Cuttack, May 9: Orissa High Court today imposed restrictions on collection of enhanced user fee at Manguli on the outskirts of the city for expansion of the existing four-lane stretch of National Highway-5 between Bhubaneswar and Chandikhol via Cuttack to a six-lane road.
Acting on a public interest litigation (PIL), the court issued the interim order restraining Shree Jagannath Expressways Private Limited from collecting the enhanced user fee.
The National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) had entered into an agreement with Shree Jagannath Expressways Private Limited (as the concessionaire) for development, operation and maintenance of the existing four-lane Bhubaneswar-Cuttack-Chandikhol stretch of NH-5 in Odisha to a six-lane divided carriageway on design, build, finance, operate and transfer basis.
The private agency had started collecting user fee for the six-lane expansion purpose at a tollgate near Manguli from December 14 last year. While user fee for buses was raised from Rs 220 to Rs 280, for trucks Rs 185 was collected instead of Rs 145. For cars and other four wheelers, the user fee was raised to Rs 55 from Rs 40.
Secretary of Keonjhar Navanirman Parishad Dillip Kumar Mohapatra and Badri Narayan Mohapatra (a member of the high court bar) filed the PIL raising objection to the collection of user fee even before providing facilities of six-lane for the public and sought an interim order for stopping collection of enhanced user fee.
The NHAI is still collecting user fees for four-laning of the highway at Manguli tollgate even after expenditure incurred for construction has been recovered. More so, starting collection of user fees for six-lane purpose, that too before completion of construction was “unreasonable”, “arbitrary” and “discriminatory”, the PIL contended.
Acting on it, the division bench of Chief Justice V. Gopala Gowda and Justice B.N. Mohapatra today ordered “the user fee shall not be collected till disposal of the case”.
The interim order further directed Shree Jagannath Expressways Private Limited “to deposit the enhanced user fee collected since December 14, 2011 before the registrar (judicial) of the high court” and posted the case for further hearing after summer vacation.
On December 14, 2011, the court had directed the private
agency to maintain detailed account of collection of enhanced user fee at the tollgate near Manguli.
Petitioner’s counsel Kedar Nath Jena argued that there was no rationale for collection of the enhanced user fee as the Central Road Fund Act, 2000, had given a statutory status to central road fund covering revenue generated from the cess on per litre of high-speed diesel and petrol.
Entire cess collected on petrol and 50 per cent cess on high-speed diesel were being allocated to national highways and other roads, Jena said.
In pursuance of the high court order, NHAI project director Aditya Kumar Ray had filed an affidavit stating that the levy of cess on fuel consumption was basically for the development of roads.
“Construction cost of highways is very high and cess amount is not adequate to meet the requirement of government part of funding. Toll revenues only supplement it,” Ray said.
In his affidavit, the NHAI project director said: “The entire cess and toll revenue money has already been accounted for in the financing plan of National Highway Development Project. These revenue streams have been committed up to 2030-31 as per approved financing plan of committee on infrastructure in 2006.”
The affidavit indicated accounting of cess funds to the tune of Rs 3,60,631 crores in the sources of funds for national highway development.