Major setback for proposed Vedanta University in Puri



DN Singh

Bhubaneswar: Vedanta group's proposed world class university along the coast of Puri-Konark suffered a major setback on Tuesday when the Orissa High Court quashed the entire process of land acquisition by the company measuring about 6,700 acres. The court also issued orders to return the land to their rightful owners. This is the second jolt for the Vedanta group in the state after its Kalahandi-based alumina refinery expansion project was scrapped by the Union MoEF.

The Vedanta's 'Anil Agarwal Foundation' had proposed to set up a world standard university along the Marine Drive between Puri and Konark in Orissa, but the proposal generated a lot of controversy over the past few years. The Foundation had signed an MoU with the state in 2006 for setting up the university.

The Division Bench of the High Court comprising Chief Justice V Gopal Gowda and Justice BP Das, adjudicating over a PIL, today pronounced the verdict stating that the entire process of land acquisition was illegal. Hence the court quashed the entire land acquired and directed for its immediate return.

The company had originally proposed to acquire about 20,000 acres between Puri and Konark. However, in the face of public pressure the state government had agreed to allot only about 8,000 acres out of which 6,500 acres had already been acquired for the company's world class university, though the physical possession of the entire land is still not complete.

The PILs, which were filed by one Uma Ballahv Rath and Gopabandhu Daridranarayan Trust, besides six other individual petitions, had challenged the land acquisition process which violated the 1963 companies' Land Acquisition Act. The petitions had also questioned the eligibility of the company, Anil Agarwal Foundation, in whose favour the land was acquired, because it was not a private limited company.

“The petitioners had highlighted issues like (presence of) highly eco-sensitive zones along the coast, which is adjacent to the proposed university, besides the most redeeming feature that out of the total acquired land, about 1385 acres belonged to Lord Jagannath of Puri,” said Subir Palit, an advocate representing the petitioners.

The court found the land acquisition procedure to be illegal on 17 accounts and thus quashed the land acquisition notifications and also the award proceedings.

In addition, the petition had also challenged the veracity of a number of committees constituted by the state government to look into the process of land acquisition in favour of the proposed university.

The issue had in fact led to controversy in 2009 when the matter was brought before the Lok Pal of Orissa by the Gopabandhu Daridranarayan Trust. The Lok Pal's observations had indicated at the maintenability of many of the points raised by the petitioner and the report had dubbed the land-acquisition process flawed in many aspects.