In Pune,CBI raids IRB lawyer in probe into RTI activists murder.
Virendra Mhaiskar,the Chairman and Managing Director of the Rs 3,250-crore IRB Infrastructure Developers Ltd which has been accused of improper business links with BJP chief Nitin Gadkaris firms is considered the undisputed toll king of Maharashtra.
The Mhaiskars,including his brother Jayant who promoted Mumbai Entry Point Ltd,collect toll on 16 major roads,including some of Indias most iconic ones such as the Mumbai-Pune Expressway and the Bandra-Worli Sea Link.
The Mhaiskar family is a classic road-to-riches story, said a business rival,who competes with IRB for infrastructure projects in the state. Besides collecting toll,the IRB Group has built 19 roads,most of them in Maharashtra. Its order book is worth Rs 7,700 crore with 16 road projects in the pipeline. Besides,IRB has a 1,200 acre land bank along the Mumbai-Pune Expressway.
In Forbes Richest Indians list of 2011,Virendra Mhaiskar ranks 78.
Dattatraya Mhaiskar,a Chitpavan Brahmin with roots in the states coastal belt of Konkan,floated IRB in 1977 with small road projects in the Kalyan-Dombivali region. His years as an engineer in the state government apparently gave him access to leaders across the political spectrum.
The companys fortunes grew after elder son Virendra joined it in 1990. In 1995,with Gadkari as PWD Minister,IRB bagged the Rs 104-crore Build-Operate-Transfer project to widen and maintain a 25 km road stretch between Bhiwandi and Thane. Besides,when the Shiv Sena-BJP was in power between 1995 and 1999 and Gadkari was PWD minister,it received five contracts valued at close to Rs 50 crore.
The relatively unknown company shot into the national limelight in 2004 when it paid Rs 918 crore to the Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation for the rights to collect toll on Indias first expressway built between Mumbai and Pune. While big road projects were bid out to construction companies by the BJP-Sena government,MSRDC opened up a new business avenue by auctioning the rights to toll. To exploit this,IRB floated IRB Infrastructure Developers in 1998.
What surprised many in 2004 was IRBs ability to come up with Rs 918 crore. It managed to bag other toll contracts soon,including those floated by the National Highways Authority of India.
It was around this time that Jayant,the younger of the Mhaiskar siblings,decided to sell a part of the equity in IRB following differences with Virendra,and set up a separate company,Mumbai Entry Point Ltd. The firm collects toll on the Bandra-Worli Sea Link.
Anil Ambanis Reliance Infrastructure had accused the state government of unduly favouring the Mhaiskars. The state had decided to award a contract to MEPL for collecting toll at all five entry points to Mumbai for 16 years after receiving Rs 2,100 crore. Reliance claimed the state favored the bid in spite of its own offer to pay the same amount for 11 years.
Virendra Mhaiskar has also been investigated in connection with the 2010 murder of RTI activist Satish Shetty,who was believed to be working to expose land grabbing along the Mumbai-Pune Expressway. In May this year,the CBI had asked Virendra to take a lie-detector test in the probe,causing the IRB Infra stock to plunge. Virendra and two other company officials were among the 10 accused in the case but the company had denied any wrongdoing and said that police had conducted a thorough inquiry and given Mhaiskar a clean chit.