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Orissa HC rules Vedanta University land acquisition illegal and void

Published by MAC on 2010-11-22
Source: Indian Express (2010-11-16)

Orissa HC stays Vedanta University land acquisition

By Debabrata Mohanty

Indian Express

16 November 2010

The proposed Vedanta University, India's answer to Stanford and Harvard, suffered a blow after Orissa High Court ruled the land acquisition for the project in Orissa's Puri town as illegal and void.

The Rs 150 billion multi-disciplinary university is being built by Anil Agarwal Foundation, a registered not-for-profit entity controlled by family members of metal billionaire Anil Agarwal.

It was proposed to spread over an area of 6892 acres on Puri-Konark marine drive overlooking the Bay of Bengal. The university, when fully operational, was to have an intake of 100,000 students with cutting-edge research facility in 95 academic disciplines. The Anil Agarwal Foundation had acquired about 4500 acres of the 6892 acres allotted to it.

But the controversial university project, work on which was stalled by the Ministry of Environment and Forest in May this year over CRZ [Coastal Zone Regulations] violation, has hit a major roadblock after a two-judge bench of chief justice V Gopal Gowda and justice BP Das of Orissa High Court ruled that the land acquisition violated several existing laws and could be a threat to a existing wildlife sanctuary.

Hearing a writ petition filed by BJP member and former Puri MLA Uma Ballabh Rath in 2008, the HC today said acquisition of government land as well as land of Lord Jagannath for the university was invalid as it violated Land Acquisition (companies) Rules, 1963.

The HC also ruled that Anil Agarwal Foundation was not a public limited company and hence any acquisition of land for it under Land Acquisition Act, 1894 was illegal. "The Foundation is a company under Section 25 of Companies Act and not a public limited company," the bench said, ordering that the land be returned to the original owners.

Of the 4500 acres acquired for the company, 1300 acres are Amrutamanohi land, a type of cultivable land belonging to Lord Jagannath. The crops grown in such lands are used in Lord Jagannath's kitchen. The land managed by Puri temple administration can't be traded. The Foundation also acquired about 700 acres of government land and some private land.

Reacting to the HC order, chief minister Naveen Patnaik said his government would study the order before taking any decision.

Incidentally, in March this year Orissa Lok Pal justice PK Patra had
recommended a moratorium on the project till the Anil Agarwal Foundation complied with the legal provisions pointed out by the Ministry of Company Affairs for conversion of its status from private to public company.

Acting on a petition of trade union leader Dwarika Mohan Mishra, the Lok Pal said the Foundation was a private company and not public company and thus the State government can't acquire any land for any private company as per laws. The Lok Pal held that Land Acquisition Act and Section 16 of Shri Jagannath Temple Act, 1954 has been violated by the government.

Puri's sweet water zone located in Talbania in the eastern part of the town contains the sweet water aquifers which provide sweet water to the residents of the city for drinking and bathing purposes. The source of this sweet water is not from any river or stream since no such river or stream directly charges this zone.

In May 11 this year the MoEF had kept the conditional environmental and Coastal Regulatory Zone clearance of university in abeyance over allegations of irregularities, illegal and unlawful deeds by the Anil Agarwal Foundation. Though the MoEF had granted conditional environmental and CRZ clearance to the project in April this year while setting about 50 conditions, the ministry had invited objections from the public about the clearance.

With the project facing so many bottlenecks in Orissa, Vedanta officials said the project may go to States like either Andhra Pradesh or Karnataka. Karnataka has already sent feelers to Vedanta chief Anil Agarwal assuring him all support if he decided to relocate the project to the state.

Vedanta University Timeline

July 2006- Vedanta Foundation(now Anil Agarwal Foundation) signs MoU with Orissa government for setting up a world-class university on Puri-Konark marine drive that would be at par with the likes of Stanford and Harvard.

It was hoped that the Rs 150 billion university will evolve into a large research-cum-education complex resembling Silicon Valley, the economic hub that surrounds Stanford. The university and its environs would have accommodated a liberal-arts program, an engineering school, an agriculture college, a medical campus, Olympics-grade sports facilities, townships for faculty and staff members, parklands, a resort, and even its own airport. The enrolment was to start in 2008.

Sept 2006- Land acquisition for the university starts under Land Acquisition Act and Sri Jagannath Temple Act, 1954.

Dec 2006- Proposed area of the university scaled down from 8000 acres to 6892 acres by Orissa government.

January 2007- People of 22 villages in Puri start opposing acquisition of their agricultural lands by Vedanta.

Dec 2008- Vedanta University Bill tabled in Orissa Assembly.

Dec 2008-Trade Union leader Dwarika Mohan Mishra files 3 petitions before Orissa Lok Pal justice PK Patra alleging illegalities in land acquisition for Vedanta university.

July 2009-Orissa Assembly passes the Vedanta University Bill paving way for the university.

March 2010- Lok Pal justice PK Patra recommends probe into Vedanta land deal and suggests that chief minister Naveen Patnaik may order a moratorium on the project.

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