The economic and environmental cost of the toll plazas on the Delhi-Gurgaon expressway far outweighs the cost of eliminating them, according to various environmental and road engineering experts.
The high level of pollutants accumulating in the area due to the long waiting time at the toll plaza poses a threat to the overall air quality as well as health of the people who are constantly exposed to it. Experts believe that toll attendants are at maximum risk.
“There are two basic elements: First, there is wastage of fuel as vehicles are burning fuel without covering any distance. Second, there is concentration of pollutants in the air due to vehicular emissions,” says Dr RK Pachauri, director general, The Energy and Resource Institute (TERI).
A study on the expressway conducted by a fellow of the Indian Railways Institute of Transport and Management, Lucknow, in June, states: “The economic cost of the congestion due to wastage of time, fuel etc must be accounted. Even by most conservative estimates, it will be around Rs 5 crore per month which is increasing on daily basis. The concessionaire is earning Rs 18 crore per month. However, the interest of one entity cannot be larger than overall public interest.”
Doctors also express concern about the health hazards due to the toll plaza. Increased global warming due to carbon emissions is a cause of various ailments like respiratory diseases and cancer. According to Dr Lokesh Abrol, medical and environmental consultant, “Besides other chemicals, sulphur dioxide and benzene is emitted which are the major causes of asthma and cancer.
The wait at the toll plaza also leads to mental stress which is one of the factors leading to rise in incidences of lifestyle diseases like diabetes and blood pressure. Traffic flow at the toll plaza in Gurgaon should either be smooth or must be removed.”
Based on this premise, various estimates suggest that the cost of fuel wasted, environmental degradation, health hazards as well as the loss of time would together amount to a large economic impact which does not justify the toll paid. The mindless burning of fossil fuel is only adding to the alarming rate of their depletion, according to experts.
“A 2006 study on road congestion in Delhi suggests that this results in nearly 30% increase in fuel consumption, three to four-fold rise in emissions and an average loss of nearly two-and-a-half hours of productive time per day for commuters. Considering the vehicle boom in the last few years and development of Gurgaon, the environmental impact is obviously huge here as well,” says Dr Annapurna Vancheswaran, director, Sustainable Development Outreach, TERI.
Dr Rohit Baluja, president, Institute of Road Traffic Education, explains that the purpose of a expressway is to reduce travel time. “This purpose is defeated if the waiting time is not minimised. The toll plaza design should be changed and implementation should be scientific. The government could either remove the toll plaza and compensate the concessionaire for the losses or find an alternative,” Baluja said.