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The Congress on Monday accused the Devendra Fadnavis government of bypassing provisions of the 2013 law on acquiring lands in its land acquisition for the Rs 46,000-crore Nagpur-Mumbai Super Communication Expressway. The project, being seen as the chief minister’s flagship infrastructure project, is already facing stiff resistance from a section of project-affected farmers. It has also run into a controversy over allegations that the bidding process for appointment of contractor was tailored to favour a handful of players.
The Congress on Monday objected to the government’s decision of invoking provisions of the Bombay Highways Act, 1955, for the acquisition of land. About 10,000 hectare land is to be acquired for the 701-km highway. “They have found a way to bypass provisions of the Land Act, 2013. The Highways Act was invoked for dodging the need to conduct environment and social impact assessment studies. The new Land Act would have also required them to take express consent from farmers,” said Congress leader Sachin Sawant.
The Congress leader made the accusation after leading a delegation to meet Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation Limited (MSRDC) Vice Chairman and Managing Director Radheshyam Mopalwar.
While claiming that it was not opposed to the development project, the Congress said it won’t allow the project to go ahead at the expense of the farmers. A senior government official, when contacted, however, argued that the 1955 Act had been used in other highway projects too. “The compensation being offered will be higher than mandated in the Land Act,” the official said.
Meanwhile, Sawant also objected to the contentious provisions in the Request for Quotation (RFQ) document issue for the project. On May 19, The Indian Express had reported that two leading construction industry outfits — The National Highway Builders Federation (NHBF) and the Construction Federation of India (CFI) — had complained to the Prime Minister’s Office that these provisions were inserted as part of “an intentional and premeditated design to suppress competitiveness in the bidding process”.
The bone of contention is that when the MSRDC first published the RFQ for the projects on January 2, 2017, the contentious provisions had not been a part of the document. About 40 players submitted their expression of interest for this document. But on March 29, 2017, the penultimate date for the bid, this RFQ was annulled, and a fresh document was published, which contained the new clauses. Strong objections have been raised against the condition that qualifies only those, who have experience of building “access controlled” expressways, freeways, motorways, and autobahns worth Rs 500 crore to Rs 1,300 crore in the last five years to participate in the project. Another condition included in the new RFQ that stipulated disqualification of companies under Corporate Debt Restructuring (CDR) or Strategic Debt Restructuring (SDR) has been opposed too. Further on May 16, the MSRDC added that in the case of a joint venture firm, the experience of a foreign partner of building access controlled roads would be considered only if it was outside his country of origin.
While the chief minister had earlier said that these decisions were taken at the MSRDC’s level, the Congress on Monday accused that he had a role to play. It referred to a March 7 meeting in Vidhan Bhavan, which was chaired by Fadnavis. “The minutes of the meeting show that the decision regarding inclusion of the CDR/SDR condition was taken in the meeting. Further there is a letter from Mopalwar where he has clearly indicated that the new conditions were inserted in the RFQ based on state’s directives.” Requesting anonymity, a government official, however, reiterated the chief minister’s stance. Sawant also demanded an investigation into a role of a BJP women elected representative in the entire matter.