On December 12, several posts on social were circulating with that claim that advocates/lawyers are exempted from paying toll fee on National Highways. One such post was shared by Twitter user @StratMan001 along with an image of a purported letter from Sanket Bhondve, Private Secretary to the Minister of Road Transport and Highways. @StratMan001 wrote, “Wah! No toll for lawyers all over India…but it pinches if the same concession has to be given to Veterans.”

Alt News has received several requests on WhatApp and its official app to verify the claim.

Fact-check

Alt News did a keyword search “lawyers toll fee” on Google and found a December 11 news report by Times of India which states that lawyers and doctors are seeking exemption from paying toll fee. According to the report, on December 3, Chennai-based advocate R Baskaradoss received an acknowledgement from the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways (MORTH) about his request to exempt advocates from paying toll tax.

Fact-check 1: Are lawyers exempted from paying toll tax?

On December 12, Press Information Bureau of India (PIB) tweeted that the letter doing the rounds on social media is fake – “#PIBFactCheck Claim: A Letter is being circulated on Social Media, stating that all Lawyers in India are exempted from paying Toll Fees Reality: #NHAI has clarified that as per NH fee rules lawyers are not exempted from paying Toll Fees Conclusion: #FakeNews”

Similarly, the official account of the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) tweeted, “NHAI clarifies that the user fee collection on National Highways is governed by NH fee rules. As per these rules, Advocates are not exempted from paying user fee (Toll) in NH Fee plazas. @MORTHIndia @MORTHRoadSafety @ihmcl_official”

This tweet was retweeted by the official twitter account of the MORTH,

Fact-check 2: The viral letter

Alt News searched the keywords “lawyers exempted from payment of toll tax” on Facebook and found a post from December 11 by Vasu Vaswani, who identifies himself as a Bhopal-based advocate. Vaswani posted a letter similar to the one viral on social media. This letter, signed by Bhondve, was addressed to R Baskaradoss, an advocate in the Madras High Court. The letter stated that the MORTH has received Baskaradoss’s a letter dated 13.11.2019 which requested that advocates be enlisted in the exempted list from paying toll tox on National Highways. It also requested that “the advocates passing the National Highways may be permitted to proceed without payment of toll tax on production of identity card issued by the State Bar Council.”

Vaswani shared the letter with the caption, “Lawyers of Madras has initiated action for exemption of advocates from payment of toll tax and in response to their representation, Minster of Road Transport and Highways, Govt. of India, has forwarded the letter of advocates to the Chairman, NHAI for taking necessary action. Hope will yield result in the matter.”

A close look at this letter revealed that it is dated the same as the viral letter. Furthermore, the Ministry’s acknowledge is also dated identically and the angle of the handwritten acknowledgement is the same.

(Left to right) Viral image, Image posed by Vasu Vaswani

Alt News could not independently verify the letter shared by Vaswani however its content matches with the report by Times of India.

Therefore, the claim on social media about lawyers/advocates exempted for toll fee on National Highways is false.

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About the Author

Archit is a senior fact-checking journalist at Alt News. Previously, he has worked as a producer at WION and as a reporter at The Hindu. In addition to work experience in media, he has also worked as a fundraising and communication manager at S3IDF.