February 18, 2021 1:57:10 am
The Bombay High Court on Wednesday directed the state government to inform how long it proposes to collect toll on Mumbai-Pune expressway after a PIL informed that the cost of the entire project was recovered but the contractor was still collecting toll. The contract’s tenure expired in 2019 but was extended up to 2030.
The court was also informed that the contractor was allowed to pocket public funds and, hence, the state government through Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation (MSRDC) should discontinue the contract or get the contractor to deposit the money collected over the past two years in the state exchequer.
A division bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice Girish S Kulkarni was hearing a PIL filed by activists Pravin Wategaonkar, Sanjay Shirodkar, Vivek Velankar, Shrinivas Ghanekar challenging the toll collection on Mumbai-Pune Expressway. The PIL also sought declaration that levying toll on the e-way since August 2019 as against the Motor Vehicle Tax Act, 1958, is illegal and pending hearing of the plea, sought an exemption from payment of toll.
The petitioners argued that the toll collection rights for 15-year period from 2004 to 2019 were awarded to the company based on an upfront payment of Rs 918 crore and the balance cost recoverable as of August 2004 was Rs 3,662 crore.
It was submitted that out of this, nearly 40 per cent of the project cost, in case of e-way, was to be recovered from commercial use of land adjoining the road, given by the state government to MSRDC. Moreover, the plea claimed that the company has collected nearly Rs 6,773 crore till July 2019, which is excessive and, therefore, the contractor has illegally retained Rs 2,443 crore due to MSRDC.
The PIL also said there was a “misdeclaration” of toll revenue by classifying “toll paid-ticket not scanned” vehicles and zero revenue was reported against thousands of such vehicles daily and same was “toll revenue fraud”, therefore the toll collection on e-way since August 2019 is illegal.
The MSRDC’s counsel opposed the PIL and sought time to file a reply stating that the contract was given to contractor after payment of upfront amount and the state government has right to collect toll in view of the Motor Vehicle Tax Act.
After hearing submissions, the bench asked the state government for how many years toll will be collected and that it was concerned about the same. The court also questioned the authority as to whether paying such a toll amount was affordable to everyone and pointed out that there are several toll points on the way to Kolhapur and Mumbai. It further said providing good roads is the government’s duty.
The bench directed MSRDC to file an affidavit in reply to the PIL within two weeks and asked the petitioners to submit a rejoinder, if any, five days thereafter. The HC will hear the plea after three weeks.
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