FASTags are now mandatory to avail discounts on return journeys or any other exemptions at toll fee plazas, for both private and commercial vehicles, the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways said in a statement on August 26. To make this possible, the Ministry made amendments to the National Highway Fee (Determination of Rates and Collection) Rules, 2008, and notified the changes in the gazette on August 24. As per the amendments:
- Discounts on return journeys made within 24 hours will be done automatically through a FASTag or “such other device”, without requiring a separate pass.
- For discounts in all other cases, having a valid FASTag is mandatory.
“This is another step towards promoting the use of digital payments on Fee Plazas of NHs [national highways]. The fee payable towards such discounts shall be paid through pre-paid instruments, smart card or through FASTag or on board unit (transponder) or any other such device only,” the Ministry said in the statement.
FASTags, originally introduced in 2014, are prepaid RFID tags which can be used to pay tolls on highways without stopping at the plaza, and the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways had mandated their use from December 15, 2019. The deadline to install FASTags was initially December 1, but it was postponed because several people hadn’t put up FASTags on their vehicles “due to various reasons”.
Madras HC had pulled up Centre over discounts only on FASTag-equipped vehicles: In March, the Madras High Court had directed the Centre and the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) to respond to a January circular that allowed discounts on return journeys only to FASTag-equipped vehicles. The January 2020 circular had come four years after the government had amended the National Highways Fee (Determination of Rates and Collection) Rules, 2008 in 2016 to include an “exclusive lane” for the movement of vehicles equipped with FASTags.
However, the petitioner had argued that the government cannot amend the 2016 rules by means of a notification, and it has to be “necessarily backed by a legislation”. The petition had also said that the January 2020 circular was discriminating between the vehicles that don’t have a FASTag and the ones that do. Also, the mode of payment (cash vs FASTag) can not be a basis for availing discounts, the petitioner argued. The case has not been resolved yet.
FASTag details to be captured during vehicle registration: In July, the Ministry had said that FASTag details will be captured each time a vehicle is registered, or is issued a fitness certificate. It also said that the National Electronic Toll Collections, which handles FASTag payments, has been completely integrated with the national vehicle registration database, Vahan, meaning that the Vahan system is now getting information on FASTags on the basis of a vehicle’s registration and identification number.
Bulk data sharing policy scrapped: In June, the Road Transport Ministry decided to scrap its controversial bulk data sharing policy which allowed the Ministry to sell Vahan (vehicles registration) and Sarthi (drivers licence) databases to companies, and educational institutions. Instead, it will now share reports generated on analysis of the data present with it, and on the basis of the Personal Data Protection Bill, 2019.