Return ‘Vedanta Varsity’ Land To Farmers: SC Lawyer Prashant Bhushan Warns Odisha Govt Of Contempt Case
Bhubaneswar: Noted Supreme Court lawyer and activist Prashant Bhushan said that he would file a contempt of court case against the Odisha government if the land allocated for the proposed Vedanta University project in Puri district, dismissed by the Supreme Court, is not returned to farmers.
Addressing a farmers’ gathering at Beladala village in Puri district held to celebrate the victory of Vedanta University Sangharsh Samiti in the Supreme Court, Bhushan on Saturday said that the state government should start returning land to the affected farmers since the purpose was not met.
In April this year, the apex court had upheld the 2010 judgment of the Orissa High Court, which quashed the land acquisition proceedings initiated by the state government to acquire about 6000 acre of the land for the varsity proposed to be headed by mining baron and chairman of Vedanta Resource Ltd Anil Agarwal.
According to sources, Vedanta had demanded 15,000 acres of land in 2006 to build a university in Puri. Following which, the government sanctioned the purchase of 12,000 acres of land, with ownership of 3,837 acres being given. The disagreement was over nearly 6000 acres of agricultural land adjacent to the Balukhand Wildlife Sanctuary that belonged to about 6000 families.
Rejecting the plea challenging Orissa HC verdict for scrapping the acquisition, the SC criticised the project, and said that entire exercise was “vitiated by favouritism”. It said the land was taken over not only in violation of the land acquisition law but also in breach of environmental law as any construction on it would cause irreversible damage to the ecosystem.
The court further noted that two rivers, Nuanai and Nala, flowed through the acquired land and control of the rivers would be with the private company, which would violate the doctrine of public trust. It ordered the Anil Agarwal Foundation to pay Rs. 5 lakhs in penalties to the Supreme Court Registrar within six weeks on behalf of Orissa State Legal Services Authority.
OPCC president Sarat Pattnayak and senior Congress leader Niranjan Patnaik, who were present at the victory ceremony, criticised the BJD and BJP governments for allocating agricultural land belonging to 6,000 families to set up a varsity.
Bhusan also expressed concern over the way mines were being allocated to handful of corporates by central and state governments by flouting existing norms of law. He then cited the instances of Niyamgiri, Kashipur and Balangir, where local tribals were evicted to facilitate corporate mining operations.
The noted lawyer said that he had filed a case against the state government which did not comply with the SC order, directing it to collect Rs 20,000 crore from the companies which were found mining illegally. After the elapse of several years, the state could collect Rs 17000 crore, he added.