HC quashes land acquisition procedure for Vedanta university

Terming the state government notifications made for the land acquisition as illegal, a division bench comprising Chief Justice V Gopalgowda and Justice B P Das directed the company to return the awarded land to the original owners.

At least two PILs and six individual petitions were filed in the High Court since 2007 challenging the land acquisition procedures for the proposed university project.

The petitions had said that Land Acquisition Company rules, 1963 had not been properly followed.

The proposed project would have caused extreme debilitating impact on the eco system as well as the local bio-diversity, the petitioners had contested.

Similarly, the status of the company was also questioned on the ground that it was not properly formed as per the Company's Act.

Several sections under Land Acquisition Act 1894 along with Land Acquisition (Amendment) Act, 1984 and Land Acquisition (Company) Rules 1963 and Companies Act 1956 were discussed during the combined adjudications of the petitions.

The High Court framed 17 issues and thereafter proceeded discussing each of these issues and held that land acquisition procedure for Vedanta were illegal in all these 17 counts.

Accordingly, the High Court quashed the land acquisition notifications and also the award proceedings in favour of the company and directed them to return the land to the original owners.

The government had in August denied environment clearance for Vedanta's USD 1.7 billion bauxite mining project in Orissa on grounds of serious violation of forest laws.

The petitioners had pointed out that the proposed university project site, which was to come up near Puri, about 60 km from state capital Bhubaneswar, was close to Balukhand Konark Black Buck Sanctuary and a river.

They also objected to inclusion of a large chunk of land belonging to Lord Jagannath temple in the proposed site.

Sterlite Foundation, a private limited company which subsequently changed its name to Vedanta Foundation in 2004, entered into an MoU with Orissa government on July 19, 2006 to set up a university near Puri.

The company had proposed to set up the university for undergraduate and post graduate courses in engineering, medicine, management, general science and humanities. It had asked the government to make available vast areas of contiguous land around Nuanai along Puri-Konark Marine Drive.

Accordingly Orisa government confirmed availability of contiguous land of about 8,000 acres and subsequently notifications were issued for acquiring 6,500 acres including about 500 acres of land belonging to Lord Jagannath temple.

The proposed project had evoked strong protest from areas near Puri with senior Congress leader Uma Ballabh Rath spearheading an agitation demanding its scrapping. Rath was among the first to file PIL in the High Court challenging the university project.

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