Dark Implications Of Vedanta University
The Balukhand-Konark Sanctuary, as it exists, covers an area of 71.72 sq km along the seacoast from Lord Jagannath Purl to Sun Temple of Konark. The Puri township is adjacent to the western boundary of the sanctuary where 448 acres of land has been protected as “sweet water zone”. This was identified during the British time. Two rivers, namely Nuanai and Kusabhadra, which are subject to tidal influence, pass through this sanctuary and the river mouths are a part of the aforesaid sanctuary area. Rare species of animals like deers, black-bucks and antelopes are the habitats of the sanctuary playing an important role in maintaining the agricultural productivity of the hinterland through arresting the blowing of sand. It also contributes to recharge of fresh water levels underground in the aforesaid 448 acres of protected sweet water zone. Nearly 14 lakh cusecs of waters pass through these two rivers to the Bay of Bengal and because of this a vast area starting from Puri, Sakhigopal, Balanga, Nimapara, Gop, to Balipatna generally remains safe from the havoc of flood devastation during the time of rains.
The state government is acquiring land for “Anil Agarwal Foundation” for the proposed Vedanta University just at a distance of 30 meters from the boundary of Balukhand-Konark Sanctuary, though there is a strict bar for any process of operation like the above within a belt of five-kilometre width from the sanctuary’s boundary on the landward side and a distance of 10 kilometers upstream from the sanctuary’s boundary along the courses of the three rivers, namely Nuanai’, Kusabhadra and Prachi. This is necessary to protect the sanctuary and the sweet water zone undisturbed and also to save the vast area from Purl to Balipatna from the havoc of flood devastation. In view of the above facts and circumstances, it is crystal clear that the establishment of the proposed university with a township of five lakh people over a contiguous area of 8000 acre near Puri town is a great threat to Balukhand-Konark Sanctuary, the protected sweet water zone along with Puri town, Shree Jagannath Temple and Culture and the poor farmers, who are going to lose their livelihood along with their homestead lands.
There are many irregularities and aberrations in the Memorandum of Understanding signed between Anil Agarwal Foundation and Government of Orissa. People do not actually resent the proposed university. All that they want is that the proposed university can be shifted to any other place of Orissa where sufficient chunk of non-arable land is available and the least number of people are affected. Peculiarly enough, the state government, while acceding to the proposal of the Foundation, has bequeathed complete autonomy to the authorities of the proposed Vedanta University in a lot of administrative matters. It is stipulated in the MoU that there can be no land use/zoning plan within a radius of five km from the boundary wall of the proposed university without consultation with the Anil Agarwal Foundation. The state government in the said memorandum has further assured that in case of any further improvement plan by the Foundation, the state government officials shall take all steps to provide additional lands from time to time.
Not only this. The state government has also assured exemptions of all kinds of state government taxes, duties etc. like VAT, work contract tax, stamp duty, entry taxes on R&D equipments, all educational aids, laboratory equipments and construction materials for a period of 20 years from the date of the signing of MoU. Furthermore, the state government has also recorded exemptions of reservation laws in favour of the proposed university through appropriate legislation in Orissa Assembly. The state government, in addition, has given the assurance to provide all the required funds for construction of a four-lane road from Bhubaneswar Airport to the proposed university project site, which covers an area of about 60 km. Peculiarly enough, although this access road is to be constructed by the state government, the development on both the sides of the said access road will remain under the joint control of the state government and Vedanta Foundation for their planned development in future. The officials like the Secretary, Higher Education Department, while signing the MoU on behalf of the state government with Vedanta Foundation has assured to provide adequate water sources of 11 crore liters of water per day for the project site. It is worth mentioning that this is the requirement of water for 95 per cent of the entire population of Puri District per day. He has also assured to make available necessary electric power to set up 600 mega watt power plant by the year-2020.
For all these and other reasons, the people of the affected area were compelled to launch an andolan in a democratic way under the banner of a movement known as “Vedanta Vishwa Vidyalaya Virodhi Sangharsh Samiti”, under the presidentship of one Shri Benudhar Pradhan, a farmer of the area, aged 94 years. The Samiti has been augmenting the andolan activities by way of demonstrations in different points of time, whereby the Vedanta officials have not been able till this date to take a single brick to the work site to go ahead with the proposed programme. The Sangharsh Samiti has taken an oath to keep going the andolan activities so long as the proposed university project is not withdrawn by the state government. Besides, my considered view is that after a thorough study of the Memorandum and Articles of Association of Anil Agarwal Foundation and discussions with senior charted accountants and eminent lawyers, I am confirmed that Anil Agarwal Foundation is a company registered under the provisions of Section 25 of the Companies Act-1956. This is a company Limited by guarantee having no share capital and registered with four members of Anil Agarwal family having the guarantee amount of liability with the limit of Rs 5,000 each, thus bringing the total of the joint liability upon dissolution of the company only to the tune of Rs.20,000, irrespective of any loss, damage, etc.
