition to the Delhi High Court and club all six writ petitions.

    However, even as the matter was sub judice, the BCI declared that it would despatch roll numbers to the students appearing for the exam. While the petitioners have urged the Supreme Court and the government to take a decision on the matter before the scheduled date of the exams, there has been no conclusion yet. Confusion prevails and criticism has been mounting against the BCI and the AIBE.

    Judicial activist Sandeep Jalan said, "In the absence of any notices, if the exams are allowed to be held it will give the impression that it is valid and that the BCI is authorised to hold such an exam. It will be better if the exams are postponed until a decision is reached."

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    COMMENTS

    parkash

    7 years ago

    Yes, I appreciate the efforts to all petitioners including mr. Vaghela for opposing the AIBE, large nos of fresh advocate are not interested to appear in aibe, because they are deprived from practice without passing the Exam, why BCI think about a middle class advocates who received their Law Degree after hard working with this hope after getting degree they will start earning to full-fill their families daily need, but BCI decision to conduct the exam, broke their dream, its is humble request to BCI please reconsider decision and think about advocates those can not work anywhere after enrollment with bar council.

    DVRao

    8 years ago

    Book: Sure Success AIBE & JCJ authored by DVRao and fore worded by Justice Subhasan Reddy, Chief Justice (Retd), High courts of T.N & Kerala & Former Chair Person, APSHRC; Sri A.Narasimha Reddy, Chairman, Bar Council of A.P is released. For details visit: http://www.dvrao.com

    adv prashant arunrao palve

    9 years ago

    ok

    Citizens must use RTI to demand information and inspect documents in government offices

    Section 6 of the RTI Act makes it mandatory for every government department to provide whatever information that a citizen may apply for, within a specified period. Section 4 empowers citizens to examine official files on the spot

    Does it bother you that trees have been felled in your neighbourhood? Has the road you go by daily to work developed potholes within a month or two of it being re-laid, or have the inter-locking tiles on the footpath you often walk on got loosened within three months of fixing them? Are you curious to know why a multinational company has set up its plant in or around your city? Are you having a problem with disbursement of your pension? As a citizen, you can investigate these matters by invoking Section 4 of the Right to Information (RTI) Act that also enables citizens to conduct inspection of government files. Let us, therefore, examine the contents of Section 4 to better understand how potent it is for you and for me.

    Generally. invoking Section 6 of the RTI Act is the most popular way to access information and this is done through filling an application form with a Rs10 court fee stamp in Maharashtra. (In most other states you have to pay the Rs10 in cash.) However, by this procedure, the Public Information Officer (PIO) has 30 days to give you a reply. If he does not answer your query, or he gives you a reply that does not satisfy you, or he gives wrong information, you need to appeal to the First Appellate Authority (generally a senior officer above the PIO) who is allowed a 45-day period in which to hear your case. If he, too, fails, or conducts a hearing that does not satisfy you, you should appeal to the Second Appellate Authority, who is the state or central information commissioner where your case may be kept pending due to an overload.

    Now, if getting the information that you require is going to take so long through this process, it may seem like a futile exercise. But it is important to know that not all information is required urgently. Here is where Section 4 becomes useful. It is also vital to know that in many cases public information officers have complied with the request for information, though in some cases you could suffer frustrating experiences. (For the good of democracy and for the spirit of good governance, we all should be positive about the RTI Act.)

    Section 4 helps to overcome the time period that is so typical when one files a query under Section 6. I call Section 4 "the way to get information instantly'' and pioneering RTI activist, the late Prakash Kardaley, used to urge citizens to "go on a Section 4 offensive'' by visiting government offices and demanding inspection of files right away. What's more, you can demand photostat copies and even CDs of documents immediately after you have inspected your files and the public information officer is obliged to give it to you for a charge of Rs2 per page.

