SC hope for varsity plan by Vedanta

The Supreme Court today wondered aloud why anyone should oppose the formation of a world-class university, suggesting that it may allow a private foundation to go ahead with a varsity plan near Puri that had been rejected by Orissa High Court.

By Our Legal Correspondent
  • Published 29.11.16
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New Delhi, Nov. 28: The Supreme Court today wondered aloud why anyone should oppose the formation of a world-class university, suggesting that it may allow a private foundation to go ahead with a varsity plan near Puri that had been rejected by Orissa High Court.

"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 bench of the Chief Justice Thakur and Justice D.Y. Chandrachud was dealing with a plea filed by the Naveen Patnaik government and the Anil Agarwal Foundation against the high court order. Anil Agarwal is the founder of the UK-based mining giant Vedanta.

The project was earlier struck down by the high court in November 2010 following petitions that alleged large-scale irregularities in land acquisition by the state government that had entered into a memorandum of understanding with the foundation.

After the high court struck down the acquisition as "illegal," the state and the foundation had appealed in the apex court in 2011, which came up for hearing today before the apex court bench.

In the apex court today, Justice Thakur said: "We can request the high court to monitor the progress in the setting up of the university and we can also make it clear that the land acquired should not be used for other than the purpose for which it was acquired. The apex court noted that foundation was already in possession of 3,000-odd acres of land and it may not be proper to quash the acquisition.

But the court asked: "Has anybody gone into the reasonableness of so much land being sought for a university. How much area does Columbia (University) have?"

Senior counsel Gopal Subramanium, appearing for the foundation, did not refer to Columbia but said Stanford University was built on 8,000 acres.

Senior counsel K.K. Venugopal, appearing for the Odisha government, defended the MoU. He said: "It will be a world-class university. It will be a feather in our cap and an example for other states to follow."

The court adjourned the matter for further hearing in February 2017.

The project had earlier come under fire from the Opposition which had demanded that the MoU be scrapped and land allotment cancelled.

The MoU was signed between the Odisha government and Anil Agarwal Foundation in July 2006 for establishment of a private world-class university near Puri with an investment of Rs 15,000 crore.

The government had committed to allot 6,000 acres along the Puri-Konark marine drive for the university.

However, the state Lok Ayukta had said that questionable methods were used to acquire the land for Vedanta's project.

The anti-grafts body had said that the status of Vedanta Foundation, which was later converted into Anil Agarwal Foundation, had been wrongly changed from a private to a public company.

Subsequently, Orissa High Court had in 2010 quashed the land acquisition and directed that the acquired land be restored to their original owners.