RTI activists have procured shocking information which shows that private contractors in charge of maintenance and operations of highways and expressway are extending their toll collection and bagging illegal profits. An interview with Shirodkar:
Moneylife: The issue of toll charges in Maharashtra is a controversial one and you have been pursuing it meticulously through RTI? What has been the objective?
Sanjay Shirodkar: Time and again, documents that we have procured have shown that our hard earned money is being wasted as instead of our toll money being used for betterment of infrastructure which will make India a better country to live, is being siphoned out at various levels under the name of development of “Better Infrastructure”.
ML: How serious is the issue?
Shirodkar: Transport community is badly hit by this. Just 10-15 years back there was no toll for most of the roads and today most of the National Highways are covered under Toll Scheme. In India there are 374 toll plazas on national highways as of today.
Toll has become the second largest expense of the transport community only after fuel. There are around 1 crore truck and buses are registered in India. Each national permit truck on an average pays around 4 to 5 lakh per year against toll. However, the money earned from toll is not reflecting in any of the state or central budget.
Also, toll collection system is acting as an impediment to moving traffic. Despite having better roads our average usage of truck is remaining same whereas our expenses have gone up reducing their margins to all time low. A report by TCI & IIM Kolkata says “the slow truck speeds on highways and delays at toll plazas cost the country about rs.60000 crore a year.”
Most importantly, the way accounts are maintained for collection of money is scandalous. Because of under reporting in number of vehicles paying toll, concessionaires are getting extended contracts to collect toll to recover their cost. In reality a road cost, which can be recovered in five years only because of under reporting, is shown as recoverable in twenty years.
ML: Could you elaborate on the issue of under reporting?
Shirodkar: On one side you see that annually there is 10% growth in number of vehicles getting registered in India but on the other side number of vehicles paying toll on highways either are remaining same or surprisingly reducing on some toll roads. And paradoxically NHAI is planning road expansion from four lanes to six lanes giving reasons that we need wider roads because traffic has increased.
Even Government Audit departments have taken objection over the years about many irregularities in toll collection, traffic census, car per unit, toll calculation formula and toll rate hike. Stark examples of these are the current toll collection projects like Mumbai Entry Points, Mumbai Pune Expressway & Satara Kagal on NH4.
To make you more aware that in Maharashtra we have maximum number of toll plazas in the country (43) on national highways, costliest toll rates, costliest project cost with zero user facilities and shabby, pathetic & unsafe road conditions as compare to other states. You can compare Satara-Kagal project from Maharashtra and Kagal-Belgaum project from Karnataka to have an Idea.
Also, commuters have also been slapped with CESS on diesel and petrol besides toll.
ML: You also mentioned that the `Satara – Kagal project on NH 4 in Maharashtra is incomplete. Could you elaborate?
Shirodkar: Please note the following shocking details that we procured under RTI:
1. No Final Completion Certificate:- Till date this project has not been issued a Final Completion Certificate by any competent authority. (3,500 days are over in last 10 years) This is a clear cut violation of clauses 6.1 (b), 16.4, 16.5 & 32.2 mentioned in Concession Agreement signed between NHAI and MSRDC dated 4th January 2002. In spite of all these violations, Project and Toll collection is still on. I have attached copies of provisional completion certificates issued in 2005 and 2006. (attached Annex I images 4)
2. Illegal collection: - As a result of this, toll collection done in this project after provisional certificate expiry in 2006 (120 + 180 days) till date turns illegal.
3. No increase in Traffic for 10 Years:- Details of traffic census and average daily traffic published by MSRDC through the contractor, Raima Manpower Consultancy (Sept 2014), survey copy of year 2003 does not show any increase in vehicular traffic on this project highway during 2003 – 2005 – 2015 (average 10000 vehicles per day). In each such project average 5% increase per year in vehicle traffic is considered. So from 2005 by now the traffic count should have been double in 2015. (attached Annex II images 3)
4. Actual Survey shows much higher traffic:- The survey by AJS Scale International done in Jan-Feb 2014 shows that the actual vehicle traffic was increased (25000 vehicles per day). But this was not considered anywhere not even in the current tender (2014-2016). This shows the amount of under reporting of vehicle traffic and as a result toll collection figures are happening in this project. (attached Annex III images 4)
On Vehicular growth in India vis-a-vis very exceptional case on Satara - Kagal road. Whereas a Survey done by AJS Scale International had indicated that vehicular growth on this particular road is around 10% Year on Year.
5. Discrepancy in Collection figures shown by Toll operator, MSRDC and NHAI:- Total toll collected till July 2015 published by MSRDC on their website was Rs.687 Crore & Rs.719 Crore. We could see no consistency in these figures either. Total toll collected figures till March 2014 provided by NHAI under RTI were Rs.885 Crore and Statement submitted by Konark Infrastructure, the toll collecting agency in their O & m report to NHAI which is published on NHAI website shown Rs601 Crore from 2005 to 2014. Here also we could see no consistency in these figures. Difference of Rs.284 Crore in two statements for the same period is pretty serious. More over MSRDC July 2015 figure is very much less than NHAI 2014 figures. Considering this kind of under reporting in vehicle growth, I fear there was a loss of more than Rs.700 Crore to exchequer. And it is continued. (attached Annex V images 2)
The following table clearly shows the discrepancy in collection figures:
Latest example of under reporting. Following figures are for October 2015 published by MSRDC on their website. (attached Annex VIII images 4)