Activists question decision to extend toll collection on Mumbai-Pune Expressway

Mumbai Pune expressway at Lonavala.  

Activists have questioned the Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation’s (MSRDC) decision to extend the period of toll collection on the Mumbai-Pune Expressway and urged the government to discontinue it, contending that the project’s cost has already been recovered.

The 15-year concession agreement, signed in 2004 between the MSRDC and Ideal Road Builders (IRB) Infrastructure Developers, which maintains and operates the e-way, expires next month.

The MSRDC has claimed that it is yet to recover the cost of constructing the expressway and hence would continue collecting the levy till April 2030.

Activists have alleged lack of transparency in the IRB’s collection, and that the firm has exceeded the terms of the contract.

“The expressway has already paid for itself. The agreement for toll collection, signed on August 8, 2004, had a recoverable cost ₹4,356 crore, which includes the toll collection and other expenses of both the expressway and the old Mumbai-Pune road. But as per statistics, the contractor has already collected at least ₹6,000 crore till now,” Thane-based lawyer-activist Pravin Wategaonkar said.

He said the State has no right to burden citizens with toll as its expenditure cost on the project has already been recovered. Alleging that the tender the MSRDC had floated was flawed from the start, he said the CAG in its report on the expressway had instructed the MSRDC to increase the value of the tender [finally awarded to the IRB].

Right to Information (RTI) activist Vivek Velankar, who heads ‘Sajag Nagrik Manch’, said the original terms of the agreement between the MSRDC and the IRB were nebulous and murky.

“This was the first-ever toll contract in the country. Yet, the agreement was not in the public domain. Furthermore, there were no records available of just how the toll was collected by the IRB for more than a decade since the agreement,” he said.

Mr. Velankar had in 2015 sought details from the Information Commission, which helped bring the agreement and the toll collection records into public domain.

He said as per data from the daily toll collection statistics put up on the MSRDC website, the monthly average toll collected for the expressway and the old Mumbai-Pune road amounts to ₹50 crore a month.

“The annual toll collection average comes to ₹600 crore. This means since the records are in the public domain, the collection in the last three-and-a-half years alone has exceeded ₹1,800 crore. How can the MSRDC claim it has not recovered the expenditure cost?” said Mr. Velankar, who has written to Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis seeking the scrapping of toll on the expressway.

He alleged that the MSRDC blindly accepts the toll collection records given to it by the IRB, and questioned the firm’s figures of collecting levy from alleged ‘traffic violators’ who apparently do not pay toll.

“We had filed a PIL in the Bombay High Court on this issue in 2017, questioning the IRB’s claims that it collected toll from thousands of ‘violators’ daily. We had said that such a high number of ‘violations’ was not possible. Typically, if there were an average 10,000 vehicles passing through the expressway, the IRB would show 3,000 ‘violators’, who refused to pay toll, and 1,000 exceptions, which included VIP vehicles. However, the firm has failed to provide records [vehicular number plates] or any basis of how it calculated these figures,” Mr. Velankar said.

City-based RTI activist Vijay Kumbhar said the expressway has exposed the corruption between the contractor and the government. “The maintenance cost can easily come from the road tax and the others already being imposed. Why do we need an extension of the toll tax for the expressway?” asked Mr. Kumbhar, adding the CAG had stressed that the MSRDC would not be able to recover the project cost unless it increased its tender value floated in 2004.

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Printable version | May 1, 2021 8:37:55 PM |

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