The London-based Vedanta Group got another setback in Orissa on Tuesday when the state High Court declared that the land acquisition notification for the Rs 15,000-crore Vedanta University project in Puri district was illegal.
This is the second setback for the group in Orissa after the Union environment ministry recently stalled its alumina refinery expansion project and refused to allow it to mine bauxite in Kalahandi district.
Delivering their order in response to eight public interest petitions, a division bench of the high court comprising chief justice V Gopal Gauda and justice BP Das directed the Orissa government to return the acquired lands to the respective owners.
“This is a historic judgment. Vedanta had acquired fertile land by violating the land acquisition, environment, wildlife and Jagannath Temple acts,” said petitioner and BJP leader Uma Ballabh Rath.
The lawyer for Vedanta University was not available for comment. A Vedanta spokesperson, not wanting to be named, said the group would take appropriate action after going through a copy of the order.
Orissa chief minister Naveen Patnaik said, “We have not received the copy of the judgement yet. When we receive it, we will examine it and decide what is to be done.”
The Anil Agarwal Foundation, promoted by Vedanta Group chairman Anil Agarwal, signed an MoU with Orissa in 2006 to set up a world class university near the Konark-Puri marine drive.
The foundation had earlier proposed to acquire about 20,000 acres but as this met with public resistance, the government allotted Vedanta about 8,000 acres. Of this, 6,500 acres were acquired for the varsity.
Petitions were filed in the high court in 2007 challenging the acquisition process. They also questioned the government’s granting of land to the university near eco-sensitive zones along the coast.