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State upset at MSRDC's ideas to extend toll term on E-way

Sources said plans are afoot for expansion work on Mumbai-Pune e-way to increase toll collection period for current contractor; PWD MoS upset with MSRDC for appointing consultant for the work without approval

The hectic activity behind the curtain of confidentiality at Mantralaya and MSRDC is indicative of the possibility that toll collection on the Mumbai-Pune Expressway by the current builder may extend well beyond 2019 when the contract is supposed to expire, sources said.


Taking a toll: Talegaon toll naka on Mumbai-Pune Expressway collected
Rs 8.84 crore in March itself this year. File pic


After the Democratic Front government allowed the feasibility study of strengthening of the MSRDC-built expressway -- constructing two tunnels on the E-way, thereby making it 8-lane -- the MSRDC appointed a consultant to carry out feasibility study of its own volition, without consulting the state. The E-way expansion will result in the extension of the toll collection contract, sources said, and that's the reason why a cash-strapped MSRDC is keen to undertake the work.

However, the appointment apparently has caused some hackles to be raised in the government since ideally the corporation is supposed to get the state's nod before proceeding with such appointments. 

Big collections
But why would the MSRDC skip procedure and go ahead with appointment? To answer the question, consider this. It was in 1997 that the state government awarded the construction of the highway to MSRDC on build-operate-transfer basis. The highway was handed over to MSRDC for a period of 30 years. The MSRDC, in turn, awarded the toll collection contract to Ideal Road Builders and took Rs 1,000 crore in advance. The builder can collect toll till 2019 with the responsibility of maintaining it.

Now, it is estimated that around 12,000 vehicles use the E-way daily. In March this year, Rs 8.84 crore was collected at Talegaon toll naka alone. The lucrative gains may have something to do with a hard-up MSRDC jumping the gun, sources said.

"The capacity building work on the E-way will ultimately result in the extension of the builder's ongoing toll collection contract and the corporations' ownership over the E-way beyond 2019 and 2027 respectively," a senior Democratic Front functionary told this newspaper.

PWD MoS objects
After MSRDC appointed the consultant, it decided to get the government's approval of its decision. When the file was tabled before Minister of State for PWD Rajnit Kamble, he strongly objected to the procedure, raising some damning questions.

"Has the government asked MSRDC to implement the project? As MSRDC has already called the tender for appointment of consultant to carry out the feasibility study, why is the permission being taken now when it should have taken the permission and then called for the tender?" the minister reportedly asked.

Efforts to contact MoS Kamble failed. But sources said the proposal was re-submitted for his approval. Also, the previous tender inviting bids from interested consultants was cancelled and decision to invite global bids was taken. The job has now been given to a consortium comprising firms from the US, Australia and India.

E-way expansion
MSRDC has a plan to construct two tunnels on the expressway to make it eight lanes from the current six. The expenditure for capacity building and strengthening of the highway could be around Rs 3,500- 4,000 crore, say sources.

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