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Did NHAI favour Reliance Infra? CBI to probe

Other companies including Pink City Expressways Private Ltd, Abhijeet Hazaribagh Toll Road Ltd and IRB Surat Dahisar Tollway Pvt. Ltd are also under CBI scanner. As per rule under the Concession Agreement (CA), the toll collected is required to be deposited in an escrow account (withheld amount account) and the withheld amount is not supposed to be released to the concessionaire (private party) till such time that the defaulted milestones have been achieved.

But interestingly, the clause (escrow account) under CA, while allotting the contract of Delhi-Agra toll project to Reliance Infrastructure Ltd was ‘purposely omitted’ to give undue ‘convenience’ to the private sector company. The CBI probe comes in the wake of this particular concern on the part of the government over the functioning of these ‘toll plazas’ that were operated by private players, who not only ‘suppressed’ the escrow accounts on a regular basis, but also committed a number of other irregularities during the previous regime.

Well placed sources said, CBI probe will work on several key findings, which include alleged ‘false promises’ made by the aforementioned companies claiming that they had mobilised machinery at two construction camps for the Delhi-Agra project. In addition, NHAI’s role too will be investigated to find out one, why they have no record of any action against the company’s failure to mobilise machinery and commence construction work of Delhi-Agra project; two, why despite incomplete construction work, company officers were collecting toll; and three, why the clause over ‘escrow account’ was ‘omitted’ in the agreement by NHAI on Delhi-Agra Project. 

Further, probe into the ‘disastrous’ planning of Nagpur-Betul, Lucknow-Rai Bareli and Varanasi-Aurangabad projects, which led to extra burden of Rs 2,280 crore (approx) on NHAI, will also be looked into.

In between October 1, 2010 to March 2014, Reliance Infrastructure Ltd managed to collect more than Rs. 500 crore but ‘surprisingly’ diverted nearly half of the amount (till August 2012) and invested it in Reliance Liquid Fund (RLF), in a gross violation of the CA.

On the context of anomalies within the Pune-Satara Toll Road Pvt. Ltd, another Reliance Infrastructure unit, CBI sources said, “Though there was a clause in the agreement over the escrow account, but it was not followed by the company. It needs to be explained.”

The government agreement under ‘Tolling Contractor’ with the private parties categorically states that “Concessionaire may appoint a Tolling Contractor or any other person to collect the Fee for and on behalf of the Concessionaire, provided that notwithstanding such appointment, the Concessionaire shall be and remain solely liable and responsible for the collection of Fee in accordance with this Agreement and its deposit into the Escrow Account and for compliance with the provisions of this Agreement.”

The other area, which CBI will examine, would be that despite NHAI’s higher concession period to the companies including Reliance Infrastructure Ltd, L&T etc, users have been made to shell out Rs 28,096 crore as extra toll to these companies, which ultimately add monitory burden on NHAI. CBI sleuths are also flipping through records on NHAI’s incurred losses of Rs 856.80 crore due to Change of Scope (CoS) in 22 projects, out of which Rs 662.53 crore loss was due to deficient DPR.

It was learnt that users on Varanasi-Aurangabad highway will have to shell out Rs 11,547.75 crore to Varanasi Aurangabad Tollway Pvt Ltd, while those using Pune-Satara and Delhi-Agra stretches will have to pay additional user fee of Rs 3,421.08 crore and Rs 752.80 crore to Pune-Satara Toll Road Pvt. Ltd and Delhi-Agra Toll Road Pvt. Ltd, respectively.

CBI sources said, “This is a serious issue and need to be a probe on why the clause on escrow account was omitted while dealing with the company on Delhi-Agra project. Once our preliminary report is finalised, then we will examine NHAI as well as concerned company official under the preview of law.”

It was found that non-transfer of toll amounting to Rs 902.89 crore to ‘withheld amount account’ and diversion of such toll revenue amounting to Rs 303.62 crore investment, instead of being spent on construction work were the chief issues that CBI had unearthed.
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