Jairam says no to Vedanta campus in Orissa

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New Delhi:  The Union Environment Ministry on Tuesday put on hold the controversial Rs 150 billion Vedanta University project in Orissa following complaints of alleged irregularities by its promoter Anil Agarwal Foundation.

However, the Foundation denied any flouting of norms saying that the allegations were made by those with the vested interests as all the regulations were being complied with as required under the environment norms. It also said that to address the issue, it would submit all requisite documents to the authority.

"We are yet to start construction so where is the question of violation. We are ready to go ahead with the details whatsoever demanded by the ministry. We are sure to get the go ahead within a month to the ministry's satisfaction," Vedanta Group's Orissa project Vice-President Ajit Samal said.

The direction to keep the project in abeyance has come within a month of the Ministry granting conditional environmental clearance to the Foundation which is building the university.

While doing so, the Ministry imposed 50 conditions, including inviting of public objections to the project.

In the April 16 clearance, the Ministry had banned the Foundation from withdrawing ground water, restricting local fishermen from fishing and undertaking construction in the coastal Regulation Zone area.

In its order issued today, the Ministry said it has "received information alleging interalia irregularities, illegal, unethical and unlawful deeds by Anil Agarwal Foundation.

"Also, serious objections raised during Orissa Coastal Zone Management Authority meeting had not been appropriately considered in granting the aforesaid CRZ and the environment clearance."

It said since the pointed issues were relevant and important and predicts a detailed examination, the clearance issued on April 16 shall be kept in abeyance till a final decision in the matter is taken by the Ministry.

"The clearance was issued by the Environment Ministry officials and by stating that OCZMA observations were not followed, the Ministry is challenging its own order," Samal added.

Meanwhile, the Ministry has directed the project proponent not to proceed for any construction or development works till a detailed examination of all issues raised in the complaint is done by the Expert Appraisal Committee of the Ministry.

The Anil Agarwal Foundation is promoted by NRI billionaire and chairman of Britain's Vedanta Resources Anil Agarwal.

The multi-disciplinary Vedanta University is proposed to come up along Orissa's Puri-Konark highway spread over 6,892 acres of which 4,000 acres of land will be transferred by Orissa government to the Foundation.

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