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Andhra offers land for Vedanta varsity

Odisha sits on alternative plot plea

By SUBRAT DAS in Bhubaneshwar
  • Published 25.07.17
A screenshot of Vedanta University website

Bhubaneswar, July 24: The Andhra Pradesh government has offered the UK-based Anil Agarwal Foundation land to set up the Rs 15,000-crore Vedanta University, a project primarily conceived for Odisha but stuck in a land acquisition imbroglio.

The Andhra government has offered the foundation land for the project at the sprawling Knowledge City in Amaravati, the upcoming capital of the state.

The Vedanta Group, which runs the Rs 5,000-crore alumina refinery plant at Lanjigarh in Kalahandi, a smelter pant and a captive power plant at Jharsuguda, signed an MoU with the Odisha government on July 19, 2006, to set up the university on 7,000 acres on the Puri-Konark Marine Drive.

The state government had given over 3,837 acres to the foundation to set up the project on the Puri-Konark Marine Drive. However, before it could take off, the project ran into trouble over land acquisition.

The state Lokayukta had, in March 2010, questioned the methods used to acquire land for the project. The anti-grafts body said the status of Vedanta Foundation, which was later converted into Anil Agarwal Foundation, had been wrongly changed from a private to a public company. Lokpal Justice P.K. Patra had, in his report, recommended for appointing a competent authority to thoroughly probe the land deal.

In 2010, Orissa High Court had struck down the acquisition on procedural issues and directed the state government to restore land to the original owners.

The matter had also sparked off a political storm with the Opposition stalling the Assembly and demanding the resignation of chief minister Naveen Patnaik over the issue.

In 2011, the state government and the foundation had moved the Supreme Court over the matter, where it is still pending. During the hearing on November 28 last year, the apex court wondered why anyone should oppose formation of a world-class university as it would benefit one lakh students. The court had ordered status quo in the case.

"Why should anyone oppose setting up of a world-class university which will give opportunity to over one lakh students? If somebody is making an investment of Rs 2,500 crore in education, why should somebody oppose it? Students will benefit. Public would benefit," Chief Justice T.S. Thakur said.

The matter was listed for hearing in February this year and was adjourned without a hearing.

To save the project, the foundation had recently made an informal appeal to the Odisha government to provide them with an alternative location.

Last week, Odisha's revenue secretary Chandrasekhar Kumar had convened a meeting to discuss the land issue. "Once we receive a formal proposal, we will consider it," Kumar told The Telegraph.

As the state government delays to address the foundation's plea, the offer of the Andhra Pradesh government has further tweaked the situation to Odisha's disadvantage.

"We have plans to develop a knowledge city in Amaravati, and we would love to explore any potential collaboration. There is a great deal of interest from Hon'ble chief minister to operationalise the area of collaboration," said Andhra Pradesh Economic Board CEO J. Krishna Kishore, in a letter, to the Vedanta Group chief Anil Agarwal last month.

President of the Vedanta University Project and former chief secretary of Odisha, B.K. Patnaik, told The Telegraph: "A letter has been received from the Andhra Pradesh government addressed to chairman Anil Agarwal requesting him to set up a world-class institution such as Harvard University on a large tract of land in Amaravati."

He, however, declined to elaborate further.

Once completed the university would have 95 departments with specialised research in all major branches of academics. The programmes proposed include BA, BSc, BTech, MBBS, MA, MSc, M Phil, MBA and PhD.

The varsity also proposes to set up professional schools in agriculture, engineering, applied and computer science management, media, design, creative and performing arts, law, medicine and mass communication.

There will also be cross-cultural centres of excellence in health sciences, manufacturing sciences, agricultural research, rural economics, information & communication technology, pharmaceutical sciences, urban planning & policy, nano-technology and biotechnology.