|By Prasannakumary Raghavan||May 7|
On April 28, two days after the South African government decided to postpone the e-toll collection on the Gauteng highway by one month, Judge Bill Prinsloo of the Pretoria High Court passed a prohibitive order to block the collection pending a final court decision on the matter. This final decision may take months or years according to the experts.
Judge Prinsloo was acting on an interdict brought over by the Opposition to Urban Tolling Alliance (Outa), South Africa.
The following statements in Judge Prinsloo’s judgment would give the readers the considerations behind his judgment.
“I am inspired by the fact that the dispute has enjoyed nationwide prominence and debate. It is important for some form of clarity to be received,” he said.
About Outa’s effort he mentioned: “After careful considerations of the arguments, the applicant has managed to cross this hurdle. I am persuaded that the applicants have managed a prima facie case to have the decisions reviewed.”
He also considered the road users suffering in making the extra payment” the decision to e-toll was unreasonable because road users would be required to pay more for the collection of tolls than they did for the actual road upgrades.
Another consideration was the lack of transparency; “Sanral has refused to disclose, despite invitation, the true costs of e-tolls or the contract with the ETC(Electronic Toll Collection) -joint venture.” (Sanral is the national road construction company that was going to collect the toll in the Gauteng highway.
Toll collections in India and South Africa have similarities and contradictions. In both countries the matter is revolving around unscrupulous privatisation of road development and its ‘unreasonable’ impacts on the road users- the public.
However, in South Africa it ‘enjoyed national wide prominence and debate’. They centered around questions on transparency in the actual spending and the fairness in contracting. All political parties including the ruling and the opposition took active participation in it. All unanimously welcomed Judge Pinsloo’s judement on toll collection.
COSATU (Congress of the South Africa, which is in partnership alliance with the ruling ANC (African National Congress) Party welcomed the judgment saying, “We hope that the e-toll system will be abandoned forever … The system has proved to be unpopular and impossible to collect,”.
In India too there are signs of similar public protest. It is in response to a PIL case that the Supreme Court of India questioned the Policy on toll collection on the under-construction Gurgaon-Delhi highway.
But it is a matter of concern in the case of Palliakkara Kerala, that the protesters – the majority among the road users- enjoy no support from the political parties both – ruling and opposition. The ruling UDF is an alliance among the cultural minorities in Kerala. The opposition L.DF is also an alliance party, the Indian Communist Party (Marxist) being the major player in it. It is rumored that individuals from both alliances enjoy high stakes in the construction companies.
In the market driven globalisation, government finds public-private-partnership an effective option for the much needed infrastructure development. BOT is such as partnership initiative. Consequently the private can be selfish, and uncaring to the public in their crave for profit. So a balancing between these two interest is a must. That can only be effectively achieved by an informed and enlightened public