Bhubaneswar: Weeks after the Odisha Bytes expose forced the state government to withdraw its decision to give away part of a school playground here to the IAS Officers’ Association, a government decision to take over land of a premier research institute ostensibly to build a convention-cum-hotel complex is likely to stoke fresh controversy.
An investigation by Odisha Bytes has revealed that the state government recently decided to resume around 30 acre of prime land earmarked for the Institute of Minerals and Materials Technology (IMMT), which is part of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Technology (CSIR), in the city on the ground that it was ‘unutilised’.
“How can the government take such a decision when the matter is sub-judice?” asked an IMMT-Bhubaneswar official wishing anonymity. “Describing the land as unutilised is not right. The institute has various plans including setting up a research park. The government can build a convention centre-cum-hotel on some other patch. We need the land for our future prospects as well as to maintain greenery and ambience essential for a research institute,” the IMMT official told Odisha Bytes when informed about the government decision.
The top national research institute had earlier strongly opposed the government’s proposal and submitted a detailed memorandum to Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik. It had also moved the Orissa High Court against it and the writ petition is yet to be disposed of. However, the government has gone ahead with its plans and decided to take back the land, official sources revealed.
Set up in the 1960s thanks to the vision and efforts of then Chief Minister Biju Patnaik (father of Naveen), the institute, previously called Regional Research Laboratory (RRL), was originally allotted 200 acre. It, however, had physical possession over 195 acre. In 1987, the government settled 147 acre in favour of the institute while taking over around 17 acre for setting up institutions like Planetarium, Regional Museum of Natural History and Odisha Computer Applications Centre.
“The balance 30 acre in question has continued to be in the possession of the institute since 1964,” an IMMT insider said. “The government is now considering this patch, which is contiguous to plots housing the Apollo Hospitals and Doordarshan Kendra, as excess land and wants to resume it. This will be a big blow to the institute’s expansion plans,” the insider noted.
“The institute has already developed some R&D installations of national and international importance for climate research funded by ISRO in association with University of Manchester, UK, as well as other campus structures on the parcel of land which the government intends to take over for development of a convention-cum-hotel complex,” said the memorandum submitted by IMMT staff and students numbering about 500 to the CM. “We pray to the government not to dispossess this prestigious institute of its land possession further in the interest of the state and the nation,” it added.
Director of IMMT-Bhubaneswar, Prof Suddhasatwa Basu was one of the signatories to the memorandum, but refused to say much about the government decision. “I am not the competent authority to speak on this matter. The land belongs to CSIR headquarters. Hence, I cannot make any statement,” he said.
Odisha Bytes also contacted the state General Administration department for its version, but concerned senior officers chose not to respond to our queries.