Mumbai-Pune Expressway toll collected so far: Around Rs1,000 crore. But why is maintenance so shoddy?

An RTI application has revealed that the MSRDC had entered into an agreement with Ideal Road Builders (IRB), which requires the company to carry out extensive work on the Mumbai-Pune Expressway, to ensure convenience and safety of commuters. But despite gobbling up Rs1,000 crore in toll money between 2004 and 2011, maintenance has been shoddy

According to details of the contract agreement of 864 pages between MSRDC and IRB for the operation and maintenance of the Mumbai-Pune Expressway, procured through the Right to Information (RTI) Act, extensive work has to be done by IRB to ensure convenience and safety of commuters.

However, even if you take a cursory glance along the Expressway while you are travelling on it, you will instantly realise that despite the IRB having pocketed around Rs1,000 crore of our toll money between 2004 and 2011, maintenance is woefully lacking.

That IRB is enjoying the fruits of our toll money without adhering to the stringent terms and conditions laid down by the Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation (MSRDC) in the operation and maintenance of the Mumbai-Pune Expressway, is extremely clear as per the voluminous 864 pages of the contract agreement which this writer procured under Section 6 of the RTI Act.

According to the terms of the Act, I obtained the relevant details from MSRDC's Pune office after paying Rs1,728 (at the rate of Rs2 per page as per the norms under the Act).

Chapter 4 of this agreement (on page 145) clearly places crucial responsibilities on IRB, the private agency which has taken over operation and maintenance of the Expressway for a 15-year period between 2004 and 2019. Its responsibilities include the upkeep of the road and traffic management. Some of its other crucial duties include patrolling, safety including accident prevention, cleanliness and fencing. IRB also has to plant one lakh trees along both sides of the Expressway, ensure ban on cattle and prevent villagers from straying onto the Expressway.

Here is a description of IRB's specific responsibilities (all relevant sections of the agreement are also provided) along with my observations immediately after each section: Road Maintenance, both routine and emergency, and inspection
This includes cleaning of the road surface by a self-propelled mechanical sweeper with a vacuum system in order to remove all the dirt, small aggregates and pieces of different material fallen on the road. Elements that cannot be removed by the mechanical sweeper will have to be removed by manual sweeping or by hand. This activity will be carried out at the time of least traffic. Cleaning of road surface will be carried out through the year. The areas where the collection of dirt is more frequent such as ear-bridge parapets, underpasses, etc, shall be attended to at least twice a week.

(Today, we find several pockets of the Expressway are filled with litter, especially plastic tea cups.) Garbage collection
This task includes collection of paper, plastic and other such type of material from the area at the way, median, shoulders, at the sides of the road, rest areas, public facilities, interchanges, connector, emergency telephone areas, etc. This activity shall be done manually or mechanically. The garbage so collected shall be put in a yellow or white plastic bag and the bags shall be placed on the beams in order to be removed at the end of the day. The pickup truck that collects the garbage shall transport them to an authorised rubbish dump.

Garbage collection shall be carried once a fortnight at median, shoulders, on the carriageway and at sides of the road. At the toll plaza or places close to the wayside, amenity centres or petrol station area, where many objects are thrown from cars, garbage collection will be done on a daily basis except on holidays.

(Do send us photographs of any garbage that you might have observed along the Expressway to [email protected]) Renewal of paved shoulders
The following renewal treatment to bituminous surfaces including thermoplastic painting and other road markings will be provided by the contractor when the roughness index is more than 2,000 or after every four years, whichever occurs earlier. Renewal cost of 25mm thick Open Graded Carpet (OGC) layer on paved shoulders with necessary camber corrections.

(Reliable sources in the MSRDC have confirmed to this writer that the shoulders have not been resurfaced even once during the 10 years that IRB has been in charge. The approximate cost of resurfacing is apparently Rs100 crore). Replacement and repairing of road furniture and road signs
- Repair and replacement of road signs and mileage posts
- Repair and replacement of safety reflectors
- Repair and replacement of metal crash barriers
- Repair and replacement of fences
- Repair and replacement of lights
- Repair and replacement of light-posts
- Repainting of road marking and other structures
- Replacement of reflective tapes on metal beam crash barriers and kerbstones Repair and replacement of safety reflectors/delineators
- The above consists of repair or replacing damaged, faulty, stolen or old safety reflectors. This activity includes the providing of new safety reflectors, delineators, removal of damaged or faulty safety reflectors and installation of new safety reflectors. Repair and replacement of metal crash barriers and guard rails
- The above consists of repair or replacing damaged or faulty metal crash barriers due to traffic accidents and vandalism. Repair paint and replacement of fences
The above consists of repair, painting or replacing damaged, faulty or stolen fences located on both edges of the right of way all along the toll road. The activity includes providing and transporting necessary fences to the job site, painting of existing fencing for every three years by two coats of approved paint, removal of damaged or faulty fences. (As per Fence survey consists of inspecting the existing fence located on both edges of the right of way and reporting of quantum of damage or defect. The patrol inspectors on duty will carry out the inspection twice a day). Repair and replacement of lights
- The above consists of replacing faulty lights, including transporting light to the toll plazas, tunnel inside area, removal of the old lights and installation of new lights. Lights replaces shall be of the same, better type and quality than the ones initially installed. Repair and replacement shall be carried out as necessary.
4.3.1: Traffic control and communications
A traffic control room should be established, manned 24x7, which will be the hub of the communication centre, located at the Road Operations and Maintenance office at Kusgaon (near Pune), which will be linked with important persons at all times, by radio or telephone or both.