    In fact, if the government departments sincerely complied with the rules of Section 4 and if citizens simultaneously conducted inspection of files in large numbers, we would hardly have had to take the trouble of filing an application under Section 6, and the pendency with information commissioners would have reduced considerably. Why? Because, Section 4 makes it mandatory for every government department to upload most of what it is doing, in detail, putting it in the public domain.

    Hence, sincere implementation by government departments would ensure mindboggling transparency. However, despite being directed to suo moto disclose information within 120 days of the enactment of the Act (12 October 2005) and to regularly update it, most of them have not done so, and hence five years down the line we are in a position where information is still being hidden from the public. For example, I recently visited the petroleum ministry website and the information is so grossly inadequate and outdated that one wonders whether this is an insignificant department of the central government.

    Let us understand what Section 4 is all about in the two ways that constitutes it and makes it formidable-how its sincere implementation by government departments (termed 'public authorities' in the RTI Act), which means putting all information in the public domain and inspection of files by citizens, can make this sunshine law completely transparent, with good side-effects of accountability as well as to curb corruption.

    So, what is the duty of every government department under this section? Section 4(1)(a) states that every department should, "maintain all its records duly catalogued and indexed in a manner and in the form which facilitates the right to information under this Act, and ensure that all records that are appropriate to be computerised are, within a reasonable time and subject to availability of resources, computerised and connected through a network all over the country on different systems so that access to such records is facilitated.''

    To elaborate further, what is the kind of information mandatory for every government department to put in the public domain, preferably on its website? Section 4(b) states: Particulars of its organisation in terms of its functions and duties; powers and duties of its officers and employees; procedure followed in the decision-making process, including channels of supervision and accountability;  rules, regulations, instructions, manuals and records; details of private-public partnership (PPP) or build, operate, transfer (BOT). Every department must provide a directory of its officers and employees; salaries of the employees; budget allocated to it; details of plans and execution of subsidy programmes including beneficiaries; particulars of recipients of concessions and permits; the names, designations and other particulars of the public information officers; details of policies or decisions which will affect citizens at large and so on. Each department must provide as much information suo motu to the public at regular intervals through various means of communications, including internet, so that the public have minimum resort to the use of this Act to obtain information. So, you will see that even before the citizen asks any query, the government department has been compelled to provide information and because it has not been sincere about it, we, the citizens have to invoke Section 4 and Section 6.

    As far as you and me are concerned, please remember that Section 4 clauses (3 and 4) give the right to every citizen to inspect files. It states: "Making known or communicating the information to the public through notice boards, newspapers, public announcements, media broadcasts, the internet, or any other means, including inspection of offices of any public authority."

    (Next week: Examples of inspection of files under Section 4 of RTI Act: How Dow Chemical Plant had to bite dust and withdraw from Pune, thanks to documents procured under Section 4 and how a priceless botanical garden was saved from a 60 ft road cutting through it.)

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    COMMENTS

    malq

    9 years ago

    Wonderful, Vineeta - thanks. After MasterJi's demise, as well as the other events in Pune, I withdrew from the RTI scene - also because there was so much misuse. However, your recent articles as well as support and "push" from some people has got me back on the track with what I would call "public good" kind of RTI applications again.

    Thanks again.

    jagbir singh

    9 years ago

    Recently sought some information from a State Co-op Bank, it replied that it had taken a stay order - they are not covered under RTI?

    REPLY

    Vinita Deshmukh

    In Reply to jagbir singh 9 years ago

    Dear Mr Jasbir Singh, Two judgements of Mumbai High Court have ruled that Co-operatives are not covered by RTI until substantial finance and penetrative control of Government is proved. At the moment co-operative banks in Maharashtra cannot be said to be Public Authorities under RTI unless it is proved that they are substantially financed and governed by Govt.

    K B Patil

    9 years ago

    I thought that I had sufficient knowledge of RTI. But this article is very informative and useful. My thanks to the author.

    SKRajendran

    9 years ago

    Oseful article.

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