The Bombay High Court has directed the state and central governments, the Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation (MSRDC) and the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) to respond to a public interest litigation (PIL) which alleges irregularities in the toll policy.
The PIL, filed by Nitin Sardesai, member of the state legislative assembly elected from Dadar and Sanjay Shirodkar, states that the manner in which the toll is imposed on the general public "is most arbitrary, unreasonable, unfair and unconstitutional."
After hearing the arguments of the petitioners, a division bench of judges SJ Vazifdar and BP Colabawalla asked whether the authorities had taken into account the central government manual when fixing the toll charges and it ordered them to file their replies by March 17, 2014.
Sardesai, 49, is also general secretary of the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) which is leading the agitation against toll charges in the state.
The PIL, filed through advocate Sayaji Nangre, argues that the central government notification of September 5, 2006, pertaining to the old Mumbai-Pune highway ignored the base fee formula (the 1997 rates for various vehicles) on the basis of which the toll fee is to be decided.
This unlawful and arbitrary imposition of charges on road transport and more specifically those who use the Mumbai-Pune Expressway and the old Mumbai-Pune highway was an illegal financial burden on the public.
Judge Vazifdar reacted saying, "This is a serious issue which needs to be considered. Why should people pay double the amount?"
The PIL also pointed out that the toll agreement was for a period till 2030 which is contrary to the rules and the central government notifications as the fees are supposed to be based on the Wholesale Price Index (WPI) and it is impossible to forecast the WPI for future years.
In any case, such an assumptive forecast would not amount to the WPI as fixed by the Ministry of Commerce at the end of each financial year. The impugned notification of September 5, 2006 ignores this aspect and hence it is arbitrary and illegal, the PIL states.
The PIL has sought that the state government, Mhaiskar Infrastructure and Ideal Road Builders, who are in a public-private partnership to construct roads, be restrained from collecting toll.
It also prays that the developers be directed to install Advanced Traffic Management System (ATMS) on the old Mumbai-Pune Highway and the Mumbai-Pune Expressway.
It states that they should also be directed to provide sufficient ambulance services on these major highways.