India puts on hold proposed hike in road toll charges as elections approach

FILE PHOTO: Vehicles pass through a toll plaza in Gurgaon on the outskirts of New Delhi

By Manoj Kumar

NEW DELHI (Reuters) -India on Monday put on hold a proposed hike in road toll charges, in a move that will be welcomed by millions of motorists, truckers and commercial vehicle owners just ahead of a general election.

The annual hike in road toll charges would have benefited highway operators like IRB Infrastructure Developers and Ashok Buildcon Ltd while putting an extra burden on commuters and businesses who could see freight rates rise as a result.

"The revision of user fee (toll) rates with effect from April 1 has been put on hold after taking permission from the Election Commission," a senior official at National Highways Authority of India told Reuters.

India will hold a general election in seven phases from April 19 to early June. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his regional allies are aiming for a comfortable win against an alliance of two dozen opposition parties.

Highway operators have already put notices in local newspapers about hikes in toll charges of 3% to 5% at nearly 1,100 toll plazas from April 1. Toll charges are revised annually in line with inflation.

Opposition parties and commuters had criticised the proposed toll hikes as both tolls and fuel prices have gone up significantly since Modi came to office.

The government says hikes in toll charges and taxation on fuel products help pay for the expansion of national highways.

Separately, the election commission also allowed the government to put on hold the proposed annual hike in electricity tariffs till the completion of the election process, the government statement said.

India's toll collections have jumped to more than 540 billion rupees ($6.5 billion) in the 2022/23 fiscal year from 252 billion in 2028/19, helped by a rise in road traffic as well as by increases in the number of toll plazas and charges.

($1 = 83.3600 Indian rupees)

(Reporting by Manoj Kumar; Editing by Hugh Lawson)