Nilekani may head panel for choosing toll technology

The government has decided to rope in IT experts, including UIDAI chairman Nandan Nilekani, to develop an India-specific technique for collection of tolls on highways.

Updated: Jan 31, 2010, 12:38 PM IST

Davos: The government has decided to rope in IT experts, including UIDAI chairman Nandan Nilekani, to develop an India-specific technique for collection of tolls on highways.

"I have requested Nandan Nilekani to head a committee as its chairman to decide on the best tolling technology, most appropriate for India," Road Transport and Highways Minister Kamal Nath told a news agency in an interview.

Nilekani had left India`s premier IT company Infosys to head the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), entrusted with the task of providing unique identification number to over one billion people in the country.

The country has embarked on a major drive to build highways, including toll roads, under the Public Private Partnership (PPP) mode.

Nath said institutions in the West, including Japan`s Nomura, have shown interest in investing in India.

He added that talks were also on with Malaysian government for roping in construction companies for the road sector.

Sources said an MoU could be signed between the NHAI and a Malaysia consortium of road firms.

India has over 70,000 km of highways and proposes to significantly enhance the network by constructing 20 km of roads every day in the next five years. Currently, NHAI has been able to put under toll about 10,000 km of highways.

About tolling system Nath said, "It should be user-friendly which will be common for all of India. We cannot have different technologies in different states," he said.

Nath, who had visited Japan recently, had also discussed the issue there with investors and officials as the country is known for one of the best tolling technologies in the world.

"Whether Japanese (tolling system) or not (will be implemented) they will decide...Nandan knows it best," Nath said when asked whether Road Ministry would adopt a Japanese technology, including electronic system under which the cars are fitted with a device ensuring automatic toll payment.

Under the Electronic Toll Collection system, the toll amount is automatically debited from a chip attached to a vehicle once it crosses toll plazas.

Earlier, the Ministry had unveiled an ambitious plan to undertake a pilot study for installing high-tech automatic toll collection systems on the highways but the same scheduled for October last year could not take off and has been deferred by six months.

The delays in pilot-testing on three road stretches -- Panipat-Jalandhar, Surat-Dahisar and Gurgaon-Kathputli were attributed to developers` lack of expertise in toll collection system and reluctance to import costly equipment.

The three pilot projects will adopt different technologies --microwaves, infra red and radio frequency—out of which the most adaptable for a nationwide roll-out will be selected by the committee.

At present, the process of crossing toll plazas is time- consuming as one requires to pay several times to complete journey on a highway stretch. Besides, different collection systems, including manual, lead to revenue leakage.

The NHAI, as per sources, suffers over Rs 1,500 crore loss annually on account of inadequate tolling. The Planning Commission has also taken note of this and has called for arresting this revenue loss.