Vedanta University: Apex court orders status quo

The university was to come up on over 6,000 acres of land with a phased investment of Rs 150 billion (USD 3.5 billion).

New Delhi: The Vedanta University project, being promoted by the London-based Vedanta group in Puri in Orissa, received a fresh blow with the apex court on Friday ordering status quo on the "nature, character and possession" of land acquired for the varsity.

An apex court bench of Justice DK Jain and Justice HL Dattu ordered status quo on the land acquired or sought to be acquired for the Rs 15,000 crore Vedanta University. The court has directed expeditious hearing of the matter.

The Orissa government and Anil Agarwal Foundation, the promoter of Vedanta University, moved the apex court challenging the November 16, 2010 verdict of the state High Court faulting land acquisition procedure for the project on 17 counts.

The Orissa government had entered into a Memorandum of Understanding with Anil Agarwal Foundation for setting up Vedanta University July 16, 2006.

Appearing for the Orissa government, senior counsel KK Venugopal said that Vedanta University was a great project for the state and it should be allowed to be completed.

Another senior counsel Anil Divan, appearing for one of the petitioners, said that the company was listed as a public limited company on the website of the Registrar of Companies and the Orissa High Court has erred in treating it as a private limited company.

Appearing for the respondents, senior counsel Prashant Bhushan opposed the petitions by the Orissa government and Anil Agarwal Foundation saying this was an attempt to "grab the land".

The High Court while holding land acquisition as illegal had directed the promoters of the university project to return the land to their original owners.

The number of petitions including the PILs had contended that land acquisition procedure under the Land Acquisition Company Rules, 1963 was not adhered to. The petitions in Orissa High Court were moved since 2007.

A local Congress leader Umaballav Rath who had contended that the proposed Vedanta University would adversely impact the bio-diversity of Puri and also its ecology also moved the high court. The petitioner said the proposed university was near the Balukhand Konark Black Buck Sanctuary and a river.

The petitioners had also objected to the inclusion of large area of Lord Jagannath temple land for the proposed university.

Before being heard by the bench of Justice DK Jain and Justice HL Dattu, the petition was listed before two other benches but could not be heard as both the benches recused themselves from hearing the matter.

While in the bench headed by Justice RV Raveendran, Justice AK Patnaik recused himself from hearing the matter on even the remote possibility of conflict of interest visiting the case, the bench headed by Justice GS Singhvi recused itself because Justice Asok Kumar Ganguly had heard a related matter when he was heading the Orissa High Court.

The university was to come up on over 6,000 acres of land with a phased investment of Rs 150 billion (USD 3.5 billion).


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