MUMBAI: The Bombay high court on Wednesday indicated that it may direct Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) to conduct a thorough inquiry into toll collection on Pune-Mumbai Expressway.
“We propose to direct CAG to conduct a thorough investigation and submit a report,” said a bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice Girish Kulkarni, miffed at not getting satisfactory replies on actual cost of Expressway’s construction between 1997-2000 and maintenance from 2000 till 2004, when a 15-year contract began.
The court heard PILs, including one by four activists, based on CAG’s 2005 report, to declare illegal toll collection after August 2019 when the15-year contract ended. Questioned on how long people have to pay toll, MSRDC replied that toll will continue till 2030, as it had not fully recovered the project’s cost. It has to recover Rs 22,370 crore towards capital outlay, which includes cost, operation and management charges, interest, etc, of the project after adjusting revenue received.
Petitioner-advocate Pravin Wategaonkar argued that declaration of capital outlay was a pre-condition while determining toll rate and period of toll collection. “The state has not declared the total capital outlay for the project and now says Rs 22,000 crore has to be recovered,’’ he added.
The judges asked what was the actual cost of construction and yearly maintenance till 2004. Senior advocate Milind Sathe, for MSRDC, replied that the state was entitled to recover capital outlay. He said Rs 3,632 crore had to be recovered in 2004 towards project cost before the 15-year contract began. “We received Rs 918 crore (for the 15-year contract). We have yet to recover,’’ he added.
The judges said the advocate general and additional solicitor general must be present on Thursday “to render effective assistance for a proper decision” on the PILs.