[Update: It has come to our notice that the 3-minute rule might be applicable only on the highways in Punjab. We will roll out another article once we have clarity on the issue. Our conversation with NHAI Ludhiana office also revealed that the 3-minute rule begins once a vehicle enters the user counter and not the toll plaza queue. We have changed the title accordingly. We apologise and deeply regret basing our report only on the RTI as we deduced that it is applicable pan India since NHAI is a national authority and the RTI does not mention a particular toll plaza; which we confirmed with the RTI Activist who filed the case. Since yesterday we have been trying to reach out to NHAI, New Delhi office, but failed. We’ll keep trying till we get clarity on the issue.]
A Right To Information (RTI) application filed by Advocate Hariom Jindal revealed that the total waiting time for any vehicle at a toll plaza cannot exceed three minutes.
This means that a person travelling on roads where tolls are collected can pass free of cost if they wait in queues for more than three minutes.
“There is a total waiting time of 3 minutes. If the 3 minutes exceeds in waiting, then there is a provision to pass the vehicle free of cost,” reads the RTI reply by National Highway Authority of India (NHAI).
It also added that the maximum time for processing fee at the user counter is 30 seconds and 2 minutes 50 seconds is the time required for a vehicle to wait for its turn in the queue.
“I used to observe long queues at toll plazas and I had faced the issue multiple times. Many vehicles wait for a long time while travelling and toll collectors never disclose the correct schedule or the timings,” said Advocate Jindal to The Logical Indian.
He filed an RTI appeal addressed to NHAI in July last year and was replied to on August 29.
After clarifying his doubts about toll plazas, Advocate Jindal moved the Ludhiana Consumer Court to bring the public utility services provided by the NHAI under the jurisdiction of the Consumer Court.
Consumer Courts have the power to hear complaints against roads which are being used by a payment of fees
“This was a landmark judgement because National Highways come under the Union of India – Central government. In case you have a grievance against the central government, you can file a writ petition in the High Court under Article 226 of the Indian Constitution which gives the Courts the power to exercise jurisdiction on governments. For example, you faced an inconvenience even after paying a toll of Rs 200, you would have to go to the Court. Now, for mere Rs 200, not many file a case in the HC simply because the lawyer fees itself will be Rs 1 lakh minimum. Also, suppose someone is based in Gurgaon, they will not want to go all the to Chandigarh to file a case,” said Advocate Jindal.
“I lodged a complaint against the public utility services offered by NHAI for a fee. The toll collected is not a tax. We already pay taxes. This is a fee that we pay for a service provided to us. So when we pay a user charge, it means that we are making a consideration, hence this should come under the Consumer Court which is at the district level, hence the cost to hire a lawyer is much less than that of a High Court. So my contention before the HC was that issues pertaining to National Highways must be brought under the jurisdiction of the Consumer Forum. But even the forum wasn’t ready for such cases. So I fought and put forward my point. This was in 2017 itself. The district consumer forum finally gave a judgement on jurisdiction – Consumer Courts have the power to hear complaints against roads which are being used by a payment of fees,” he continued.
Because of Advocate Jindal’s appeals, it is now clear that any vehicle that waits in queues for more than 3 minutes at toll plazas does not have to pay the toll; and any inconvenience faced by travellers on roads where a fee is collected can be taken to the Consumer Forum.
Currently, he is also fighting a case against NHAI and SOMA – the contractor for building and maintaining roads. “The issue at hand is potholes and the matter is pending before the Court,” he said. He had filed the case after facing inconvenience when the tires of his car burst due to bad roads when he was travelling on the Delhi-Ludhiana Highway.
The Logical Indian community thanks Advocate Hariom Jindal for taking the initiative to seek an information crucial to all of us. We hope that case against bad quality roads also works in his favour as it will not only be beneficial to him but to daily commuters at large.