Massive difference has emerged in the figures of daily traffic volume through the Kumbalam toll plaza in the Edappally-Aroor stretch on National Highway 47.
The documents accessed by M.K. Suresh Kumar, a Maradu-based social activist, through a Right to Information plea reveal discrepancies in the figures provided by the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) and the National Transportation, Planning and Research Centre (NATPAC).
In response to a query, the NHAI states that as per the census taken by an Automatic Vehicle Counter-cum-Classifier system installed at the site, the average daily traffic, except for vehicles of exemption, as on July 2011 is 10,325. The annual income through toll is assessed at Rs. 10.61 crore.
Interestingly, in another response given by the NHAI just over a year later, the average daily traffic drops even further. It said the average number of vehicles that passed through the toll in June 2012 was 8,609 while in July it was 8,670. The monthly toll collection in July was Rs. 89.40 lakh with an average daily collection of Rs. 2.88 lakh.
Mr. Kumar said a document he received showed that as per the assessment of NATPAC done in November 2009, the average vehicular traffic in the Kundannoor-Aroor stretch, exempting two-wheelers and three wheelers, was 27,107.
NATPAC again did an assessment of traffic through the Kumbalam toll plaza two years later. The agency observed the traffic for six days between November 28 and December 4, 2011. The study showed that the aggregate vehicular traffic (including the traffic in both directions) exempting two wheelers and three wheelers, through the toll plaza was 20,180 on Monday (November 28), 22,433 on Wednesday, 21,931 on Thursday, 21,084 on Friday, 22,654 on Saturday and 18,000 on Sunday.
NHAI Kochi project director C.T. Abraham, however, said the assessment of vehicular traffic was prone to fluctuation and was seasonal. Besides, a lot of others in addition to two and three wheelers are also exempted from the payment of toll such as people living in Kumbalam and nearby areas, government vehicles, passes issued for multiple entry, etc.
“We haven’t done any manipulation in the toll projection, as the base price for the auctioning of toll collection was fixed based on a report on the annual toll potential collection submitted to us by NATPAC on March 29, 2012,” Mr. Abraham said.
Quoting from the report, he said the NATPAC had fixed Rs.11.58 crore as the potential annual toll collection with the direction that the base price be fixed by reducing the operational and administrative expenses. As such the price was fixed at Rs.9.37 crore after deducting the wages of employees engaged for toll collection and utility bills such as power.
Being the highest bidder with Rs.10.11 crore, Vaishnavi Distributors, Rajamundri, was selected as the toll collecting agent. “We would have been happy if someone else had quoted a bigger amount,” Mr. Abraham said.
NATPAC officials said their assessment of vehicular traffic exempting two wheelers and three wheelers had not taken into account other exempted categories.
However, whether the number can drop by more than half owing to such exemptions remain unanswered. In fact, a NATPAC official said vehicular traffic usually posted an average increase of five to six per cent growth in a year and the drop in number is unlikely to be more than nominal even after discounting for the exemptions, seasonal and even monthly fluctuations.