Home Judiciary SC Rejects Vedanta Plea

SC Rejects Vedanta Plea

New Delhi: The Supreme Court of India on Wednesday upheld the verdict of Orissa High Court which had ruled the land acquisition for establishment of Vedanta University in Puri null and void. The Apex Court has also slammed the Vedanta company and Odisha Government in its judgment pronounced on Wednesday.

The Supreme Court issued its judgment on appeals filed by the Orissa Government and Anil Aggarwal Foundation against Orissa High Court’s 2010 decision of quashing the land acquisition for establishment of Vedanta University.

Shri Aggarwal, who plans to establish the university, is the Chairman of Vedanta Resources, the mining company. The bench of Justices M. R. Shah and Krishna Murari have heard the case and issued a 103 pages order.

The court not only dismissed the petition filed against the Orissa HC order but also asked the appellant – beneficiary company – Anil Agarwal Foundation, to deposit Rs. 5 lakhs with the Registrar of this Court within a period of six weeks from today. On such deposit, the same be transferred to the Orissa State Legal Services Authority, the Court said.

The SC noted that the entire acquisition proceedings / proceedings came to be initiated at the instance of the Vedanta Foundation, which commenced in the month of April, 2006.

Initially, the company asked the Odisha Government specifically to make available 15,000 acres of contiguous land around Nuanai, Puri District in Bhubaneshwar-Puri-Konark by June 15, 2006. The process for identifying the suitable locations was by the company.

The State had signed an MoU with the company MoU dated 19.07.2006. At this stage, it is required to be noted that initiation of the acquisition proceedings was by the Vedanta Foundation and thereafter by the Anil Agarwal Foundation, which admittedly at the relevant time.

The bench noted that initially, 15,000 acres of the agricultural lands was sought to be acquired for the proposed university. Ultimately, approximately 8000 acres of the land belonging to the private landowners / agricultural landowners came to be acquired.

As on 19.07.2006, it was a private company having three Directors on its Board and less than seven members. It is the case on behalf of the appellants that as subsequently the Anil Agarwal Foundation, which at the relevant time was a private company was converted to public company as on 13.12.2006, which was an attempt to get out of the statutory provision under the Act, 1894, observed the court.

Stating that the conversion of private company to public company as illegal, the SC said the Orissa High Court has rightly held that the acquisition was illegal on the aforesaid ground.

“The University in question was/is non-existent as no university has come into existence under the University Grants Commission Act, 1956 nor under the Orissa Universities Act. The case on behalf of the appellant that the State legislature has already passed a bill to establish the university is neither here nor there as even as per the appellant’s response, the same is pending assent of the Governor,” the court order said.

The most important aspect, which is required to be considered is the non-application of mind by the State Government on environmental aspects and passing of two rivers from the acquired lands in question.

It is not in dispute that from the lands in question two rivers namely ‘Nuanai’ and ‘Nala’ are flowing, which as such were acquired by the State Government. The control of the rivers would be with the said private company, which would violate the Doctrine of Public Trust, it said.

Further, the court noted that just across the road, there is a Wildlife Sanctuary, which is just adjacent across the road to the proposed university and the lands acquired.

Therefore, the large-scale construction for the establishment of the proposed university as observed by the High Court will also adversely affect the Wildlife Sanctuary, entire ecosystem and the ecological environment in the locality, the SC said.

It is required to be noted that the State Government is holding a public trust and has to deal with the lands belonging to private landowners, more particularly, agricultural landowners in accordance with law.

“The State Government could not have considered the proposal from only one beneficiary/trust. There may be other public trusts /companies, who might be interested in establishing such a university. Even no proper inquiry seems to have been initiated by the Government/Collector while considering the proposal by the beneficiary company,” the court further observed.

From the material on record, it appears that undue benefits were proposed /in fact offered and given to the beneficiary company providing undue largesse.

“It is not appreciable why the Government offered such an undue favour in favour of one trust/ company. Thus, the entire acquisition proceedings and the benefits, which were proposed by the State Government were vitiated by favouritism and violative of Article 14 of the Constitution of India,” the Apex Court ordered.