The Bombay High Court today asked the Centre, the Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation (MSRDC) and the National Highway Authority of India to file replies by March 17 on two public interest litigations on the toll levy, particularly on the busy Mumbai-Pune route.
The state was recently roiled by anti-toll agitations.
The division bench headed by Justice S J Vajifdar also asked the respondents to specify their stand on the manual of specifications and standards for four-laning of National Highways, introduced by the Ministry of Surface Road Transport in 2008. The manual prescribes facilities that a toll plaza must have, including the truck-bay, bus-bay, toilets, rest area and automatic recording of vehicular movement.
The court was hearing the PILs filed by MNS MLA Nitin Sardesai and RTI activist Sanjay Shirodkar. One PIL challenges toll rates while the other alleges non-implementation of the 2008 manual.
Petitioners’ lawyers Srihari Aney and Sayaji Nangre argued that the toll rates were “arbitrary and illegal”, in particular on the Mumbai-Pune Expressway and sections of the old Mumbai-Pune Highway (NH-4).
Petitioners also object to toll levy on the old Mumbai-Pune Highway though the construction of the new road is not yet complete. The state and Mhaiskar Infrastructure and M/s Ideal Road Builders, who are in public-private partnership to construct the road, should not collect the toll, they demand.
“The manner in which the toll is imposed upon the general public travelling on the said Highways is most arbitrary, unreasonable, unfair and unconstitutional.”
“The public at large has to pay the toll fees with respect to the facilities which are not completed by Mhaiskar Infrastructure and M/s Ideal Road Builders,” petitioners contend.
The State and the MSRDC have a primary responsibility for providing good roads for transport. Since they were unable to construct and maintain quality roads, they decided to appoint private individuals/companies for building, operating and maintaining roads by imposing toll, petitioners say.