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Free ride on 2-lane roads

New Delhi, Dec. 19: The Centre will not collect toll from two-lane highways, a move that would have meant higher costs for motorists but more revenue for the exchequer.

The “in-principle” decision comes ahead of elections in Delhi, Karnataka, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh next year, followed by the Lok Sabha elections in 2014.

“Providing people a two-lane road is the government’s minimum responsibility. We cannot tax the public for it,” said a senior ministry official. Minister C.P. Joshi has green-lighted the decision, which will also cover two-lane roads built in the future.

The decision caps a debate raging since 2007 on whether users should foot the bill on highways that are widened to two lanes. The proposal was mooted to not just recover the cost of construction but also to ensure funds for maintenance and repairs.

Two-lane highways outnumber those with four or more lanes built by the National Highways Authority of India in the country.

The Centre plans to widen 3,770km of single-lane national highways into two lanes by 2014. Over half of the stretch will be in Arunachal. Bihar is the second, followed by Madhya Pradesh. The expansion will cover 33 different stretches in the three states.

So far, toll was collected from those two-lane highways that cost at least Rs 2.5 crore per km to build.

The ministry had planned to amend the National Highways Fee Rules, 2008, to remove the expenditure clause and use the width of a road as the parameter. It had moved a cabinet note saying the width should be 3.5 metres in each lane (7 metres for the full road) for toll to be collected.

If implemented, the move would have brought down the number of tolled highways by 50 per cent as few two-lane highways in the country now have such width.

The Planning Commission, though, had been pushing for all two-lane roads to be tolled to ensure the government generates more revenue.