NHAI's Tolls, UDAN Delays, Unsanctioned Railway Costs: What the CAG Reports Say

In part one of this series, 'The Wire' sums up what the first four of 12 reports filed by the CAG say on government functioning and corruption.

The Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) has released 12 audit reports which were presented in parliament during the Monsoon Session that ended last week.

In this series, The Wire brings together the major findings of the 12 CAG reports.

In the first part, we look at four reports:

  1. Ministry of Road Transport and Highways: Compliance Audit on Toll Operation of NHAI in Southern India
  2. Ministry of Civil Aviation: Compliance Audit on Regional Connectivity Scheme – UDAN (Ude Desh Ka Aam Naagrik), 
  3. Ministry of Road Transport and Highways: Performance Audit on “Implementation of Phase-I of Bharatmala Pariyojana”, and
  4. Financial Audit of the Accounts of Union government.

NHAI collected over Rs 150 crore from commuters in violation of toll rules

The CAG report on the Union Ministry of Road Transport and Highways Toll Operations of National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) in Southern India has found that in five toll plazas, a total amount of Rs 132.05 crore was collected from commuters in violation of toll plaza rules.

The audit was conducted on 41 randomly selected toll plazas across the five southern states of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Telangana.

The report tabled in parliament on August 10 stated that due to “non-implementation of NH Fee Amendment Rules 2013 dated 16 December 2013 with respect to upgradation of existing four lane highways, NHAI continued to collect user fee in three toll plazas (namely Nathavalasa, Chalageri, Hebbalu) during delayed period of construction though the amended rule stated that no user fee shall be levied for the delayed period.”

The report said that this resulted in the collection of user fees of Rs 124.18 crore during the period May 2020 to March 2021 in “violation of the amended toll fee rules”. 

The report found that at the Paranur toll plaza, the NHAI delayed reduction in user fee to 75% of fee applicable.

Representative image. Photo: TeshTesh/CC BY SA 4.0

At the Madpam toll plaza, the NHAI annually revised the user fee despite the stipulation of no revision during upgradation as per the amended Fee Rules. 

NHAI collected Rs 7.87 crore from road users on the two toll plazas from August 2018 to March 2021.

“Thus toll collection in these five toll plazas led to undue burden of Rs 132.05 crore on road users,” the report stated.

The report also found that NHAI collected excess toll fees of Rs 22.10 crore from road users during 2017-2018 to 2020-2021 at the Paranur public-funded toll plaza.

A bridge had been constructed in 1954 and a user fee was being collected for it, again in violation of the NH Fee Second Amendment Rules 2011. Under the rules, since the bridge was constructed prior to 1956, the user fee was not to be levied.

The audit also found that delays in toll collection according to time limits prescribed by NH Fee Rules, 2008, in four stretches of public funded projects led to a loss of NHAI revenue amounting to Rs 64.60 crore.

Also read: Shimla Ex-Deputy Mayor Files FIR Against NHAI, Alleges It Violated Environmental Norms

NHAI also lost revenue of Rs 133.36 crore due to lack of provision for revenue sharing for two sections of NH 44 in Tamil Nadu constructed by NHAI and handed over to BOT (Build, Operate, Transfer toll) concessionaires for toll collection.

52% routes under UDAN scheme not operational

The CAG report on the regional connectivity scheme UDAN (Ude Desh Ka Aam Naagrik) under the Ministry of Civil Aviation has found that up to March 2021, when UDAN-3 ended, 52% (403 out of 774 routes) of the awarded routes could not commence operations.

The scheme launched in 2016 is aimed at promoting affordability of regional air connectivity and refurbishing underserved airports.

The report said that of the 371 commenced routes, only 30% (112 routes) completed the full concession period of three years. 

“Further, out of these 112 routes, only 54 routes (7% of the awarded routes) connecting 17 RCS [regional connectivity scheme] airports could sustain the operations beyond the concession period of three years, as of March 2023,” the report stated.

The report also found “significant delays” in revival or development of identified RCS airports out of the budgetary support sanctioned by Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs in March 2017. 

“Out of the 116 airports/ heliports/water aerodromes where expenditure was incurred, operations commenced at only 71 (61%) airports/heliports/water aerodromes,” the report said.

“Operations could not be commenced or were discontinued at 83 airports/heliports/water aerodromes even after incurring an expenditure of Rs 1,089 crore.”

Also read: Pandemic Yes, but Problems With the UDAN Scheme Also Go Beyond That

Irregularities in highway projects

The CAG report of highway projects under the Implementation of Bharatmala Pariyojana Phase-I (BPP-1)  has found instances of irregularities.

“Instances of irregularities in award of projects by implementing agencies were observed in clear violation of the prescribed processes of tendering, viz., successful bidder not fulfilling tender condition or bidder selected on the basis of falsified documents, award of works without there being approved detailed project reports or based on faulty detailed project report,” it said.

The report also found huge overrun costs in the Dwarka Expressway project which was prioritised to decongest NH-48 between Delhi to Gurugram by developing it into 14-lane national highway.

The report also found huge overrun costs in the Dwarka Expressway project. Photo: File

The NHAI’s decision to opt for an elevated carriageway in the Haryana portion pushed up costs to Rs 250.77 crore per kilometre as against the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs-approved per kilometre cost of  Rs 18.20 crore.

The report added that the NHAI board approved the Delhi-Vadodara Expressway with a civil cost of around Rs 32,839 crore and which was not included in the CCEA approved list of BPP-I projects.

Also read: CAG Report Shows Indian Railways Misused Safety Fund to Buy Foot Massagers, Crockery, Jackets

Unsanctioned expenditure by Railway ministry

The CAG report on the financial audit of the accounts of the Union government found that the Ministry of Railways had incurred unsanctioned expenditure.

In the financial year (FY) 2021-22 the ministry had unsanctioned expenditure of Rs 23,885.47 crore, encompassing 1,937 cases. In FY 2020-21 unsanctioned expenditure of Rs 8,127.97 crore was incurred by Indian Railways in 2,775 cases.

“Similar audit comments were made in the previous C&AG audit reports for the year 2018-19 to 2020-21. Thus, it is evident that no steps had been taken by the Ministry to reduce the cases of unsanctioned expenditure despite being pointed out in the previous C&AG audit reports,” it said.

Trend analysis of object head wise expenditure in respect of Department of Agriculture, Cooperation and Farmers’ Welfare revealed persistent savings of 40% to 96% of the Budget Estimate during the last five years. The report said that this indicates deficient planning at the Budget Estimate stage without taking into account previous years’ trends.

The opposition Congress and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) have highlighted the findings of these audit reports and accused the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government of presiding over “scams”, demanding accountability from prime minister Narendra Modi.