The Bombay high court on Monday directed the Maharashtra anti-corruption bureau (ACB) to complete its open inquiry into the Kharghar toll plaza scam within the next three months.
A division bench of justices Ranjit More and Anuja Prabhudessai ordered the state not to pay the toll operating contractor dues worth Rs390 crore until the inquiry had been completed and the court was informed.
The high court was hearing a public interest litigation filed by activist Praveen Wategaonkar, who alleged that the state’s rules were flouted and a certain contractor was favoured while issuing tenders to widen the Sion-Panvel highway, maintain the Kharghar plaza and collect toll.
Earlier last month, the court had directed the ACB to look into Wategaonkar’s allegations and file an affidavit in response.
At a previous hearing, the Maharashtra government had told the court that while the ACB had conducted a preliminary inquiry, it now planned to conduct an open inquiry, which would take six months.
The bench refused to give the state an additional six months. It also questioned the need for an open inquiry when a preliminary one had been already conducted. It said the state’s request appeared to be merely a ‘delaying tactic’.
The judges had said they would “allow the open inquiry only on the condition that the state registers an offence in the case first”. However, on Monday, the state said it had started the inquiry on February 15.
The bench permitted the state to go ahead with it, provided that it completes the inquiry within the next three months and does not release payments to the contractor in charge of maintenance and collection at the toll plaza.
According to Wategaonkar’s plea, eight firms had expressed an interest in submitting bids for the Kharghar toll plaza.
However, the public works department refused to allow four of these firms to buy tender forms, required to submit a bid, as it favoured a particular contractor.
The high court is likely to take up the matter for further hearing on July 8.