MAC: Mines and Communities

London Calling follows Anil Agarwal to heaven (or at least the fields of academe)

Published by MAC on 2009-08-03

Over recent years the executive chairman of UK-listed Vedanta Resources has nursed an incredible dream: to pioneer the world's most advanced seat of learning in Orissa.

This north eastern Indian state is where Mr Anil Agarwal's most advanced plans are now being laid; and his most vehemently-criticised operations are located.

Many who have observed Mr Agarwal at close quarters (for example, at last week's Vedanta annual general meeting in London) believe that this venture is predicated on considerably more than merely "giving back to the people" the "fruits of his labours". (Or, as Agarwal put it disingenuously at that meeting, of "taking the people with us").

Possessing an ego which stands in inversion proportion to his diminutive stature, the non-resident Indian billionaire obviously thinks he's buying a quick ticket to immortality.

Although Orissa's parliament last week gave the go-ahead for this massive project, many issues remain unresolved. Not least among these are the likely adverse impacts that the University and its infrastructure will have on local farmers and water resources.

Moreover, it would sequester land belonging to one of India's most renowned Hindu temples.

And that's distinctly ironic: Agarwal recently told Delhi's Business World magazine that, when travelling in London, he prays on passing every temple en route!

Building a monument to posterity in the fields of academe won't be any easier for Vedanta's head honcho than the construction (and destruction) of virtually everything else he's touched, and tainted, in Orissa to date.

Source: "Boxed in by bauxite", Business World, Delhi, 28 July 2009

[London Calling is published by Nostromo Research, London. Opinions expressed in these columns do not necessarily reflect those of any other party, including the editors of the MAC website. Reproduction is welcomed, provided full acknowledgment is given to Nostromo Research and all sources quoted.]

Opposition to Vedanta varsity grows

Staff Reporter, The Hindu

31 July 2009

UP IN ARMS: A group of concerned citizens demonstrating against the passage of the Vedanta University Bill, in Bhubaneswar on Thursday.

BHUBANESWAR: Opposition to setting up of proposed Vedanta University near Puri grew outside the State Assembly with educationists and social activists terming the decision of the government to handover about 6,000 acres of land as ‘shocking' here on Thursday.

A group of concerned citizens staged demonstration outside the Assembly premises shouting slogans such as ‘Vedanta quit Orissa,' and ‘we oppose transfer of land of Lord Jagannath to Vedanta group.'

Bill passed

Even as the State Assembly passed the Bill to facilitate establishment of proposed Vedanta University near Puri, they termed the day as ‘Black Day' alleging that the government overlooked interest of the State.

Under no circumstance the group should be given 6,000 acres of land, they said.

Reacting to Vedanta University Bill, Professor Banikant Mishra, who has been closely monitoring developmental initiatives in the State , said "it is a matter of shame. Why does a university need 6,000 acres of land?

We have come across several top-notched universities in the world which have even come up on less than even 100 acres of land."

The group should have been given 100 acres to 200 acres for the purpose to prove its commitment, Mr. Mishra said.

Sudhir Patnaik, a social scientist, said "we don't require any university of this magnitude. If the State government is really serious to see improvement in education system, it should have strengthened infrastructure of government-run colleges and universities instead of exhausting resources for a private university."

Moreover, the State government was showing unprecedented interest to ensure the Bill passed in favour of a group whose ethics in doing business were being questioned worldwide, Mr. Patnaik said.

Birendra Nayak, an educationist, also questioned the hurriedness with which the State government passed the Bill.

"It is difficult to fathom as to why a group with no past experience in education is being promoted so enthusiastically."

Meanwhile, Vedanta Biswabidyalaya Birodhi Sangharsh Samiti (VBBSS), which has been spearheading movement against displacement caused by the university, decided to intensify its agitation on the ground.

The VBBSS leader Uma Ballav Rath said neither company nor the State government officials would be allowed to enter the region for land acquisition.

"It is a matter of livelihood for thousands of people.

The State government will not be allowed to go away with a faulty decision."

Vedanta University Bill passed

Statesman News Service

30 July 2009

BHUBANESWAR: The much delayed Vedanta University Bill was passed in the Assembly today despite several objections raised by the Opposition on a wide range of issues relating to ecology, drainage, mineral deposits and the inexperience of the promoter.

The Opposition Congress and BJP which had raised apprehensions over land grab ~ 6000 acres of valuable land along the Puri-Konark stretch ~ and furnished documents indicative of the mineral deposits as well as the impact on environment and ecology since the commencement of the debate yesterday was out voiced by the ruling party.

Significantly, today the Opposition benches wore a deserted look with very few members remaining present during the discussions on the Bill.

Higher education minister Mr DP Mishra who piloted the Bill made extensive references to the Knowledge Commission headed by Mr Sam Pitroda and the need for more world class educational institutions in the country. "Orissa is poised to become the education hub of the country and it is important to attract private investment," he said.

Mr Mishra firmly refuted the charge that Sanctuary and Forest Laws were being violated. He also underplayed the reports on mineral bearing sand dunes in the area and said: "There are several survey reports but the commercial viability needs to be taken into account." He went on to note that the Central government has paramount powers in this regard.

The proposed varsity will be a world class multi disciplinary self financed varsity set up by the Anil Agarwal Foundation. It will have a modern self contained township and its estimated to cost Rs 15,000 crore.

The core campus will cater to the needs of one lakh students, 20,000 faculty members and an equal number of non-teaching staff. It will offer academic programmes in basic sciences, humanities, engineering, business management, law, medicine, agriculture and will also have research parks, Olympic level sports complexes and large water bodies.

"It will be like Harvard, Oxford and Stanford university. The university shall set up a endowment fund of Rs 10 crore," said the minister Several amendments to the various clauses in the Bill were accepted. One such amendment was to allow two legislators to be nominated to the Board, an eminent person from Orissa to also find place in the Board. Relaxation in the fee structure for students belonging to the weaker sections and displaced families was also accepted as an amendment but reservation for local students was rejected.

Right through the deliberations spread over two days, Congress member Mr Prasad Harichandan and BJP leader Mr KV Singh Deo dominated the discussions. Mr Harichandan today questioned the investment pattern and said that Rs 4,000 crore is to be spent in the first phase and with this amount of money we could establish two IITs, two IISRs, one Central University and one NIT.

None of the universities in the world provide for one lakh students [100,000]it, the biggest has 50,000 students, he pointed out while noting that Mr Anil Agarwal has never set up a university anywhere in the world.

He alleged that the water resources department had drawn attention of the state government to the drainage problem that would arise in the area. Mr Singh Deo, on his part, focused on the mineral reserves in the area to be acquired by the varsity and readout from documents relating to atomic energy department. He made a fervent appeal to members to consider these aspects before passing the Bill before saying: "Anil Agarwal is eyeing the minerals".

Several ruling party members defended the Bill saying it would pitch-forth Orissa to the international scene. They also denounced the Opposition accusing them of impeding the progress of the state.

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