Just when you thought that the people at large have become somewhat indifferent to exposes of corruptions and scams, comes the mother of all scams, leaving all and sundry in a state of utter shock. The sheer obduracy of Naveen Patnaik Government of Orissa to hurt the sentiments of crores of Hindus has left even the most resigned and shock-proof observers gasping in stunned disbelief, as Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik has sold 6,000 acres of prime land of world-renowned Jagannath Temple in Puri, and of local farmers of different nearby villages at a throwaway price to Anil Agarwal of Vedanta Foundation, who also owns Vedanta Aluminum and Sterlite Industries. The land has been sold for the purpose of construction of Vedanta University on the Puri-Konark marine drive. This shady deal between the Government of Orissa and Vedanta Foundation has caused a huge resentment among the local public, farmers and landowners. If one goes through the MoU between the Government of Orissa and the Vedanta Foundation, one would be surprised to know about the attitude of Naveen Patnaik, that is to what extent it stooped on the negotiation table, brushing aside the interest of the state so as to mollycoddle a private company. The MoU, which is posted on the website of the Orissa Government, evidently exposes Naveen Patnaik and his managed team of officials, who are dealing with the controversial project. Now the issue is widely being discussed among the intellectuals and industrial circles and they opine that the Vedanta Foundation aims only at grabbing the precious land and will never establish any big university, which is being claimed by it.
The MoU was signed in 2006. Even after the expiry of MoU in 2008, the state government passed a special Vedanta bill in 2009 in a hurry in assembly, when the Anil Agarwal Foundation was facing charges of FERA violations and had moved to Delhi High Court seeking anticipatory bail.
At the time of MoU, the Government of Orissa had signed the relevant documents with the Vedanta Foundation, but after the agreement was signed, the Vedanta Foundation converted into Anil Agarwal Foundation keeping the Government in complete dark about the said change in nomenclature. During the signing of the MoU on 19-7-2006, the Government of Orissa documents reveals that the name of Laxmi Narayan Agarwal, father of Anil Agarwal, finds place as one of the directors of Vedanta Foundation, but in reality, by the time the MoU was signed, Laxmi Narayan Agarwal had already died on 2-4-2006 and the death certificate had already been issued by the Government of Uttar Pradesh. The Vedanta Foundation also cheated the Government and the public by describing itself as a public company by preparing certain fake documents. Even before the Government of Orissa issued a letter to the Vedanta Foundation to obtain a letter from the Regional Director, Ministry of Company Affairs, Government of India, about the status of the company, after the publication of the gazette notification meant for purpose of land acquisition, the land acquisition process has already been started and is still continuing.
Naveen Patnaik, who claims himself to be an honest Chief Minister, had allegedly made the deal with the Vedanta Foundation, ignoring all sorts of legal aspects. Self-proclaimed ‘Mr Clean’ Naveen did not think about the sentiments of crores of Hindus while selling the land of Puri Jagannath Temple to oblige a private company, which is allegedly being funded by a foreign church! One would be astonished to know that the government offered the land of Jagannath Temple to Vedanta Foundation at a cost of one lakh rupees per acre, which is a pittance. With the help of information under the RTI Act, it is found that 500.16 acres of land under four villages have already been acquired at a throwaway price of Rs. 7,85,31,396 (seven crore, eighty-five lakh, thirty-one thousand, three hundred ninety-six). Till November 27, 2007, a notice had been served for acquisition of temple land to the extent of 1085.20 acres in 16 villages under Puri tehsil. A complaint regarding this matter had been referred to the Governor of Orissa.
Here it is worth mentioning that for the purpose of carrying out any educational scheme, the land can be acquired, if the scheme is sponsored by the government. But in this particular case, for acquiring the land for Vedanta Foundation, through RTI, it is known that despite there was an embargo for acquisition of land for private companies, the Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik ignored the file noting of the then Law Minister from BJP and the then Revenue Minister from BJP, and signed the file to acquire the land for a private company on November 7, 2006. If tomorrow, the Vedanta Foundation shows a developmental cost on that land, it can get a huge amount of loan against that land. Thus, the land of Jagannath Temple can be mortgaged by the Vedanta Foundation, says Shri Uma Ballav Rath, former MLA of Puri and chief advisor, Vedanta Vishwavidyalaya Sangharsh Samiti. Many senior politicians from the BJP and Congress party blame Naveen Patnaik for selling the state’s silver for a pittance under a fraud. They ask whether the Naveen Government has the mandate to sell the Jagannath Temple property to Vedanta Foundation.
