Activists angry over Pune-Mumbai Expressway toll loot, plan protest action

RTI Forum for Instant Information to petition Maharashtra chief minister, file public interest litigation, to check the toll charges collected by IRB that has a contract till 2019

Thanks to the Right To Information Act (RTI), it is pretty clear now that Ideal Road Builders (IRB), the private agency which operates, maintains and will collect the toll on the Pune-Mumbai Expressway until 2019, has already collected toll tax in excess of what it had envisioned, going by the ‘cash flow’ statement which it has submitted in the ‘contract agreement’ with the Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation (MSRDC). As per this latest document that I procured, it has already collected Rs949.45 crore until September 2010 by way of toll fees (it must have surely crossed the Rs1,000 crore mark by 31 March 2011). This collection is against its own projection of Rs606.05 in the contract agreement. MSRDC officials, on condition of anonymity, admitted this is a vital document for comparison with the actual toll collection. (Read, The grand Expressway robbery: How much toll is IRB allowed to collect and who monitors this?)

Concerned over the hoodwinking by the IRB and MSRDC turning a Nelson’s Eye to the issue, activists in Pune under the forum of the RTI Forum for Instant Information (RFII) are working towards taking up this matter with the MSRDC, the chief minister and they are also considering putting a public interest litigation before the High Court. A meeting will be held on Tuesday, 5th April, to chalk out the strategy.

Vivek Velankar, noted RTI activist and RFII member said, “MSRDC must use technology at toll nakas by putting up motion sensors. This would help in transparency in the actual number of vehicles passing through. Secondly, the MSRDC should declare openly as to for how long citizens will have to pay toll (by announcing a figure) by calculating toll collection up to now; adding interest of IRB’s initial capital investment of Rs918 crore deposited with MSRDC in 2004; adding expenditure by way of operation and maintenance of the expressway; and certain amount of profit to the IRB.’’

Accordingly, MSRDC should either reduce the toll charges in order to keep up with the spirit of the contract, which lasts till March 2019, wherein IRB has been allowed to levy toll charges, or then terminate toll collection and make the Pune-Mumbai Expressway a freeway. RFII has also demanded stern action against the MSRDC’s toll monitoring unit, which is an independent consultancy firm, and its admission that it does not look into the revenues that IRB is collecting, although it is binding on it according to the norms which are also put up on MSRDC’s website (www.msrdc.org) and also as per the central government guidelines.’’

Activists in Pune are agitated that the IRB has neglected the maintenance of the Expressway. Says Vijay Kumbhar, a leading RTI activist who was the first to invoke Section 4 of the RTI Act in the country at the Pune Municipal Corporation, “What has the IRB done about the safety of the commuters? The last two-three months have witnessed gory accidents and the cause of most of them is being conveniently labeled as ‘human error’. What action has been taken against trucks which are supposed to keep to the left lane, but jam the Expressway on all lanes, particularly during the night hours, leading to senseless accidents?’’

Chandmal Parmar, noted road accident prevention activist says, “IRB has completely failed in the maintenance and patrolling of the Expressway. It is collecting toll without giving proper services to the people.’’

In 2010, 443 accidents took place, of which 101 were fatal—103 people were killed. Since January 2011, more than 25 people have died in accidents.

After Moneylife exposed the Expressway toll scandal last week through the use of RTI, the issue has taken a political hue. Shiv Sena activists in Pune took up the issue by organising a rasta roko for half an hour on Friday and their leader Neelam Gorhe also raised the issue in the state legislative assembly.
We request citizens to join in the campaign to make the MSRDC and IRB accountable. RFII plans to draft a petition letter by Tuesday which will also be uploaded on the Moneylife website. Readers should sign this petition and send it to the chief minister of Maharashtra, as well as the MSRDC (we shall provide the email addresses for this), so that there is ample public pressure that will make them sit up and take note.

Interestingly, as per a central government notification issued by the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways on 13 January 2011, the base rate for toll charges for vehicles is as follows:

Car, jeep, LMV: Rs0.65 per km
Light commercial vehicles: Rs1.05 for every km
Bus, truck: Rs2.20 for every km
Three-axle commercial vehicles: Rs2.40 for every km
Heavy vehicles: Rs3.45 for every km
Over-sized vehicles: Rs4.20 for every km

This notification clearly states that these rates are not valid for earlier contracts. But considering that the IRB has overshot its projected profits, the RFII will request the MSRDC to adhere to this new notification in case IRB has yet to reach its target of collection. If you go by this new notification, a car on the expressway would have to pay only around Rs60 for the 95-km route as against Rs165 being charged from 1st April. Says Sinha, “I have traveled by car in states like Goa, Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu but find that the toll charges in Maharashtra are the highest.’’

RFII has requested the help of those who are well versed in the law and willing to help to assist in filing a public interest litigation. Individuals can write in at [email protected]

Comments
Enough of This
1 decade ago
Completely agree. In fact Toll Charges not only on the Pune - Mumbai Expressway, but also those within Mumbai (5 Toll Plazas) [incidentally all controlled by IRB] should be completely closed.
Patki PP
1 decade ago
I am weekly commuter on the express highway. I observe that during last one year the safety on the express way is totally neglected. Pedestrians are freely walking, bike riders are using the road freely and even dare to ride through the extreme right lane. They are even crossing the road and this is happening in front of the eyes of the personsand the police who are supposed to prevent such things. I have even come across incedences of grazing the cattles on the dividers of the express way. We registered the complaint in the complaint book mantained at Khalapur toll plaza.While the authorities are collecting toll they must also ensure that the basic rules on commuting on the express way are observed.
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