The builder collected toll for 13 years and nine months

Toll collection over the Mattancherry BOT bridge will end on Sunday, bringing down curtains over the first Build-operate-and-Transfer (BOT) bridge project in Kerala.

The bridge project shot into spotlight in 2001 over the alleged inflated project cost and subsequent imposition of unprecedented toll rate on motorists. The bridge’s builder company Gammon Infrastructure Projects Ltd. collected toll for 13 years and nine months, on the basis of an agreement signed with the State government and Greater Cochin Development Authority (GCDA).

“The toll booth will be locked on Sunday evening at a function which will be attended by people’s representatives and those representing residents and trade bodies, NGOs. We will formally take over the bridge and go ahead with its maintenance and upkeep,” said N. Venugopal, the Chairman of GCDA on Friday.

The builder firm had stated that it collected Rs 43.94 crore as toll since 2001, he said.

Problems arose after the ‘return toll’ clause in the agreement between GCDA and Gammon was converted to ‘multiple toll’ in 2001. Bus and taxi car operators protested the multiple toll move citing huge increase in operational expenses as they plied multiple trips through the bridge each day.

Following this, the then UDF government had agreed to extend the toll period by six years and pay Rs 1.50 crore per year for that period to Gammon. This decision was scrapped by LDF government which insisted that toll should end as per the initial agreement.

The builder firm which cited Rs. 25.80 crore as the cost of constructing the bridge and toll collection, claimed Rs. 67 crore as compensation before the arbitration panel. They cited annual compensation of Rs 1.50 crore for a period of 20 years - the ‘loss of expected revenue’ for six years and interest for the 13-year toll period.

‘Settlement for Rs. 30 crore’

Knowing that giving this much of government funds to the firm would invite public wrath, GCDA tried to scale down compensation to around Rs. 30 crore. The Finance Department was reportedly opposed to this ‘high’ an amount as compensation.

A Vigilance probe was ordered into the issue after social activist Khalid Mundapilly alleged that vested interests, including that of politicians, were behind the imposition of the hefty toll on motorists.

Alleging that there was a conspiracy behind moves to pay an ‘inflated’ amount as compensation to the builder company, he cited Accountant General pointing out anomalies in toll collection in the 2003 audit report as proof that efforts were made to understate the amount collected as toll.

On its part, Gammon contended that toll rates were fixed since the bridge was commissioned and not increased each year based on the variations in the wholesale price index (WPI).

Kundanoor-Thevara bridge

Mr. Venugopal demanded that Public Works Department (NH wing) stop toll collection over 18-year-old Kundanoor-Thevara bridge since toll cannot be collected beyond 14 years as per Central rules. “The toll collection on either side of the bridge is illegal,” he said.

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