A pre-paid smart card system for electronic toll collection on the national highways is in the offing.

Minister for Road Transport and Highways Kamal Nath on Friday announced the possibility of putting this system in place by May 2012, accepting the recommendation of the committee headed by UIDAI chairman Nandan Nilekani.

Based on the radio frequency identification technology (RFID), each vehicle will be identified by a unique number tag fitted on the windscreen. The road user is expected to recharge their smart card like a pre-paid mobile phone.

The RFID will read the tag and deduct the specified toll from the account. The account balance can be verified via SMS or e-mail.

Mr. Nath hoped to plug the current leakage of 15 per cent revenue in toll collection, amounting to an annual loss of close to Rs. 300 crore. Only 8,000 km of the national highways is tolled currently and the Minister aims to take this figure to 30,000 km in the next five years.

Mr. Nath is also in consultation with the Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers (SIAM) to influence them to agree to incorporate the chip in each vehicle at the production stage itself.

Mr. Nath was confident of developing the system within the next 20 months and get all the States to agree to have a common toll collection technology across the country.

Efforts were under way to bring the State highways under the same network for smooth running of vehicles, avoiding loss of time and fuel, and to bring down emission levels.