It is very important to mention here that Part-VII of the Land Acquisition Act,1894 only permits acquisition of land for a Private Ltd. Company with the prescribed statutory embargos. It permits land acquisition for a Public Ltd. Company with shares and does not permit this privileges in favour of a company registered as “Limited, by Guarantee having no share capital”. This means that the land acquisition proceedings started in the case of the proposed university is not only illegal but also erroneous according to provisions of the Companies Act and the Land Acquisition Act.
For this illegal acquisition and fraudulent misrepresentation of facts by Anil Agarwal Foundation as a Public Ltd. Company, a criminal case has been instituted by Dwarika Mohan Mishra, an eminent trade union leader of Orissa, before the learned Sub-Divisional Judicial Magistrate, Bhubaneswar, with a submission for criminal action against the said company for “preparing and manufacturing forged documents although the company had known that the documents filed before the state government were forged, thereby misrepresenting facts before the Government of Orissa to gain relief with a fraudulent intention and thus committed criminal breach of trust and cheated the people of Orissa at large”.
In this event, Dwarika Prasad Agrawal (father of Anil Agarwal), Anil Agrawal, Suman Didwania (sister of Anil Agarwal) and Ajit Kumar Samal (the officer concerned of Anil Agarwal Foundation) are now being prosecuted under Sections 420, 468, 471, 406, i20B and 34 of Indian Penal Code and the case is under investigation by the Capital Police Station, Bhubaneswar.
In addition to this, allegations were also made by Dwarika Mohan Mishra before the Lokpal of Orissa against the public servants of the state government, for they have misused their power in their official capacity and misrepresented facts and thereby cheated the people of Orissa at large. In this context, the Lokpal, after hearing all the parties, has passed a historical observation and recommended to the Chief Minister of Orissa to consider directing moratorium on the project in question for conversion of the status of the company until it is cleared by the Regional Director of Ministry of Corporate Affairs, Mumbai. Along with several other recommendations, the Lokpal has also observed that, as for the “four members of the Association, they have ventured to undertake a gigantic project of establishing a world-class university with multi-disciplinary streams for imparting education to 15,000 students which is proposed to be subsequential raised to 10,0000 students in various technical and general streams of education which raised gave doubt on the genuineness of the proposal”.
Let us discuss now how the mandatory provisions of law have been violated for the land acquisition under the Land Acquisition Act, 1894. Under the Land Acquisition Law, “Part-VII” was inserted for rapid growth of Industrialisation in India and in the context of this, a central rule was framed in the year l 963 known as the “Land Acquisition (Companies) Rules, 1963”. The Land Acquisition statute being an ex-proprietary legislation, the said rules are required to be strictly complied with for initiation of Land Acquisition Proceedings. Rule-4 of the Land Acquisition (Companies) Rules, 1963, mandates the procedures of inquiry in the event of which the appropriate government is to be satisfied with regard to the following matter before initiating the acquisition proceedings.
Whenever a company makes an application to the appropriate government for acquisition of any land, that government shall direct the Collector concerned to submit a report to it on the matters as mentioned below:
- That the company has made its best endeavour to find out lands in the locality suitable for the purpose of acquisition.
- That the company has made all reasonable efforts to get such lands by negotiation with the persons interested therein on payment of reasonable price and such efforts have failed.
iii. That the land proposed to be acquired is suitable for the purpose.
- That the area of land proposed to be acquired is not excessive.
- That the company is in a position to utilise the land expeditiously.
- Where the land proposed to be acquired is good, agricultural land that no alternative suitable site can be found so as to avoid acquisition of that land.
However, the state government has completely ignored the mandatory provisions of the Act and Rules. Hence, the entire acquisition made by the state government for Anil Agarwal Foundation is shocking and illegal in the eyes of law. Let us discuss how the lands of Lord Jagannath have been illegally handed over to the Anil Agarwal Foundation at a throwaway price. Lord Jagannath represents the sentiments not only of the people of Orissa, but of entire India. It is, therefore, very unfortunate that huge patches of land belonging to Lord Jagannath are being acquired for Anil Agrawal Foundation’ at a throwaway price of rupees one lakh per acre only.
There is a bar under Section 16 (2) of the Shree Jagannath Temple Act, 1954, that no transfer, sale, alienation, mortgage of property pertaining to Lord Jagannath shall be made without prior approval of the state government. Here the state government, for this purpose, is the Law Department, which is the Administrative Deptartment of Shree Jagannath Temple Administration. But in violation of the aforesaid provisions under the Act, the Shree Jagannath Temple Administration has illegally handed over around 1,300 acres of land belonging to Lord Jagannath to Anil Agarwal Foundation at a throwaway price, although it was objected by the then Minister of Law, Government of Orissa.
By Uma Ballav Rath