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December 12, 2010

Page: 11/44

Home > 2010 Issues > December 12, 2010

Special Report

Court verdict exposes Naveen Patnaik government’s support to land-grabbers

By Sanjaya Jena in Bhubaneswar

Vedanta has never had any history of establishing any educational institute. Its claim to establish a "world class" university offering education in 95 disciplines with accommodation facilities for one lakh students appeared untenable to many from the beginning.

THE Orissa High Court’s November 16 verdict that the land acquisition for the proposed Vedanta University project at Puri was ‘ultra vires’ and its direction to state government to return the acquired land to concerned people and organisations has exposed the state government’s alleged nexus with the London based company.

Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, a good friend of Vedanta Resources Plc chairman Anil Agarwal, now faces much embarrassment as the judgment has apparently dented his much claimed transparent image.

Anil Agarwal Foundation, the promoter of the university project, had initially asked for 10,000 acres of land and subsequently scaled down the demand to 8,000 acres. This was further scaled down to 6,000 acres due to protests by the opposition parties and individuals who suspected some hush-hush deal behind the scene.

Delivering its judgment in a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed by former MLA Uma Ballabh Rath and Gopabandhu Daridra Narayan Seva Sangh, a social organisation-a two-member bench of the court comprising Justice V Gopal Gowda and Justice BP Das said the Anil Agarwal Foundation, the promoter of the university project, was "ineligible" to acquire land under Land Acquisition Act 1894.

"The HC held that Anil Agarwal Foundation was ineligible to acquire land as it was not a public limited company. It also quashed the state government’s land acquisition notification under Section 4 and 6 of the Land Acquisition Act 1894," says Aditya Das, the counsel for the petitioner.

The court verdict clearly vindicates the opposition stand that the state government closed its eyes to blatant violations of Land Acquisition Act. Besides, it was also proved that overlooked public protest not to hand over Lord Jagannath’s Amruta Manohi land to the company.

Vedanta has never had any history of establishing any educational institutes. Its claim to establish a "world class" university offering education in 95 disciplines with accommodation facilities for one lakh students appeared untenable to many from the beginning.

This kind of tall claim provided rooms for discussions on the credential of the company. Some people interpreted it as a land grabbing bid and other said Vedanta wanted to exploit the mineral reserves of the Puri beach.

Whatever may the case. The HC judgment has come as a lesson for the business houses and government establishments. The truth, as it appears now, has prevailed upon the falsehood.

Hailing the judgment, the petitioner Rath says, "It is a historic verdict. Never in the history of Indian judiciary, had the court asked the company and the state government to return the acquired land to individuals and other concerned agencies. This is a victory of people of Orissa and Lord Jagannath, the presiding deity of the land."

Rath, who has been fighting against the university project under the banner of Vedanta Vishwa Vidyalaya Sangharsha Samiti, had alleged in the PIL that the ruling BJD government had violated the Land Acquisition Act, The Company Act 1963, Jagannath Temple Act and environment protection laws to facilitate the land transfer in favour of the university project. He had also questioned the very character of the company and the intention of the state government.

Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, when asked by journalists to give his comment on the judgment, said the government would take its next step after examining the verdict. It now remains to be seen if the state government challenges the HC verdict in the Supreme Court.

The judgment has come as a double blow to Vedanta. Its Lanjigarh alumina refinery project has already run into rough weather because of denial permission by the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests for expansion work.

The Anil Agarwal Foundation had on July 19, 2006 has signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the state government to set up a "world class" university project with an investment of Rs 15,000 crore.

Senior BJP leaders Biswa Bhusan Harichandan and Manmohan Samal, who held law and revenue portfolios, respectively, when the Vedanta University project was finalized have tried to steer clear of the controversy saying their dissent to the land acquisition process by the Chief Minister was not taken into consideration.

The credibility of their claim will be tested in the coming days when more and more information on this controversial issue would emerge.

Naveen must resign
The high court has given a historical judgment on Vedanta University project. We salute and welcome it.

It is a victory of the people. After the latest indictment, Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik has no moral right to remain in power.

The judgment once again proved how his government has been showing undue favour to Vedanta. The Chief Minister himself is the Forest and Environment Minister. Many other violations by his ministry and government have already been established in the past. "We want him to resign"
-Jual Oram, State President BJP, Orissa

A threat to national security
SJM from the beginning had dubbed proposed Vedanta University as real estate business of Vedanta group than any academic endeavour and was part of agitation against Vedanta University.

Opposing Vedanata’s claim of developing a world class university, SJM had maintained that if the state Government was so serious for a world class university instead of sealing the deal with Anil Agrawal’s Vedanta singularly, it should have gone for a global bid.

Saying that Vedanta has no expertise in academics, it has said that if the proposed university on public protest has agreed to develop its campus in 6,000 acres instead of its original demand of 10,000 acres, thus makes logically correct that the company is interested to grab land for its ulterior motive.

Saying that land is more precious for India than America or China, SJM leader S Gurumurthy had argued that both the countries have less density of population making per capita land availability much higher than India.

In several resolutions passed in its meetings against proposed Vedanta University SJM had said the university was not only against interest and self esteem of people of Orissa but could pose a threat to national security as huge deposit of thorium as admitted by centre has been traced in the area the university is proposed.
-Swadeshi Jagaran Manch had dubbed the proposed Vedanta varsity as real estate business

Unholy nexus
The landmark verdict of the Hon’ble Orissa High Court is historic. It has duly exposed Naveen Patnaik government’s unholy nexus with the Vedanta Group vis-a-vis its proposed University project at Jagannath Dham Puri.

I feel that the so-called University, in reality, was nothing but a mere land grabbing project which was rightfully set aside by the Orissa High Court. In the wake of the Judgement of the High Court, which actually vindicates the stand of the local population, Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik has no moral authority to rule. Patnaik must quit.
-Subash Chouhan, National convener of Bajrang Dal

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