The Comptroller and Auditor General has, as part of a sectoral audit of all Metro projects, recently initiated scrutiny of the Versova-Andheri-Ghatkopar Metro, which has been in a dispute over cost escalation and subsequent demands by its operator for an increase in fare.
With several Metro projects in the country inching towards completion, the Union Ministry of Urban Development decided earlier this year to conduct a CAG audit of all of them and accordingly sent letters to the respective state government agencies. Following the letter, the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA) recently wrote to the ministry asking to expedite the scrutiny of the recently completed 11.4-km Versova-Andheri-Ghatkopar Metro project.
U P S Madan, metropolitan commissioner at the MMRDA, said, “We don’t have any idea on how soon the audit will be conducted. That is something between the Union government and CAG. However, we support the decision to conduct a CAG audit for all Metro projects. It will help look into the aspects of cost escalation. A CAG audit will also help people at large know about the project.”
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BJP leaders, especially newly elected MP Kirit Somaiya, have been for long demanding a CAG audit of the Versova-Andheri-Ghatkopar Metro. However, Madan said the state government’s request to expedite the CAG audit was not a consequence of any political pressure.
The state government has been in conflict with the Mumbai Metro One Pvt Ltd (MMOPL), which has constructed and operates the Metro on a public private partnership, over the cost of the project and the latter’s subsequent demand for a fare hike to cover the cost escalation. The matter is currently in litigation.
An MMOPL spokesperson said, “CAG audits are part of the standard procedures for projects where the Union government has invested, including in viability gap funding.” While the original cost of the Versova-Andheri-Ghatkopar Metro was Rs 2,356 crore, the MMOPL has claimed the cost had risen to Rs 4,321 crore owing to delays in securing clearances from different agencies, multiple design changes and issues in getting right of way.
The Metro corridor is the country’s first to be constructed on a public private partnership model by a consortium of Reliance Infrastructure, in which Veolia Transport holds 74 per cent stake while the MMRDA hold the rest 26 per cent. For future Metro projects, the urban development ministry has recommended the appointment of a Central Vigilance Officer to strengthen the vigilance administration in Metro rail corporations that are formed as joint ventures between the state and the central government.
Currently, the Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation is undergoing reconstitution as a joint venture with the Union government. However, Madan said he was not aware if there has been an vigilance appointment in the corporation yet.