A Rs 1,220-crore contract for improvement of the Sion-Panvel Highway, under criticism for levying an additional toll on a heavily-tolled road, is likely to be under the scanner for alleged irregularities in the way the contract was awarded under the erstwhile Congress-NCP regime.
Documents obtained under the Right to Information (RTI) Act by social activist Pravin Wategaonkar show that the state government’s original intent was to include the project as part of the toll collection at the five entry points of Mumbai instead of an additional toll booth. This was later reversed, despite the then chief minister’s directive.
Further, the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG), in its report for the year ending 2014, has pointed out faults in the tendering process that restricted competition by denying purchase of blank tender forms to four prospective bidders. As per the CAG report, Reliance Infrastructure, Gammon Infrastructure, Mahavir Roads and Infrastructure Pvt Ltd and Pratibha Industries Ltd were not given tender documents. Reliance had even recorded its dissent with the state government in a letter dated July 2, 2009.
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“We feel we are intentionally being denied the business opportunity to work with the Government of Maharashtra, and request your intervention to instruct the concerned officers to issue the bid document,” the company said in the letter, a copy of which is available with The Indian Express.
The project involved widening the Sion-Panvel highway to 10 lanes and making it signal-free for six lanes. It was implemented on a build-operate-transfer basis by Sion Panvel Tollways Pvt Ltd, a consortium of IVRCL Assets and Hoardings and Kakade Infrastructure, with a concession period of 17 years and five months.
The project involved additional toll collection at Kamothe, only 16.2 kms from the existing toll booth at Vashi despite the toll policy mandating the minimum distance between two booths to be 35-40 kms. After much agitation, the BJP-led government scrapped the toll, which started in January, from June 1. The matter is in court.
Wategaonkar Monday wrote to the Anti Corruption Bureau (ACB) requesting an inquiry, marking copies to Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis and Public Works Department (PWD) Minister Chandrakant Patil.
“My complaint is limited to the role of the public servants in the award of this contract. The cabinet sub-committee of infrastructure headed by the chief minister had clearly said don’t have a separate toll booth. Despite someone at that level saying this, officials still succeeded in carving out a new toll. Further, the eligibility criteria were diluted and the tendering was restrictive,” Wategaonkar said.
As per documents obtained under the RTI, the state government’s cabinet sub-committee of infrastructure had given an in-principle approval to the project proposed by PWD in October 2006. At that time, it was proposed to recover toll through MSRDC from the Vashi toll booth. Two years later, in August 2008, the government in a meeting under Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh’s chairmanship decided that the project be bundled with toll collection rights at the five entry points of Mumbai to be implemented by the MSRDC.
However, MSRDC board in a meeting on February 5, 2009, decided to split the toll securitisation at Mumbai’s five entry points and the Sion Panvel Highway improvement works into two separate contracts with a new toll booth proposed at Kamothe. The toll contract for the five entry points was later awarded to Mumbai Entry Point Ltd for a securitisation fee of Rs 2,100 crore.