Whenever grilled about the success of the cashless tag scheme, the Delhi-Gurgaon Expressway concessionaire tends to hide behind the argument that it has always tried to promote the use of the smart tags. But the reality is far removed from the claim.
In 2011, the operator, Delhi-Gurgaon Super Connectivity Ltd (DGSCL), imported 73,000 tags from a Vienna-based company. The company had written a letter to the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) on February 18, 2011, saying, “The import of E-Tags which are part of the toll equipment has been done for use of the commuters of the Delhi-Gurgaon section of National Highway-8 from KM-14.3 to KM-42 and is not intended for any commercial purpose or resale.”
And, here comes the contradiction. “Tags were issued to commuters even before 2011, but at a cost. When the concessionaire has imported the tags under the garb of toll equipment and has declared them to be not for profit, how can it sell them to the people? The tags had to be issued free of cost,” says RTI activist Mahendra Singh whose RTI application elicited the above mentioned information. However, the concessionaire interprets the “not for commercial use” clause in contrast to Singh’s contention.
“As per the arrangement, these tags are to be used internally for the Delhi-Gurgaon Expressway project and cannot be resold commercially to any other project. All tags imported by us have been used only on the expressway and no commercial resale has happened. The amount being charged for tags is an administrative fee, whereas for smart cards which we are promoting now are distributed free of cost,” said a DGSCL spokesperson. But the concessionaire also went on record to give contradictory statements.
In a letter to the NHAI, Gurgaon dated December 16, 2008, DGSCL said, “One-time cost of `1,500 will be charged to the users, being the cost of each tag (on a no profit no loss basis).” What started as “not for any commercial purpose or resale” melted down to charging the cost of the tags “on a no profit no loss basis”.
Split toll data erratic
Meanwhile, as per information furnished by the NHAI in response to another RTI application asking for traffic details between January 9, 2013 and January 20, 2013, the split toll plazas —intended to increase the clearance of vehicles at the Sirhaul toll plaza — has ostensibly come a cropper against the claims of DGSCL.
Out of the 12 days considered in the RTI response, for seven days the data showed no vehicles crossing the split plaza from both sides, while on one day there appeared no record of vehicles crossing from Gurgaon to Delhi via the split plaza.
DGSCL claimed that the split toll plazas have regularly been working, but the data have been integrated to the main toll plaza only since August, 2013.
But, as per data furnished by the NHAI, no vehicles on record passed through the split plazas for four days between January 13 and January 16, which exceeds the 2/3-day period for data collation. Figure this: on January 9, nearly 87,000 vehicles passed through the main toll plaza on the Gurgaon-Delhi side, out of which 3,734 used the split toll plaza, but on the next day no vehicle passed through the split plaza even as the total volume passing through the main toll plaza remained the same.
The efficacy of the split toll plazas, if DGSCL’s argument of data bunching for days together is considered, can be gauged from the fact that in five days from January 13 to January 17, only 714 vehicles passed through the split plaza from Gurgaon to Delhi when the volume of total traffic remained between 64,000 and 86,000.
“The split toll plazas mostly do not work as the concessionaire has not got the infrastructure to operate these. The company tries to cut its expenses on manpower, power bills, etc by keeping the split plazas closed,” said Asim Takyar, a Gurgaon-based RTI activist.