In a state up in arms against levying toll and Build, Operate and Transfer (BOT) projects for bridges and roads, the announcement on completing National Highway bypasses in Kollam and Alappuzha as stand-alone public-funded projects, instead of completing it along with the Kazhakoottam-Cherthala NH Development Project on BOT (toll) basis, was received with great cheer.
It was announced that both the bypasses would be completed as public funded projects on EPC (Engineering, Procurement and Construction) mode with 50:50 cost sharing between the State and Central Governments (National Highways Authority of India)). Such a finance arrangement was termed as the first of its kind. However, as per the draft MoU, which is to be signed between the NHAI and the State Government soon, the capital invested by the Centre and the fund for further maintenance of the road would be recovered through toll collection.
In a meeting regarding the matter, attended by the officials of the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways (MoRTH), NHAI and the state PWD, chaired by MoRTH secretary, on May 17 (the minutes of which were accessed by Express under the RTI), it was agreed that on completion of the bypass projects, toll will be collected at applicable rates and remitted to the Central Government (NHAI). “The toll collection will continue until the capital cost invested by the Central Government is recovered and thereafter toll will be charged at a rate equal to 40 per cent applicable rate at the point of time, to take care of maintenance expenses as per the existent toll policy,” the meeting decided. Though it was initially agreed that the NHAI would undertake the work, the MoRTH secretary announced in the meeting that the State Government would execute the work and the Centre would remit 50 per cent of the cost on reimbursement basis.
Since the NHAI had already invited bids for the projects, it was decided that the list of qualified contractors would be handed over to the state for further action. Based on the decisions, the meeting proposed to modify/redraft the MoU.
The meeting also noted that the two-lane bypasses would form part of the four-lane NH development project and the present project will be a ‘sweetener’ for the NH development project under BOT basis. PWD secretary T O Sooraj told Express that the MoU was currently tabled before the Finance Department for approval and would be signed by September.
Sooraj said that all the projects undertaken by the NHAI were carried out through PPP basis and the State Government would pump in 50 per cent of the total cost for the two projects, with an estimated cost of nearly Rs 530 crore, to reduce the toll burden on motorists.
“The NHAI agreed to execute it as a stand-alone project following the demand from the State Government and people’s representatives in the areas. It is perhaps an unprecedented decision to give an offer to the State Government to execute the project,” he said.
The move to levy toll from the motorists is expected to invite public ire.
Kollam Bypass Action Committee president M K Salim has alleged foul play in asking the State Government to execute the project.
“It is a BOT project in the guise of a public-funded project. I suspect conspiracy, as the decision to engage the State Government in the work was taken after floating the pre-qualification tender. The state will have to pump in all the money and will have to wait for the reimbursement,” he said.