Kerala High Court: In a writ petition seeking permission for vehicles at toll plaza to pass through without paying toll in case of disruption, V.G. Arun, J. directed the Central and State Governments to consider imposition of penalty against persons obstructing free flow of traffic.
In the instant matter, the petitioner complains about disruption in free flow of traffic even after introduction of Electronic Toll Collection (‘ETC’) system. Long queues of vehicles at the Paliyekkara Toll Plaza have become a routine according to the petitioner. Delay on the part of the Concessionaire’s staff in collecting the toll and their disputes with the drivers are resulting in traffic snarls. Hence, the petitioner seeks authoritative permission for vehicles to pass through without paying toll until normalcy is restored.
National Highways Authority of India (‘NHAI’) asserts that the delay is caused due to vehicles not fitted with Fastag, or without sufficient balance in their Fastag, attempting to pass through lanes set up for vehicles fitted with Fastag.
The petitioner seeks implementation of policy circular no. 17.5.82 dated 24-05-2021 issued by the NHAI:
“(iii) Service Time at Toll Plazas:
10.6.2 The total number of toll booths and toll lanes shall be such to ensure a service time of not more than 10 seconds per vehicle at peak flow regardless of methodology adopted for fee collection. If at any time, the queue of vehicles in any lane becomes more than 100 metres from the toll booth, then the boom barrier of that lane shall be lifted and the free flow of traffic with no tolling be allowed till the queue comes within 100m. For this purpose, a yellow line at a distance of 100 m from Toll booth be marked in each toll lane. This provision shall be prominently displayed/ informed to the users.”
The Court saidthat the instant matter regarding loss of time at Paliyekkara Toll Plaza calls for immediate intervention, considering the interests of approximately 73070 vehicles crossing the toll plaza daily, as admitted by NHAI.
The Court saidthat “any delay at any of the toll booths will have a cascading effect on movement of vehicles, thereby affecting the lives and livelihoods of commuters, who are made to pay the toll based on promise to provide hassle-free movement of vehicles through good roads.” The Court noted that NHAI and the Concessionaire are bound to device ways and means to ensure smooth and uninterpreted flow of traffic through the Paliyekkara Toll Plaza with immediate effect. In case of failure, the Court may require the authorities to give effect to the guidelines in larger public interest.
The Court thereby directed Central Government to seriously consider the following:
Whether penalty can be imposed against drivers using lanes reserved for Fastag vehicles without Fastag, or with an expired one?
Whether an appropriate amendment to Section 201 of the Motor Vehicles Act, 1998 can be brought for imposing penalty on vehicles causing obstruction to free flow of traffic at toll plazas?
The Court also directed the State Government and State Police Chief to consider:
Whether persons causing unnecessary issues and obstructions at toll booths can be proceeded against under Section 120 of Kerala Police Act, 2011 or any other provision?
[Nithin Ramakrishnan v. Union of India, WP(C) No. 31341 OF 2022, decided on 16-01-2023]
Advocates who appeared in this case :
For Petitioner: Advocate Anjali Anil A.;
For Respondents: Advocate Vidhan Chandran, Advocate Manjunath and Others.