Mumbai News

Activists file complaint over illegal toll collection on Mumbai-Pune Expressway – The Hindu

A complaint has been filed with the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) against top authorities of the Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation (MSRDC) and Public Works Department (PWD) over fraudulent tender processing and illegal toll collection for over three years along the Mumbai-Pune Expressway.

The complaint filed by Thane-based lawyer-activist Praveen Wategaonkar and Pune-based activist Sanjay Shirodkar names as accused MSRDC managing director Radhyeshyam Mopalwar and PWD secretary Manoj Saunik.

According to the complaint, the Cabinet Infrastructure Committee (CIC), in a meeting in December 2018, directed the PWD and the MSRDC to take permission of the Bombay High Court as per its judgment in a public interest litigation (PIL) filed earlier before appointing a contractor for a period of more than three years for toll collection along the expressway. The construction firm, Ideal Road Builders, had been awarded the contract of operation, maintenance and toll collection of the e-way from 2004 to 2019.

The PIL had been filed earlier by Mr. Wategaonkar and Mr. Shirodkar along with noted Pune-based RTI activist Vivek Velankar, who heads the Sajag Nagrik Manch, and another activist, Shrinivas Ghanekar. The PIL details the allegedly excess toll revenue collected for the earlier 15-year contract for the period 2004-2019.

“The State government as well as the MSRDC in its compliance report of the Public Enterprises Committee earlier had admitted that the project cost for the expressway would be recovered by 2022, and that the toll collection would have stopped as per an earlier High Court order,” said Mr. Wategaonkar.

As per the complaint, Mr. Mopalwar and Mr. Saunik allegedly undertook the tendering process for the period between August 2019 and April 2030 allegedly in violation of the CIC’s directive and without taking the permission of the High Court or disclosing the recoverable project cost as of August 2019.

“On June 20 last year, Mr. Mopalwar had sought permission from Mr. Saunik to undertake the tender process for a period of 10 years and two months. On August 1, 2019, the PWD had granted permission for it. In response to an RTI query, the Planning Department had stated that no CIC meeting was held from June 20 to August 1, 2019,” said Mr. Wategaonkar, while noting that the Planning Department, in the RTI response, also stated that an administrative department could not take a different decision than the one directed by CIC.

“Both MSRDC and PWD have not disclosed the balance recoverable cost to the competent authority [CIC] for post-tender approval, while finalising toll contract for a period of more than three years. As per the Motor Vehicle Tax Act, toll can be levied only to recover balance recoverable project cost,” said Mr. Wategaonkar.

The PIL filed earlier by the four activists had alleged that the IRB had collected ₹6,786 crore as toll revenue against a cash flow of ₹4,330 crore finalised at the time of the tender process in 2004. Thus, the construction firm had collected excess toll revenue to the tune of ₹2,456 crore, according to the PIL.

The complaint further cites the Comptroller and Auditor General as having pointed out in a 2005 report of the “irregularities and arbitrariness in the toll collection and tendering procedure” of the expressway toll collection contracts.

On his part, Mr. Mopalwar, speaking to a vernacular daily, has refuted the allegations in the complaint filed by the activists, remarking that the MSRDC was legally entitled to recover the expressway project costs by collecting toll revenue till April 2030.