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Vedanta University Politics: Let Truth Prevail

"The recent remarks made by Orissa Lok Pal questioning the legal integrity of the deal between Orissa Government and Vedanta Foundation (now renamed as Anil Agrawal Foundation) has raised doubts over the transparency claim made frequently by Naveen Patnaik Government. It’s not only the legal integrity of the deal, but the transfer of government and Jagannath Temple land to Anil Agrawal Foundation is also made unlawfully, suggest the remarks made by Honourable Lok Pal of Orissa. Even though the Lok Pal authorities sought a probe by vigilance or a similar special cell made for it, Orissa Government’s silence on its response to the remarks of the Lok Pal suggests that the State Government is either restricted due to some reason to invalidate the illegal deal with Anil Agrawal or is not at all caring the law of the land that is set to guide the acts of the government and protect the right of every citizen. Rather, the government is fully engaged in fooling the people and the whole system to make all benefits available to Anil Agrawal."

Prasanna Mishra : April 4, 2010

Legally the state government could acquire land for the Anil Agarwal Foundation if the Foundation was a public company. This has been the consistent view of the Law Department of Government of Orissa. Chief Secretary, Orissa approved the proposal for land acquisition in the instant case on the 12th December 2006. Accordingly lands belonging to private persons as well as to Shri Jagannath Temple started getting acquired.  No previous sanction of the state government was taken before acquiring the land belonging to Shri Jagannath Temple though previous sanction was mandatory as per Section 16 of Shri Jagannath Temple Act, 1954.

Legality of the ongoing acquisition of land hinges on the legal status of the Anil Agarwal Foundation on the day notification u/s 4 of the Land Acquisition Act issued following the decision of the Chief Secretary on 12-12-2006. The Core Committee under the Chairmanship of the Development Commissioner in its fourth meeting on 27-04-2007 referred to the Certificate of incorporation as a public company and conversion of the status of the company to a public company on the basis of written submission by Anil Agarwal Foundation. Interestingly, the core committee does not mention the date and number of the letter of the Registrar of Companies. Hon’ble Lok Pal therefore has observed that the Core Committee consisting of high-level officers of the State did not properly go through the said letter. On the other hand, Registrar of Companies, Maharastra in his letter dated 07-05-2008 to the Media Advisor to Minister of State for Rural Development; Government of India has stated that Anil Agarwal Foundation was a Section 25 company and not a public limited company.

Hon’ble Lok Pal rejected the prayer to treat the allegations of the petitioner as frivolous and vexatious; Hon’ble Lok Pal did not agree that the petition was not made in good faith. Hon’ble Lok Pal has made nine recommendations in the matter. The first one is the recommendation that Chief Minister would consider directing moratorium on the project until compliance with certain matters was made. Hon’ble Lok Pal has also advised that a competent authority be appointed to thoroughly investigate and enquire into the deal from the beginning so as to find out persons/public servants responsible for advancing the cause of the Foundation and to find out if public servants were influenced either by the Foundation or any one else.

While the Government would be surely acting on the recommendations of the august body, I would suggest that Government must put an immediate blanket freeze on further action on land acquisition and on any new initiative by the Foundation on the land in question. It should not be beyond the capacity of the Government to ascertain within a fortnight whether the Foundation had been converted into a public limited company on or before the day the Chief Secretary decided to acquire the land. If the status of the Foundation then had not been changed, Government should immediately start criminal case against the concerned person/persons of the Foundation for having cheated the Government.

Since land acquisition for a private company would be illegal ab initio, Government must revoke the entire land acquisition process. Government should also ascertain if Shri Jagannath Temple lands were acquired in violation of the Temple Act. If there has been violation, the concerned officials must be dismissed from service in addition to initiation of criminal cases against them. Government should, even at this stage, with an open mind, think whether to go ahead with the project. Even if all actions taken in this case so far would appear to be completely legal, and Government would like the project to proceed, I would still feel that the project be confined to one thousand acres at the most and not an inch of the Temple land be given for the Project.

People who would part with their land must receive compensation that would be in tune with the total cost of the project. We must realise that a person in the middle income group now spends around twenty per cent of the cost of a house for a piece of land in a town like Puri or Bhubaneswar. If the promoters do not agree to these stipulations, they should be free to go elsewhere. The site, as I had mentioned some years ago, is the crucible of our heritage. It has BRAND VALUE that no amount of money can buy. Government must respect the sentiments of the people. The order of Hon’ble Lok Pal looks to me to be a divine wake up call. It will be sad if the Government does not wake up to make amends.

(Author is a retired bureaucrat and former Addl. Chief Secretary, Orissa)




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