Political parties have been making violent noises over toll charges intermittently and then falling silent. However, the real truth about toll collection will come out only if more citizens file RTI applications asking relevant questions
The tirade against toll charges in Maharashtra, which incidentally are the highest compared to other states has been going on for quite a while. Anti-corruption crusader Anna Hazare had steered a campaign, which led to the closure of 31 toll nakas out of the 165 in the state; former IPS officer SM Mushrif has sought legal intervention with the matter in the Supreme Court; Moneylife has undertaken inspection of files under Section 4 in the case of Pune-Mumbai expressway case. Every now and then political parties indulge in violent protests against toll charges, allegedly more for political one-upmanship than sorting out the issue that is burdening commuters.
In the last fortnight, toll collection centers or plazas have been vandalised by Raj Thackeray-led Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) in various parts of the state. A similar exercise had been undertaken by the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) earlier. Presently, Nav Bharat Democratic Party’s Maval candidate Harshvardhan Sukhatme has undertaken `Munnabhai’ style of protest by offering roses and get-well cards to staff and officers at toll plaza.
In order to know real truth about collection of toll by relevant private agency, which is designated to look after the operations, maintenance and security of the highway/expressway, it is very pertinent for a large number of citizens to file applications under the Right to Information (RTI) Act with the toll monitoring unit of the Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation (MSRDC). The duties and responsibilities of the toll monitoring unit, as mentioned on its website, it is bound by duty to have “Correspondence with members of legislative assembly (MLAs), members of Parliament (MPs) and other people related with toll matters. Giving replies to queries under Public Information Act.’’
So, what is the kind of information you can get under RTI?
You can ask for a copy of the contract agreement between the MSRDC and the private agency. I had procured the 800-odd page agreement in the Pune-Mumbai expressway case.
Why is this a public document?
Because as per Section 4 of the RTI Act, any such agreement/ contract which affects the public at large demands transparency. You can also ask for information regarding the amount of toll tax collected, month wise, since the time the contract came into existence; what is the methodology of monitoring tax collection by the MSRDC; what is the amount of toll collection that would cover the cost and profit of the private agency and at which point of time would it become a freeway; what is the ratio of toll tax shared between the MSRDC and the private agency; who is the officer In charge of this monitoring;
documents pertaining to action against private agency in case it has not adhered to deposit the toll money as per norms; documents pertaining to any action taken against the toll monitoring officer in case he has failed to efficiently monitor the collection of the private agency and so on.
While the above information can be sought under Section 6 of the RTI Act, wherein you write an application but would have to wait for 30 days to get a reply, it is more advisable to do inspection of files under Section 4 of the RTI Act, by visiting the office on any working day during the working hours.
I used Section 4 of the Right to Information Act (RTI) between 25th March, 2011 to 28th March, 2011 to request for the inspection of files of the contract agreement between the MSRDC and Ideal Road Builders (IRB). I also asked for the year-wise data of the amount of toll collected from April 2004 to February 2011. I visited the MSRDC office in Pune for this.
As per the statement of IRB, which it has sent to MSRDC, it had collected Rs949.45 crore up to September 2010. When I asked about the authenticity of the toll figures supplied by IRB, the MSRDC officials threw their hands up saying that they were not responsible for this. However, I pointed out to them that this was in total contradiction to the information available on their website, www.msrdc.org, under 'duties and responsibilities of its toll monitoring unit' which states that: MSRDC is responsible for: monitoring the toll receipts; scrutinising claims of various toll collecting agencies and put for approval by competent authority; taking action against defaulters as per contract conditions; corresponding with regional offices regarding toll collection work and; giving replies under the Right to Information Act.
However, mum was the word. Horrifyingly, the MSRDC has appointed an independent consultant for this work and he actually told me that they monitor the maintenance and operations of the IRB but not the collection of toll revenue!
States Mushrif, “as per Rule 6 'verification of fee collection' sub-rule 1: it should be the responsibility of the person (the MSRDC in this case)…to strictly ensure that all fees leviable are levied, collected and correctly maintained. The person shall submit certified audited copies of the statements of fee collection at specified intervals as required under the notification for collection under sub-rule 2 of Rule 3. The auditor shall be appointed by the government. And as per sub-rule 2: The central government shall have the right to check the fee collection at any or at all times through their designated officers.''
All about MSRDC’s Toll Monitoring Department
Duties and responsibilities of Toll Monitoring Unit
(Vinita Deshmukh is consulting editor of Moneylife, an RTI activist and convener of the Pune Metro Jagruti Abhiyaan. She is the recipient of prestigious awards like the Statesman Award for Rural Reporting which she won twice in 1998 and 2005 and the Chameli Devi Jain award for outstanding media person for her investigation series on Dow Chemicals. She co-authored the book “To The Last Bullet - The Inspiring Story of A Braveheart - Ashok Kamte” with Vinita Kamte and is the author of “The Mighty Fall”.)
Under the auction of the new licensing policy, bidders can look for all types of hydrocarbons, such as gas, oil, coal bed methane or shale
Two weeks ago, during the Petrotech 2014 meet at Noida, petroleum minister Veerappa Moily gave some details of the new auction planned, where as many as 86 blocks may come under the hammer! This time Moily stated that only those blocks that have all clearances will be offered for auction.
