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Thursday, Dec 12, 2019

Pune - Mumbai expressway: State’s toll rev plan not adding up for motorists

Sontakke said the existing agreement with IRB ends on August 8 after which the state government will float a fresh tender for extending the toll collection till 2030.

pune Updated: Jan 17, 2019 14:45 IST
Parth Welankar
Parth Welankar
Hindustan Times, Pune
According to RTI activist Vivek Velankar, IRB has collected Rs 5,762 crore through toll collection, as per statistics till July 2018.
According to RTI activist Vivek Velankar, IRB has collected Rs 5,762 crore through toll collection, as per statistics till July 2018.(HT FILE PHOTO )
         

Sixteen years after the launch of the Pune-Mumbai Expressway, the Maharashtra Government has failed to recover the cost of constructing the expressway, pegged at Rs 1,630 crore. Therefore, the government has decided to extend the toll collection on the expressway by another 10 years, Shashikant Sonatakke, chief engineer, Maharashtra Road Development Corporation (MSRDC) said.

This decision is, however, being questioned by activists who say that road users are being made to pay for the government’s mistake.

Based on the Toll-operate-transfer (TOT) model, in August 2004, the Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation (MSRDC) and Mhaiskar Infrastructure (MIPL) which is a SPV (special purpose vehicle) of the Ideal Road Builders (IRB) Infrastructure Developers Ltd signed a 15-year concession agreement to develop, operate and maintain the Mumbai Pune section of NH4 Project along with the Mumbai – Pune Expressway Project which gave IRB the rights of toll collection at the Express highway.

“The Pune-Mumbai express highway was constructed at a cost of Rs 1,630 crore. While the MRSDC received Rs 1301 cr from the agreement with the MIPL, the cost of construction of the project is yet to be recovered by the state government owing to which the deadline for toll collection will be extended” Sonatakke said.

According to RTI activist Vivek Velankar, IRB has collected Rs 5,762 crore through toll collection, as per statistics till July 2018. When IRB was contacted for the precise revenue generated through toll collection, the company declined to reveal the figures. It only stated that the toll collection would continue till August, 2019 as per its agreement with the MSRDC.

Sontakke said the existing agreement with IRB ends on August 8 after which the state government will float a fresh tender for extending the toll collection till 2030.

This decision to extend toll collection is being questioned by citizen-activists.

City-based RTI activist Vivek Velankar said, “It is for the government’s mistake that now the citizens will have to incur financial burden of toll payment on the express highway. It was the state government’s mistake as the toll collection and maintenance rights of the express highway was given to IRB at a cost of Rs 1301 crore instead of Rs 1630 crore which was the construction cost of the project.”

According to Velankar, it is unfair to put additional burden now on the citizens by extending toll on the express highway.

He pointed out that presently, four wheelers are charged toll of Rs 230. “But after every three years, an 18 per cent increase in this charge would mean that one will need to pay around Rs 1,000 for a two-way trip,” he said.

Questioning the original agreement between MSRDC and IRB, Thane-based activist Pravin Wategaonkar said, “The terms of the original agreement were wrong. MSRDC first of all had floated a tender with a specific value which itself was wrong. A tender cannot be floated with the basic requirement in terms of the value of the Tender. However, when IRB got the tender worth Rs 1301 cr, the CAG in its report had then instructed the MSRDC to increase the value citing the fact that the cost of construction of project was not recovered, however, all went in vain and the agreement was signed.”

MSRDC did not take any steps then despite being pointed out the loss in the agreement which has now resulted into financial burden on the citizens, he added.

City based RTI activist, Vijay Kumbhar said, “The nature of the agreement between the MSRDC and IRB has exposed the nexus between the politicians and the IRB. Everyone including the CAG in its report had specifically highlighted that MSRDC will be at loss if the agreement was signed. All the predictions made then came to be true as MSRDC will be floating a new tender for the toll collection.”

15 lakh toll offenders on e-way in 2018

The Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation (MSRDC) has claimed that there were at least 15 lakh toll offenders on the Pune-Mumbai expressway in 2018.

Citizen-activists question the same as the MSRDC has a very systematic method of toll collection on the expressway. MSRDC, on its website, stated that 15 lakh vehicles have been categorised as “toll offenders” in 2018.

In the affidavit submitted by Ideal Road Builders (IRB) in the Bombay high court as its response to the petition filed by city-based right to information (RTI) activist Vivek Velankar, the company has clearly stated that when a vehicle passes without scanning the receipt at the exit toll booth, it is considered a violation.

Velankar, along with three other activists, filed a public interest litigation (PIL) in the Bombay high court in 2017, seeking immediate shut down of toll collection by IRB on the Pune-Mumbai expressway. The next hearing is dated to happen on January 31.

While IRB refused to comment on the issue of toll violations on the e-way, Shashikant Sonatakke, chief engineer, MSRDC said if, for any reason, a vehicle fails to scan its toll receipt at the exit toll booth, it is considered a violation. This would include vehicles that may or may not have paid toll for various reasons.

“While passing through the exit point, if the vehicle owner does not allow the toll authorities to register its entry, the system lists the vehicle under violation at that exit point itself. The system will then report the revenue loss back to the first toll plaza,” he explained.

While there might be some violations happening with genuine explanations, Sonatakke said, “If you don’t show your toll-paid receipt, our system adds you to the list of violators.”

Sonatakke said the MSRDC does not maintain a consolidated figure of the total number of vehicles that have paid toll during the year.