Vedanta varsity land acquisition quashed, opposition guns for Patnaik

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

BHUBANESWAR - The Anil Agarwal-owned Vedanta Group suffered another setback Tuesday with the Orissa High Court quashing the process of land acquisition for its proposed university in Puri. The judgment prompted opposition parties to demand Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik’s resignation.

A division bench of Chief Justice V. Gopal Gouda and Justice B.P. Das delivered the 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 told IANS.

He said the government has been asked to return the land to its owners.

The opposition said the verdict demonstrated the nexus between the chief minister and Vedanta.

“After this judgment, the unholy link between Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik and Vedanta has been established,” Leader of Opposition and Congress leader Bhupinder Singh told reporters.

“He (Patnaik) has lost the confidence of the people. He should immediately resign,” he said.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) also backed the demand.

“Patnaik has no moral right to remain in power. After the latest judgment, it is established that his government was showing undue favour to Vedanta,” BJP state chief Jual Oram told IANS.

Noting that Patnaik himself holds the forest and environment ministry, Oram said that many violations by his ministry and the government have been already established in the past. “We want him to resign.” Oram told IANS.

Meanwhile, Patnaik said his government has not yet received a copy of the judgment. “After receiving it, we will examine and then decide what is to be done,” he told reporters.

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, some 60 km from Bhubaneswar.

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

According to the foundation, this not-for-profit university, being built on a global scale, was envisaged as a one-of-its-kind institution for quality higher education and cutting-edge research facility in 95 academic disciplines for 100,000 students.

But the project faced considerable opposition from local residents. Some people whose land was taken over for the project had sought the intervention of the court, describing the land acquisition as illegal.

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

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

The central environment and forests ministry last month refused to allow Vedanta Aluminium Limited to expand its one million tonnes per annum refinery in Lanjigarh area in Kalahandi district to six million tonnes and the captive power plant to 300 megawatts from 75 megawatts.

In August, the central environment ministry scrapped Vedanta’s bauxite mining project in Niyamgiri hills in Kalahandi, saying that it will effect the environment and disturb primitive tribes living in the area for ages.

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