The Bombay High Court on Thursday directed the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) to look into allegations of irregularities in toll collection on the Mumbai-Pune Expressway. A bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice GS Kulkarni directed the CAG to audit accounts of the Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation (MSRDC) and to submit an affidavit on its findings within two weeks.
The bench also directed the Maharashtra government to file an affidavit responding to the allegations, within two weeks. The bench was hearing a public interest litigation filed by four activists alleging misdeclaration of toll and irregularities in awarding of toll contracts for the Mumbai- Pune Expressway.
The plea sought that the toll collected on the Expressway from August 2019 onwards be declared illegal. Advocate Praveen Wategaonkar, one of the petitioners in the case, had on Wednesday told the High Court that the Motor Vehicle Tax Act allowed the state government to recover capital outlay plus toll collection expenses.
Toll collection rights for a 15-year period, from August 2004 to August 10, 2019, were awarded for an upfront payment of Rs 918 crore to a private firm with an expected revenue of Rs 4,330 crore. However, the actual revenue by July 31, 2019 was Rs 6,773 crore and the excess revenue of Rs 2,443 had been retained by the firm, it was stated.
Meanwhile, the state government had decided to continue collecting toll on the Expressway till 2030 in the name of recovering project costs, Wategaonkar had said, adding that the toll collected after August 2019 was illegal. The MSRDC had told the court that the state had been unable to recover the project costs mainly because citizens often evaded paying toll on the Expressway.
The court had, however, said that the MSRDC's submission was unbelievable. On Thursday, senior advocate Girish Godbole, the amicus curiae appointed by the court to assist it in the matter, said there was some substance in the allegations of under-reporting and misdeclaration of toll revenue as alleged in the plea.
The court then sought the CAG's assistance in the matter, citing that the latter was an "expert body" that could shed some light on the issues raised in the plea. It is likely to hear the matter further on April 21.