The control room will also be linked to emergency call telephones installed along the Expressway at regular intervals.
An independent engineering consultant-Stupp Consultants Pvt Ltd-has been appointed by the MSRDC to monitor the work implemented by the IRB. For this, it receives a payment of Rs10 lakh per month. However, despite stringent norms on action to be taken by Stupp in case IRB falters, the former seems to be a mute witness to the inefficiency and the incompetency of the IRB which has shown pathetic maintenance and woeful lack of passenger safety going by the ever-increasing number of serious and fatal accidents.

The RTI Forum For Instant Information has demanded termination of the contract by the MSRDC on both counts-lack of transparency in toll collection amount; lack of proper operation and maintenance of the Expressway and implementation of the latest Central government order issued by the ministry of surface transport where toll collection has been streamlined. For example, a car can be charged a toll of only 65 paisa per kilometre.

In addition, the following issues have not been resolved.

Here are some value-added work orders IRB is required to carry out on the Expressway, but much of it has yet to see the light of day:

Construction of a compound wall in lieu of fencing 5,570 running metres. (Reason: Fencing at certain stretches is being damaged again and again hence it is proposed to construct a compound wall in lieu of fencing.)
Providing cattle traps: Providing metal beam crash barriers as per accident prevention committee report for 15,152 metres (Reason: To prevent entry of animals on the Expressway.)

Concrete crash barriers across the ghat for 3,500 running metres. (An Accident Prevention Committee (APR) proposed that metal beam crash barriers should be erected around the catch pits, around piers of cross structures, at high embankments and at curves, inside and outside.)

Provision of road safety procedures: Cat eyes, thermoplastic paint, etc. (The APR and other government agencies have suggested information and cautionary boards at important locations on the Expressway for a distance of 20km.)
Wayside plantation: It is proposed to provide plantation of 100,000 trees on both sides of the Expressway, near the fencing, up to the side-slopes of the embankment. The plantation was to have been completed in two years.

Redoing paved shoulders: The existing paved shoulders are on an average 2.5 metres wide on both sides of the Expressway and under distress in a number of areas. It has been proposed that the defective portion would be removed, the paved shoulders milled wherever required and the entire length would be provided with a 25 mm thick Open Graded Carpet (OGC) with liquid seal coat to the desired camber.

Will the authorities finally wake up and take some action?
(Vinita Deshmukh is a senior editor, author and convener of Pune Metro Jagruti Abhiyaan. She can be reached at [email protected])

1 decade ago
This is insane, after collection of so much of a money still there is no progress on repair and maintenance
Nitin Kirtane
1 decade ago
Very nice article and interesting one too , hope IRB acts now , Thks Nk
Prasad K
1 decade ago
This is a fantastic article, very well timed. I curse IRB every time i drive up and down the Expressway from Pune to Mumbai for work. Firstly, let me say that the initial work of building the expressway in late 90s was done in an excellent manner. Although i must say that the quality of the Pune-Lonavla section (when it was built) was much better than the Panvel-Khopoli section. In all fairness though, the latter section takes more punishment every year during the monsoons. The ghat section was anyway a big compromise after Maneka Gandhi's environment ministry refused permission to MSRDC to build a brand new ghat bypass. Nevertheless, for more than a decade now, the Expressway has been running reasonably well, no thanks to IRB, is due to its robust engineering & construction.

But over the last 6+ years, it is a painful sight to see even the most basic maintenance just not happening on the expressway. I have twice given a lift to IRB supervisors travelling from one toll-location to another, and was able to discern from them that IRB really has no specific expertise in maintainence of "freeways" or "Expressways". Their approach is as if they would maintain a regular road. Secondly, it goes without saying that the toll collected must be shared in "hafta" between all the state politicians (and even the Delhi politicians), and a simple wink-wink, nod-nod arrangement between them and IRB ensures that no questions will be asked.

The point is, every time we pay toll (which by the way, is up to 165 Rs. per way from 140, from April 1st) we are "customers" or "consumers" of the service being provided, and hence we should also be given the right to be compensated if this service being provided is deficient. Although this sounds great in theory, everyone (including me) are at a loss about how to go about it: Does this qualify for a case in "Consumer Court?".

If Moneylife can get some legal luminaries to throw light on this aspect, we'll all be grateful!
1 decade ago
Good article and work. If IRB can faulter and lapse on it's duties, is there not a way that we commuters and toll payers can refuse to pay when the maintenance is shoddy.
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