Kerala

NH accidents: call to suspend pact permitting toll collection on highways

The NHAI has been facing public ire over the plight of service roads on the 16-km Edappally-Aroor NH 66 bypass, although the agency has imposed hefty toll on motorists using the stretch. A scene from Chalikkavattom near Vyttila.

The NHAI has been facing public ire over the plight of service roads on the 16-km Edappally-Aroor NH 66 bypass, although the agency has imposed hefty toll on motorists using the stretch. A scene from Chalikkavattom near Vyttila. | Photo Credit: H. VIBHU

The spree of pothole-related fatal and non-fatal accidents on NH 66, NH 544, and other ill-maintained highway corridors in Kerala has led to the demand for the suspension of the State Support Agreement (SSA) that permitted the contracting firms of the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) to collect hefty toll from motorists.

This comes in the wake of firms levying toll and even increasing them every year citing the Wholesale Price Index (WPI), even as work on service roads, drains, and many other mandatory components on highways and NH bypasses was left incomplete, or they were in a shoddy condition.

The State government had entered into the SSA with the NHAI a decade and a half ago, on the agency’s assurance that there would be a quantitative and qualitative improvement of NH corridors in Kerala if it was permitted to collect toll.

“The government must either suspend the SSA till the NHAI and its contractors repaired roads and allied infra, or it must temporarily take over the stretches, execute repair work and claim refund of the amount from the NHAI,” said Upendra Narayanan, an expert who was associated with road safety initiatives, mainly in Kerala and Tamil Nadu, and was associated with ensuring fast and safe commuting on the Edappally-Mannuthy NH a decade ago.

The NHAI, which has been collecting toll ranging up to ₹44 lakh a day in the corridor, is duty-bound to ensure the safety of motorists and pedestrians. Toll collection is going on unabated, despite many mandatory works, including on service roads, pending. The rainy weather is not an excuse, since patch works using cold-mix bitumen can be done in such inclement weather, he added.

Kochi-based NGO Janapaksham has, in the meantime, offered to extend free legal aid to motorists who suffer damage to vehicles or meet with accidents due to potholes on the accident-prone Edappally-Paliekkara NH stretch, on August 15 or afterwards. “This is because toll means a specific fee, not a tax, and comes with the assurance of ensuring fast and safe transit in the corridor,” said Benny Joseph, convenor of the NGO.

48-hour deadline

With the Kerala High Court and the District Collector giving the NHAI an ultimatum to complete repair work, the NHAI has directed Guruvayur Infrastructure Private Limited, the firm to which it entrusted the task of construction, upkeep and toll collection in the corridor, to complete patch work of all potholes within 48 hours. This followed a spree of protests that were held at the toll plaza in Paliekkara, on Monday.

The firm has been directed to chip away loose ends of potholes and to patch them afresh to ensure the durability of repair work. NHAI officials will do site inspections on Tuesday and Wednesday, considering media reports of there being areas where there were 23 potholes within a 20-metre stretch, official sources said.

Members of the public have been requested to share details of potholes over the NHAI’s toll-free number 1033.


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Printable version | Aug 9, 2022 12:08:44 am | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/kerala/nh-accidents-call-to-suspend-pact-permitting-toll-collection-on-highways/article65746676.ece