At present, he stated that 46 blocks have all the required clearances and, by 15th February, hopes to get all blocks cleared, so that bidders have no problem. Out the 46 blocks on hand now, 17 are on land; 15 are in shallow water while 14 blocks are in deep water. These blocks are spread over in Gujarat-Kutch, Kerala-Konkan, Cauvery, Krishna-Godavari and Deccan.
This new auction will be under Uniform Licensing Policy of Hydrocarbon acreages. They will include a new contractual system and fiscal model. The most important change is that, under this auction, bidders can look for all types of hydrocarbons—gas, oil, coal bed methane or shale. This change is in line with what the bidders have been demanding in the past.
The Rangarajan Panel has suggested that production-linked revenue sharing would be desirable, as against which the existing cost recovery model has to be compared and a suitable decision to be made by the government. Just to recapitulate, the current production sharing contract allows for cost recovery by exploration and production (E&P) before companies pay the government its share. This method has caused a lot of discussion and debate. Perhaps, the method suggested by the Rangarajan Panel would be more appropriate.
It may be noted that some of the blocks that will go under the hammer, includes those relinquished by Cairn India (which wants to bid again), and some of which were taken away from Reliance. The only exception made recently refers to the intention of the petroleum ministry which would seek CCEA (Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs) nod to allow Reliance and its partners (British Petroleum and Niko Resources) to conduct drill stem test, which they could not conduct within the stipulated time, and these cover earlier discoveries in KG-D6, such as D6, D30 and D 31, in spite of the objection by DGH (Director General of Hydrocarbons). This is a procedure to establish hydrocarbon discovery in acreage.
There are couple of other major changes that are likely when this auction takes place. Currently, the tax holiday is for seven years and the Ministry of Petroleum is contacting the Department of Revenue, if this could be increased to 10 years. The other change that may happen refers to the recommendation made by the Kelkar Committee that the Petroleum Ministry and DGH should restrict themselves to supervise the technical oversight of the contractors and leave the revenue aspect to the finance department. This will effectively curb the enormous powers exercised by DGH.
The DGH needs to build a strong technical team who would be able to guide and assist the contractors in order to focus on the object of increasing the production of hydrocarbon resources in the country and by undertaking exploration of the unexplored areas.
(AK Ramdas has worked with the Engineering Export Promotion Council of the ministry of commerce. He was also associated with various committees of the Council. His international career took him to places like Beirut, Kuwait and Dubai at a time when these were small trading outposts; and later to the US.)
If you have to pay $50 for a get-rich-quick scheme, who’s getting rich — you or the person you’re buying the scheme from?
How easy is it to get rich quick? Real easy, according to the Internet. Here are 50 ways we found to make plenty of money fast. And while some ideas may actually work (you really can get money from sperm donations), other ideas may not be so great. If you have to pay $50 for a get-rich-quick scheme, who’s getting rich — you or the person you’re buying the scheme from?
1. Buy gold.
2. No, wait. Sell gold.
3. Or maybe buy and sell gold.
4. Gold is out. Silver is where it’s at.
5. You could say five magic words to your teller and walk away with free silver.
6. Maybe both. Maybe buy gold and silver.
7. Maybe forget about gold and instead use the Bible’s Money Code.
8. Or just let God multiply your riches.
9. Use passive income to make a $4,520 a month in the next 30 days.
10. Maybe invest in something like the new, free, unspecified highway being built across America.
11. Or invest in Blue Fire Oil Drilling.
12. Invest in thorium.
13. Invest in coal and rake in a 240% return.
15. Invest in 3D printing.
16. Invest in this company that was hand-picked by Steve Jobs in 2005 but they are not going to tell you what it is until you give them your credit card information.
17. Invest in a “toll bridge” company that profits from all cell phone sales.
18. Invest in a copy of Ron Paul’s lost “Gold Bible.”
19. Invest in natural gas.
20. Invest in a small group of stocks that will go through the roof when the Pentagon unleashes Plan X.
22. Invest in uranium.
26. Use a backdoor to invest in the secret stock market U.S. Presidents use after they leave office.
27. Or just invest in something you don’t own: Become a paper landlord and collect rent checks without owning property.
28. Game the system. Use one weird trick to add $1,000 dollars to your Social Security check.
29. Bitcoins, baby. Bitcoins.
30. Harness the power of options.
31. Buy the Major Market Trend Indicator, which is powered by the Market Timer Algorithm that specifically searches for high-expectancy stock opportunities and other such jargon.
32. Maybe it’s time to harness Mother Nature and build your own miniature solar and wind power plant on your property to save big on electricity.
33. Understand the market’s opening range.
34. Sell adult toys online, a booming business.
35. Like this one company on Facebook and you’ll have financial freedom in 24 months.
36. Be a successful investor by following this rule: Don’t lose money.
37. Slap Warren Buffet’s name onto something for instant money.
39. Escape from the USA . . . without ever leaving home and somehow profit.
43. Use little-known corporate loopholes to collect an extra $2,000 every week.
44. Sperm donations.
45. Use the “Mainz” source of income to collect royalties.
47. Flip real estate for fun and profit.
49. Trust no one.
50. If all else fails? Collect underpants and profit.