NHAI invites bids to replace ex-armymen at toll plazas

New Delhi: In a move that has raised the hackles of 25,000 ex-servicemen manning highway toll plazas, the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) has invited bids to rope in private agencies for the job.

"The process of procurement of user fee collection agency by calling open competitive bids is to be started with immediate effect," NHAI said in its guidelines, issued on June 22.

As expected, the move has not gone down well with ex-servicemen, who collect user charges on behalf of NHAI at about 150 plazas on different highways.

"We met Defence Minister A K Antony, who assured us that he would take up the matter with Highways Minister Kamal Nath. We intend to meet Prime Minister Manmohan Singh shortly," Ex- Servicemen Association (ESA) secretary general HS Choudhary said.

He said that toll plazas were alloted to ex-servicemen in 2004 through the Directorate General (Rehabilitation). They had enhanced toll collection by 80 per cent since then, he said.

"Disbanding ex-servicemen and auctioning the plazas has come as a shock to us," he said.

When asked for his reaction, NHAI chairman Brijeshwar Singh said that ex-servicemen were roped in on an ad hoc basis. "Now, we have decided on a rational policy. We want to engage professional agencies," he said.

However, Singh said that ex-servicemen would continue to man toll collection booths in disturbed areas, besides Jammu and Kashmir and North-Eastern states.

But ESA president HS Yadav countered the claim by saying that there are no toll plazas in these areas.