Highway Nests: political might comes home to roost

The move by the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) to set up ‘Highway Nests’, kiosks providing packaged food and drinks at toll plazas, has hit a wall as individuals with political influence are lobbying to run the business at kiosks reserved for government agencies. DH file photo

The move by the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) to set up ‘Highway Nests’, kiosks providing packaged food and drinks at toll plazas, has hit a wall as individuals with political influence are lobbying to run the business at kiosks reserved for government agencies.

It was in January that NHAI announced setting up of the ‘Nests’ at entry and exit of toll plazas across the country. Accordingly, NHAI officials in Karnataka planned 50 kiosks at 33 toll plazas.

The small shops are aimed at helping travellers on a long journey as well as truck drivers who spend days and nights on the road.

“Each kiosk costs Rs 8 lakh to Rs 10 lakh, including the expenditure on the installation of water and electricity utilities. As per guidelines, the kiosks should be handed over to government agencies. The idea is to sell drinking water, tea/coffee and packaged food to commuters,” a senior NHAI official said.

Accordingly, NHAI has handed over responsibility to run the kiosks to Karnataka Milk Federation (KMF). But officials have come under pressure as individuals are using political influence to run business at kiosks.

“The kiosk is rent free and there is no charge for electricity and water. So, many people are lobbying to get them. Toll plaza concessionaires and local residents who have the backing of MLAs and MPs are pressuring us,” an NHAI official said.

At present, only eight toll Nests are operational at plazas in Hosapete and Bengaluru. The officials have decided “not to bow down to such tactics” and operationalise the remaining 42 in the next few months. “We are committed to establishing Highway Nests as they are part of passenger amenities. This will be done as per the guidelines,” another official said.

The kiosk at Electronics City toll plaza has come up at a cost of Rs 10 lakh. “At remote places, the cost may even go up. Providing kiosks to government agencies not only assures the quality of food and beverages, but is also aimed at promoting their products,” an official said.

Sources in KMF acknowledged the problem in setting up shop in the kiosks, but said they have not faced political pressure. “People who already have shops near toll plazas are not happy with Highway Nests. But we have not faced political pressure,” the source said.

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