Says it is illegal to permit Gamon India Ltd. to collect toll after the expiry of BOT agreement
Amid a charged atmosphere soaked in loud drum beats and sloganeering, the Greater Cochin Development Authority on Sunday took over the Mattancherry BOT Bridge, bringing down curtains on the first build-operate-and-Transfer (BOT) bridge project in Kerala.
At a brief function held here in the evening, GCDA chairman N. Venugopal sealed one of the toll booths on the bridge and declared it as toll-free, sending the crowd into raptures. The frenzy over the event was such that it even led to disruption of traffic through the bridge for nearly an hour.
“There is no question of returning to the user-fee system on this bridge,” he declared, warning that any attempts by the project developer to resume toll collection would invite sharp reactions from the common man.
Dominic Presentation, MLA, and Mayor Tony Chammany, who were present on the occasion, sealed the other two booths on the bridge.
Speaking on the occasion, the MLA said the end of toll collection on the bridge was a long-pending demand of the Kochiites and held that the BOT Bridge would be regarded as the gateway to Kochi from now. The takeover comes even as Gamon India Ltd, the agency which executed the project, has come up with the argument that the Greater Cochin Development Authority had no authority to prevent it from collecting user fee on the bridge. However, GCDA is of the view that it would be illegal for the authority to permit the company to collect toll on the bridge with the expiry of the BOT agreement.
The toll levied on BOT Bridge has always been a subject of controversy though the company maintained that the amount levied had failed to make good their investment. The bridge project shot into spotlight in 2001 over the alleged inflated project cost and subsequent imposition of unprecedented toll rate on motorists. On January 24, 2005, the then UDF government agreed to extend the agreement period for an additional six years and provide Rs. 1.5 crore per year as compensation to Gamon. However, the order was annulled by the next LDF government, which also issued another order upholding the earlier agreement period of 13 years and 9 months.
The company challenged the order in the High Court which ordered it to be settled through arbitral tribunal. As per the figures released on February 2013, the company has collected approximately Rs. 42 crore as toll.