Read Judgment: National Highways Authority of India & Others vs. Madhukar Kumar & Others

Pankaj Bajpai

New Delhi, September 27, 2021:The Supreme Court has ruled that construction of the toll plaza at 194 kilometre was not illegal or arbitrary, and hence the direction by the High Court, to shift toll plaza, is liable to be set aside.

A Division Bench of Justice K.M. Joseph and Justice S. Ravindra Bhat observed that under Article 14 of the Constitution, no State action can pass muster, if it is found to be arbitrary. But, then, a different or even an incorrect decision, would not make an otherwise lawful decision vulnerable to judicial scrutiny.

The observation came pursuant to a petition seeking to restrain the construction of a toll plaza at 194 km of NH30 in the four-laning of Patna-Bakhtiyarpur section of NH30, in violation of Rule 8 of the National Highways Fee (Determination of Rates and Collection) Rules, 2008.

While observing that second proviso to Rule 8 does not require that the construction must be solely for the benefit of the residents of the municipal area, the Division Bench stated that in place of the two-lane road, after a huge investment, it was upgraded to a four-lane road and nearly 14 kilometres of the project road, indisputably, passed through the municipal limits and the most important beneficiary of the said construction, can clearly be stated to be the residents in the municipal area.

The Top Court also made it clear that the only requirement to locate the toll plaza within the municipal limits, is that a section of the national highway, inter alia, is constructed within the municipal limits and the construction must be primarily for the residents living in the said municipal limits.

There is hardly any dispute that the national highway, which means the project road, commences from 181.300 kms from the Patna side and it goes to the east and till 196 kms, it is located within the municipal limits, added the Court.

The Top Court observed that an arbitrary decision would be one which is bereft of any rationale or which is capriciously wrong, and not merely an erroneous view, in the perception of the Court, and any other view would tantamount to substituting its view for that of the Authority.

Judged by the said standard, and also the nature of dispute, the Top Court opined that it cannot be held that toll plaza, having been located at a point where there was sufficient space and which would prevent the leakage of traffic, and also noticing that stretch itself consisted of a little over 50 kilometres, quite clearly, the case based on arbitrariness, is only to be repelled.

The Division Bench also said that the appellants will look at the barricades (closing of service roads) in regard to the toll plaza and permit such barricades only as are permitted in Rule 17 of the Rules, and any unauthorized barricades will be removed without any delay and at any rate within two weeks.

The Apex Court also directed the appellants as also the Concessionaire to extend the fullest benefits of the concessions under Rule 9 of the Rules.

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