In the MoU, the Government of Orissa has also confirmed the availability of contiguous land of about 8000 acres as reasonably required by the Vedanta Foundation. Not only that, the Naveen Patnaik Government has decided to exempt the company from all state levies/taxes/duties etc, VAT, Works Contract Tax, Stamp Duty and Entry Tax on R&D equipment, lab equipment and tools, educational aids, and construction materials for a period of 20 years. The misery does not end here, as per the agreement with the Vedanta Foundation, the people of the nearby villages will have to seek permission from the company for any land-related activities like construction of houses, roads and digging-up of ponds on their own lands! Those villages would not come under Puri-Konark Development Authority.
Vedanta funded by Church
A report in the UK-based newspaper, The Independent (26-6-2009) accused the church of unethical investment in aluminum mines. The Church of England has loaned Anil Agarwal a huge amount of money. According to the report, the investigation by Ecologist magazine has found that investors in the Vedanta Foundation include the Church of England and the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust-which uses its 120 million pounds endowment fund to make five million pounds of grants each year-as well as local authorities and major British finance houses. The Trust, which is separate from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, bought shares in the Vedanta Foundation late last year worth 1.5 million to 2 million pounds through its independent fund manager. Both the charity and the Church of England said they are awaiting responses from Vedanta Foundation before deciding whether to disinvest, the report revealed. It is to be noted that the shareholders of the company also raised questions over the shady deal in its Annual General Body Meeting recently, as they were kept in the dark about it.
Government ignores eco-sensitive sweet water zone with heavy deposit of rare minerals
The proposed land is full of rich and rare minerals. Therefore, there is a great discontentment among the public over the deal, which, according to them, has a hidden agenda to capture the said land. The proposed site is also close to ecologically sensitive zone and the areas close to the sea coast are replete with a huge deposit of ilmenite, lignite, zircon, synthetic rutile and other rare minerals, which are used for atomic energy. Recently, a committee appointed by the Supreme Court found that the Vedanta Foundation submitted fake reports to obtain clearance from the Ministry of Environment and Forests. In 2005, the Central Empowered Committee of the Indian Supreme Court stated: “Any mining in the areas is bound to destroy the biodiversity and affect the availability of water for the local people.”
Both the Congress Chief Whip Prasad Harichandan and BJP Legislative Party Leader KV Singhdeo opposed the bill for Vedanta University in the House stating that the land for acquisition for the university falls under the ecologically sensitive zone, where there is a wildlife sanctuary, called Balukhand Konark Sanctuary. The Puri township is adjacent to the western boundary of the sanctuary. Two rivers, namely the Nuanai and the Kushabhadra, which are subject to tidal influences, pass through the sanctuary and the river mouths are part of the sanctuary area. The sanctuary plays an important role in maintaining agricultural productivity of the hinterland by arresting the erosion of land. It also contributes in recharging the freshwater levels up-ground and prevention of seawater ingress. The Talabani area, adjacent to the sanctuary boundary on the western side, is extremely important for the Puri town as a sweet water zone and thus has to be preserved at any cost. The land is also the source of more than 30 springs, which are renowned for their myriad wildlife-they are home to more than 300 species of rare plants and animals.
A document prepared by Mir Azam Ali, S Krishnan and DC Banerji, all three are Atomic Mineral Directors for Exploration and Research, reveals discovery of heavy mineral-rich sand dunes along the Orissa-Bengal coast of India. Samples have also been drawn from Brahmagiri, Konark and Bhalupura, and have confirmed the occurrence of heavy minerals. The official sources in the Directorate of Geology, Government of Orissa, confirm that the Directorate has plans to take up minerals potential survey in Manikapatna block and Nabha sector on the Puri coast. While talking to this reporter, BJP Legislature Party Leader KV Singhdeo highlighted the relevance of this eco-sensitive zone and pointed out that the Naveen Government has sold the precious land to the Vedanta Foundation without taking any permission from the Ministry of Atomic Energy. He said that once this comes to the notice of the Ministry of Atomic Energy, it would definitely come down heavily on the State Government. Shri Singhdeo also made a strong allegation that the Vedanta Foundation is trying to set up a 6000 MW power plant by using these heavy minerals on the Puri coast.