My latest column in The Asian Age and Deccan Chronicle

The tragic toll tale
Sep 27, 2011

Patralekha Chatterjee

India’s creaky infrastructure is in desperate need of upgradation; Public-private partnerships are the answer; Big-ticket initiatives are in the pipeline. Without better infrastructure, India is unlikely to ever make it to the A-list of the global economy. All this is well-known, and oft-repeated. But recent events show that the infrastructure policy has to take on board new risks and challenges. A key concern is the safety and security of the foot soldiers of the infrastructure industry. They are often among the most vulnerable.
Take toll roads as an example. The toll industry is growing briskly. There is a lot of emphasis on efficient toll collection, an important aspect of managing road projects. The National Highway Authority of India loses almost `300 crore, or 15 per cent of its toll revenue, due to pilferage at manual toll booths every year, according to official estimates. Industry observers say that since toll is mostly collected in cash, it is tough to account for every rupee. Often, lower than expected revenues are attributed to power outages, faulty machines and theft. Private companies involved in road projects are trying hard to plug leakages, by slowly shifting from manually-operated toll booths to those that use smart cards or tags.
But there is another side to this story. Several attacks on toll booths and their attendants over the past year show that building a road and checking for fraud is only part of the job. Making it safe for everyone, including the toll-booth attendant, is the crucial bit that remains. Last week, the picture got grimmer with a murder………………..

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