Vedanta University: Apex court orders status quo

The Supreme Court on Friday ordered the Orissa Government to maintain status quo on acquisition of 6,000 hectares of land for setting up an international university by U.K.-based Vedanta group in the holy city of Puri.

Admitting a bunch of cross-appeals, a bench of justices D.K. Jain and H.L. Dattu asked the State Government to maintain status quo on the process to acquire the land.Earlier, two different benches of the apex court had refused to hear the cross-appeals saying that one or the other judges had been linked to the adjudication of the issue before.

The State Government and the Anil Agarwal Foundation, which promotes the project, appealed against a decision of the Orissa High Court which citing 17 reasons held that land acquisition procedures for the proposed Vedanta University project were illegal.The high court had also directed Vedanta to return the land to its various owners.

Appearing for one of over half a dozen petitioners against the project, counsel Prashant Bhushan contended that the State Government began acquiring land for setting up of a world class university by a group, which does not have the experience of establishing even a primary school.

He also contended that Land Acquisition Company Rules, 1963, had not been properly followed by the state Government.The high court had given its verdict on two public interest lawsuits and six individual petitions, challenging the state government’s notification on the land acquisition procedures.

Another petitioner opposing the project contended that the proposed multi-disciplinary university project would cause extreme debilitating impact on the eco system as well as the local bio-diversity.

Yet another petitioner, who is opposing the project, is Congress leader Umaballav Rath. He had earlier filed a PIL in the high court challenging the varsity project on the ground that it was envisaged on 500 acres of the temple land.

The petitioners also pointed out that the proposed site for the university was close to Balukhand Konark Black Buck Sanctuary and a river.The petitioners had also questioned the status of the company saying it was not properly formed as per the Company’s Act.

The status quo was ordered by the bench of justices of Jain and Dattu. Earlier, an apex court bench of justices G.S. Singhvi and A.K. Ganguly recused itself from adjudicating the issue on January 21.

Nearly a fortnight before that on January 5, another bench of justices R.V. Raveendran and A.K. Patnaik withdrew from the case.

The bench of justices Singhvi and Ganguly withdrew from the case as Justice Ganguly had dealt with it earlier as the Chief Justice of the Orissa High Court.

The bench of justices Raveendran and Patnaik refused to hear the issue to avoid any conflict of interest as Justice Patnaik hailed from Orissa

Land acquisition for Vedanta University quashed

The Orissa High Court on Tuesday quashed the process of land acquisition for Vedanta University in Puri and directed the government to return the acquired land to its owners, a lawyer said. The division bench of Chief Justice V Gopal Gouda and Justice B P Das delivered their verdict in response to eight petitions, said Subir Palit, one of the lawyers for the petitioners.

“The court declared that the land acquisition notification for Vedanta University project is illegal and void. The court quashed the notification,” Palit said.

He said that the government had been directed to return the land to its owners.

The Anil Agarwal Foundation, promoted by NRI industrialist and chairman of Britain’s Vedanta Resources Anil Agarwal, was setting up the multi-disciplinary Vedanta University near the Konark-Puri marine drive.

The university was to come up in over 6,000 acres with a phased investment of Rs.150 billion ($3.5 billion). But the project faces considerable opposition from local residents.

Some people who lost their land had sought the intervention of the court describing land acquisition for the project as illegal.

“We have been opposing land acquisition since the beginning because it was illegal. Now the court has came to the rescue of people. The judgment is historical,” Umaballav Ratha, one of the petitioners, said.

No one from the Anil Agarwal Foundation or the state government was available for comment.

The union environment ministry had earlier refused clearance to Vedanta’s mining project in Orissa’s Niyamgiri hills.