Probe Vedanta land deal, says Lok Pal

Questions land acquisition by state for private university  

By Ashutosh Mishra
Published: Monday 31 May 2010

on march 17, the Orissa Lok Pal recommended a thorough probe into the 2,400 hectare (ha) land deal involving mining giant Vedanta Resources. The government is acquiring land from 22 villages along the Puri-Konark highway to help establish Vedanta University under a trust named after Vedanta founder, Anil Agarwal.

The Lok Pal, P K Patra, asked the state to take action against bureaucrats who hastened the land deal favouring Anil Agarwal Foundation. He also recommended a moratorium on the Rs 15,000 crore university project till the foundation complied with all legal requirements. The Lok Pal gave his order on a petition by Dwarika Mohan Misra, a veteran trade union leader.

The order pointed out that officials hurried with land acquisition for the university even though the trust was a private one; the law department had said the private company should have been converted to a public one before the land acquisition started.

The then commissioner-cum-secretary for higher education, Ashok Tripathy had recommended initiation of land acquisition on the basis of the trust’s claim that it had converted into a public company. But a letter from the Union Ministry of Company Affairs to the foundation showed the trust had not met some of the conditions stipulated by the Companies Act till then, the Lok Pal’s order said. Officials in Vedanta said the foundation had complied with all legal requirements.

Politicians and activists have also questioned the allotment of such a large tract of land for a private university (see ‘Degree of Commerce’, Down To Earth, February 16-28, 2010). Sources said three-fourth of the land needed for the university has already been acquired and includes land belonging to the Puri Jagannath temple trust. The temple spokesperson Laxmidhar Pujapanda said the government had acquired 246 ha of temple land for which the shrine was paid Rs 8.80 crore. “We accepted the money under protest as we estimated its cost to be much higher,” said Pujapanda (see box). When contacted, state revenue minister Surya Narayan Rao said only the temple trust and managers could take a decision on selling temple land.

Former mla of Puri, Uma Ballav Rath, said the government should act on the recommendations of the Lok Pal. He is convenor of Vedanta Vishwa-vidyalaya Virodhi Sangharsh Samiti formed by villagers to fight the land acquisition.

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