Orissa high court blow for Vedanta

Asks company to return land acquired for university to owners

By Ruhi Kandhari
Published: Thursday 25 November 2010

In an unprecedented judgement, Orissa High Court has asked mining giant Vedanta to return the land acquired for a university to its owners. The university was proposed on a spread of 2,400 hectares or land equivalent for 5400 football fields. With an outlay of Rs 15,000 crore, the university has been controversial since it was proposed on land rich in thorium deposits along the Puri-Konark marine drive.

Politicians and activists have been questioning the need for so much land ever since the Orissa government signed an agreement with Vedanta Foundation for the university in 2006. The land the state government has allotted for Vedanta university is about ten times the combined area proposed for IITs in Bihar, Andhra Pradesh, Rajasthan, Orissa, Gujarat, Punjab, Himachal Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh.

The Orissa High Court on November 16 quashed the process of land acquisition for the university and directed the authorities to return the acquired land to their owners. The court responded to several PILs that alleged the Orissa government and Vedanta did not follow the Land Acquisition (companies) Rules (1963). Bench comprising Chief Justice V Gopalgowda and Justice B P Das held the land acquisition notification for the Vedanta university project was illegal.

Petition by Jayant Das, Supreme Court advocate and former advocate general of Orissa, opposed land acquisition by the university based on the reading of the University Grants Commission Act, 1956. Under the act any private company limited by guarantee (registered under Section 25 of the Companies Act, 1956) cannot acquire land to set up a university. “Land can be acquired for a university only by private companies with some embargo or by public companies with shares,” Jayant said.

Vedanta Foundation, a private company limited by guarantee, was renamed Anil Agarwal Foundation within 50 days of signing the agreement with the state government for the university. Though the state department of higher education recognised the company as converted to a public limited company, Jayant contended that the conversion of a private company into a public company with shares was not possible under the law.

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