The Bombay High Court on Thursday directed the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India to conduct a “thorough inquiry” into the accounts of Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation (MSRDC) based on allegations made in PILs against toll collection by a private contractor on the Mumbai-Pune Expressway.
The court asked CAG to submit within three weeks a comprehensive affidavit in reply to the PILs, as well as the corporation’s affidavit that justified the extension of toll collection contract.
The court had on Wednesday hinted at the CAG inquiry after it expressed surprise that MSRDC could not recover the total capital outlay of the project, which was open for public use in 2004. As of today, the recoverable amount is close to Rs 22,000 crore.
The MSRDC counsel had submitted that while Rs 3,632 crore was recoverable in 2004, as of today, Rs 22,370 crore was yet to be recovered. In view of this, MSRDC was justified in extending the contract in 2020 for a period of 10.2 years, the affidavit stated.
“It is difficult to believe that you could not recover estimated capital outlay. Rs 3,632 crore has become Rs 22,000 crore,” the bench stated.
The HC had also asked the authority about the amount spent on construction and maintenance of the expressway and asked the lawyers for the state government and CAG to appear before it on Thursday.
A division bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice Girish S Kulkarni was hearing two PILs filed by MNS leader Nitin Sardesai and activists Pravin Wategaonkar, Sanjay Shirodkar, Vivek Velankar and Shrinivas Ghanekar challenging toll collection on the Mumbai-Pune Expressway.
The petitioners had argued that toll collection rights for the 15-year period from 2004 to 2019 were awarded to the company based on an upfront payment of Rs 918 crore, and the balance cost recoverable, as of August 2004, was Rs 3,632 crore.
The plea claimed that the company has collected nearly Rs 6,773 crore till July 2019, which is excessive and, therefore, the contractor has illegally retained Rs 2,443 crore that is due to MSRDC.
Advocate Girish Godbole, who was appointed by the court as Amicus Curiae to assist it with the case, submitted that as per the contractor, nearly 20,000 vehicles were using the expressway without paying the toll per day and no income is shown for such vehicles and the same was surprising. “It is a humongous number. Let CAG investigate that aspect of the revenue. Who can believe this? Let the contractor show records. MSRDC says this is permissible and the state committee endorses it and the same would result in loss to the public exchequer.”
After hearing the submissions, the bench noted in the order, “We require CAG, respondent in PIL to file a comprehensive affidavit in reply dealing with the petition and affidavit in reply by MSRDC. Such affidavit be filed after making thorough inquiry into accounts of MSRDC.”
After advocate Vinay Joshi for CAG prayed for three weeks to file such an affidavit, the court granted the same. Advocate General Ashutosh Kumbhakoni for the state government sought time to file a reply to the plea, and the court asked it to submit the same within three weeks.
Asking the private contractor to be added as party to the case, the bench noted, “Having regard to the nature of allegations levelled in the petition, the contractor is a necessary party in whose absence issues raised cannot be heard.”
The court will hear the PILs next on April 21.