Either drivers were blissfully unaware of the requirement or they hadn’t bothered to get one installed in their vehicle.
Chaos rules on the national highways as confused or angry commuters grapple with the enforcement of FASTags across the toll plazas. Some struggle with cash while others paid hefty penalties for a seamless movement on the roads.
Traffic on Kherki-Daula, one of the busiest toll plazas located on National Highway 8 and connecting the National Capital Region with Mumbai, was slower than usual as cars struggled to zip past the barrier after it became a cashless passage from February 16.
The ministry of road transport and highways has made all toll plazas across the country cashless. The toll collection system is now electronic. Essentially, it has become mandatory for vehicles to have a FASTag to move effortlessly on the national highways. Without a FASTag, the vehicle owner has to pay double the toll amount as penalty to pass through the plaza.
Pramod Kumar, 45, was seated in his SUV with his wife and mother when his car was stopped at the Kherki-Daula toll plaza. He didn’t have a FASTag and scoffed at Poonam, 25, an employee with the agency managing the toll plaza. On hearing of the penalty, Kumar became agitated.
“Whenever something like this happens, we call our seniors. Some people argue with us a lot,” said Poonam. Though she has no precise figures, her estimate is that half the cars that pass through her booth during a day lack FASTags.
When Kumar continued to argue, Poonam had to call on a senior colleague, Jawan Singh, to make Kumar understand the new rule. He paid Rs 130, double the toll tax, and, still fuming, crossed the barrier.
“These scenes have become common for us since the FASTags became compulsory. People argue and shout and sometimes resort to abuse and violence. Even officers from the paramilitary forces like ITBP and CRPF and even Delhi Police ask for exemption. We have been told that on this highway only army officers and Haryana state officials are exempted from toll. No one else,” said Singh who works for the toll plaza management company.
That Kumar was not the only driver not to know about the FASTags became clear during the 45 minutes that Business Standard spent at the toll plaza. Either drivers were blissfully unaware of the requirement or they hadn’t bothered to get one installed in their vehicle.
The lack of FASTags has become a business opportunity for banks. Drivers who turn up with no FASTtag can buy the digital tag from the many volunteers who have been recruited by the banks and positioned at the entrance to the poll plazas to sell them.
Several volunteers, belonging to different banks and payment platforms, could be seen jostling with each other to entice car owners. They are paid a lump sum every month.
Shubham Tiwari, 23, works for Paytm and managed to sell 150 FASTags over the past week, a massive pick-up from about 20-25 tags earlier.
“We have been selling these tags for the last few months but the sale has picked up only after the government made it compulsory to have one installed in the vehicle,” said Tiwari.
Paytm offers a full recharge of a Rs 150 tag. Banks such as IDFC, ICICI, and IndusInd Bank have no such offers.
“Our Rs 150 tag comes with a Rs 100 recharge whereas Paytm offers full value. The customers opt for that payment gateway when they hear about the offer,” said a dejected Ajay Yadav who works for IndusInd Bank.
Some volunteers also face scepticism when it comes to the purchase or recharge of the FASTags.
“Drivers don’t trust us. They are not confident of buying them us. They would rather pay double the tax and penalty,” said Ankit Sharma, a volunteer with ICICI Bank.
A similar situation existed at the Badarpur border toll plaza where the customer response to the FASTags was sluggish.
“The customer response to the FASTag sale on the toll plaza is slow because 95 per cent of the commercial vehicle owners already have them and passenger vehicle owners are in no hurry to buy them,” said Uttam Chavan who works for MEP Infra, the company that manages the toll plaza at Badarpur border.
The ministry has made a FASTag mandatory for two categories of vehicles. The M category which includes vehicles with at least four wheels and used for carrying passengers, ie, your average car.
The second is the N category which includes vehicles with at least four wheels and used for carrying goods. The latter, in addition, may carry people as well.