The Bombay High Court has asked the Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation (MSRDC) how long it would continue to collect toll from commuters on the Mumbai-Pune Expressway, now called the Yashwantrao Chavan Expressway.
Hearing a public interest litigation (PIL) petition filed by Mumbai-based advocate Pravin Wategaonkar and three others that challenges toll collection on the Expressway, a division bench of chief justice Dipankar Datta and justice GS Kulkarni, asked if the government is receiving its share of revenues from the toll collection, and for how long MSRDC would continue to collect the toll.
Responding to this query, the counsel representing MSRDC requested time for filing a detailed reply. The HC adjourned the hearing for two weeks.
According to the PIL, the government can collect toll only to recover the capital cost and expenses incurred in toll collection. However, over the past 15 years till 31 July 2019, the actual toll revenue collection is Rs6,733 crore, which is more than the Rs4,330 crore spent by MSRDC.
Earlier in November 2020, Mr Wategaonkar, along with the Pune-based activist Sanjay Shirodkar, had filed a complaint with the anti-corruption bureau (ACB) against top executives of MSRDC and public works department (PWD) for what they call 'illegally floating a tender for toll till 2030 on the Mumbai-Pune Expressway' that caused a loss of around Rs231 crore to the state government.
They claim the loss is caused due to charging a 0.2% stamp duty on sub-concession agreement valued at Rs8,262 crore instead of 3% on the value of the instrument. As per an order from the Bombay High Court, stamp duty payable should have been charged at 3% of Rs8,262 or about Rs247.86 crore. However, they paid just Rs16.52 crore at a rate of 0.2% causing a loss of about Rs231 crore to the exchequer.
In their complaint, the activists had alleged, "Earlier, the state government as well as MSRDC in their compliance report to the public enterprises committee (PEC) admitted that the project cost for the Expressway would be recovered by 2022 and thereafter toll collection will have to be stopped as per an order issued by the Bombay High Court (HC). In violation of the directive from the cabinet infrastructure committee (CIC) and without taking permission from the HC or disclosing recoverable project cost as of August 2019, Radhyeshyam Mopalwar, managing director of MSRDC and Manoj Saunik, the then principal secretary of PWD, undertook tender process for the period August 2019 to April 2030."
"On 20 June 2019, Mr Mopalwar sought permission from Mr Saunik to undertake the tender process for 10 years and two months. On 1 August 2019, the PWD granted permission for the said project. In response to a query filed under the Right to Information (RTI) Act, the planning department stated that no CIC meeting was held between 20 June and 1 August 2019.
"Further, the planning dept stated that an administrative dept cannot vary or improve or take a different decision than the one directed by the CIC. Neither the MSRDC nor the PWD have disclosed the balance recoverable cost of the Expressway to the competent authority or CIC for post tender approval while finalising toll contract for a period of more than three years. As per the Motor Vehicles Tax Act, toll can be levied only to recover the balance recoverable project cost," the complaint says.
Separately, advocate Wategaonkar has filed a complaint with the Marine Drive police station in Mumbai for registering a first information report (FIR) against Ajoy Mehta, former chief secretary, Manoj Saunik, former additional chief secretary in PWD, CP Joshi, secretary for roads and persons associated with Manaj Tollways Pvt Ltd. The activist-lawyer has filed the complaint for what he claims as "criminal conspiracy of fabricating false evidence, fraudulently or dishonestly making of valuable security being consent terms filed in Court in satisfaction of arbitral award of Rs358.79 crore in commercial execution application No 310 of 2019."
In the complaint, advocate Wategaonkar alleges, "...Ajoy Mehta, and Manoj Saunik, who had knowledge of the order passed by governor of Maharashtra on or about 21 November 2019; and other persons fraudulently and dishonestly created a false record that the Bombay High Court has 'directed filing of consent terms by 2 December 2019', engaged with accused persons associated with Manaj Tollways to execute consent terms thereby creating a valuable security."
"Accused persons got the execution application disposed of by way of the High Court's order of 12 December 2019 as well as thwarted prosecution of and challenge to the arbitral award in Pune district court in view of the consent terms. Accused Ajoy Mehta, Manoj Saunik and other persons fraudulently and dishonestly thereby created a valuable right of Rs358.79 crore in favor of the contractor Manaj Tollways Pvt Ltd. Subsequently on 24 February 2020, the High Court noticed the fraud and recorded the facts in its order...," the complaint filed by advocate Wategaonkar says.