The FASTag mechanism, which has become mandatory from last Monday on national highways, is making the lives of vehicle users more difficult. Many commuters are facing issues like long waiting time at the toll plaza and failure of the scanner to read the radio frequency identification (RFID) tag leading to the user paying double the amount. Further, many are complaining of not receiving the return journey discount at the same toll plaza and thus ending up paying full toll both ways. At the same time, the number of people who are joining the list of exempted categories is increasing.
Pune-based activist Sanjay Shirodkar, who has been working on the toll issue, says, "The National Highways Authority of India is sharing selective notification for the vehicle users for FASTag. At the same time, it is increasing the number of people exempted from paying toll and has been preparing exempted FASTags during the past over 12 months. Earlier, there were just five to seven top office bearers like the President and the Prime Minister, who were exempted from paying toll on official duty. Now the list has increased to more than 25 categories."
A notification issued by NHAI on 16 December 2019 states "...there is no provision of exemption to user fee to any road user except that provided in the extant National Highway (NH) fee rules... there is no exception from payment of user fee (toll) for the advocates..."
Earlier on 8 November 2019, the ministry of road transport and highways (MoRTH) released guidelines and standard operating procedure for issuance of FASTag for the exempted category of vehicles. It says, all categories of vehicles included under the category of ‘exempted from paying user fees’ should also be encouraged to use FASTag, adding, "This will have a good demonstrative effect on all other road users and will encourage them to use FASTag for seamless movement across user fee plazas."
As per the guidelines, except NHAI or an agency authorised by it, no one can issue exempted FASTags. While linking of bank account details for these exempted FASTag are optional, MoRTH says, "...it is advised that all these FASTags be linked to any issuer bank account or pre-paid payment instrument (credit or debit card, and e-wallet), so that proper record keeping can be ensured through generation of zero transaction receipts. Linking of the exempted FASTag to bank accounts shall also ensure its usability even after the completion of the period of exemption for which the FASTag is designated."
"Exempted FASTag shall be valid for five years in case of government vehicles, one year in case of private vehicles and to be renewed subsequently as per eligibility and rules. Exempted FASTag for member of Parliament (MP) and member of legislative assembly (MLA) or council (MLC) shall be valid for the respective tenure of the parliament or the assembly," the guidelines of MoRTH say.
Mr Shirodkar, however, questions the inclusion of all dignitaries in the list of exempted from toll. "Except for ambulances and vehicles used for emergency services, do exempting other vehicles justify the cause? Further, no record is maintained at any toll plaza about how many have not paid the toll and availed the exemption. This is the biggest corruption. No authorities want to share real facts on total number of vehicles crossing any toll plaza and how much toll is collected. They do not even want to share an audited copy of this record, be it suo motu or under the Right to Information (RTI) Act," he added.
FASTag is a device that employs radio frequency identification (RFID) technology for making toll payments directly while the vehicle is in motion.
FASTag has been made mandatory for availing all discounts on the national highways fee plazas. Users who wish to claim a discount for making a return journey within 24 hours or any other local exemptions, are required to have a valid functional FASTag on the vehicle.
As per NHAI plaza fare rules, the return journey benefits are already activated on FASTag. It works in a way where the toll deducts single side toll the first time and when you return the toll deducts a discounted amount to adjust the return toll discount.
As per the policy circular issued by the NHAI on 15 January 2020, "...it has been decide that discount for users who make a return journey within 24 hours shall be provided only if the toll payments have been paid via FASTag. No return journey discount shall be provided to toll payments paid in cash or any other modes from 15 January 2020. Similarly, all local discounts shall be provided by concessionaire or toll plaza operators through FASTag only from 15 January 2020."
However, this is simply not happening. Several times, the vehicle user must pay the full amount at the same toll plaza while returning within 24 hours.
Another issue, FASTag users are raising is about convenience charges and deposits taken by banks for issuing and use of the RFID tags.
So, the question is, while the list of dignitaries exempted from paying toll is increasing, there is no respite for common vehicle users in the form of discount either for a return journey and for the residents of the local area or paying convenience charges to bank in addition to keeping some amount locked as deposit.
Since 1 December 2017, FASTag has been made mandatory for all registrations of new four wheeled vehicles and is being supplied by the manufacturers or dealers. It has been further mandated that a valid FASTag is mandatory while getting a new third-party insurance. This provision is applicable from 1 April 2021.