The second wave of Covid-19 pandemic has adversely impacted highway toll collections across India, according to ICRA Ltd.
Collections during the second wave fell by around 10% in April over a month ago and is estimated to decline by 25-30% sequentially in May, the rating agency, which studied toll data for 29 projects across 11 states between March 1 and May 10, said in a note.
“Despite the lack of a nationwide stringent lockdown or toll suspensions, regional restrictions imposed in several states, along with the increase in wariness, has negatively affected the people movement in the past few weeks,” it said.
With continued rise in number of Covid-19 cases in May and stringent lockdowns imposed by states to contain the infection, contraction in toll collections has been much sharper in May, Rajeshwar Burla, co-group head and vice president of corporate ratings at ICRA, was quoted as saying.
He, however, expects the situation to improve. “With fall in number of Covid-19 cases from third week of May, the states are expected to relax lockdown restrictions in a gradual manner,” Burla said. “We expect toll collections to ramp up from June.”
Burla said revenue of toll roads would improve. “Despite hitting a speed breaker in the form of second wave of Covid; toll road projects are expected to witness low teen revenue growth in FY2022 on the back of low base and inflation-linked increase in toll rates.”
- Maharashtra is the worst hit state, where lockdown restrictions started earlier than other states. As a result the contraction in its toll collections was higher in April.
- For Rajasthan, most of the projects in sample have higher proportion of passenger vehicle traffic as they cater to tourist destinations. The impact on toll collections has been much sharper due to the restrictions.
- For Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka, the reduction remained comparatively moderate as these stretches are largely used by commercial traffic.
- The month-on-month contraction rose in April and May, with sharper dip on weekends as some states imposed weekend lockdowns.
- Although the fall in toll collections has been across vehicle categories, the impact has been severe on the passenger vehicle and bus categories amid strict restrictions imposed on people movement by various states.
ICRA said this time the impact on toll collection is expected to be less severe when compared to last year. “Unlike the earlier wave where there was a nationwide lockdown and toll suspension; this time the nature of lockdowns is more regional with relaxations to both manufacturing and construction activities and movement of goods,” it said.
Burla said unlike the first wave, no compensation against toll revenue loss was announced by the authorities yet and is unlikely to be covered under concession agreements, too. “However, the rebound in traffic is expected to be much faster as compared to first wave which took almost 5-6 months to reach pre-Covid levels,” he said. “Majority of the road projects rated by ICRA in investment grade categories have 3 to 6 months of debt service reserve account and are adequately placed to withstand the current impact.”