Posts filed under ‘Vedanta University: Lanjigarh vs. Puri’

Will Vedanta University relocate to Tamil Nadu or Andhra Pradesh?

Following is a report from the

Anil Agarwal’s projects in Orissa seem to be running into rough weather. His Niyamgiri Hills mining project has received a fresh blow with the Attorney General endorsing the environment ministry’s powers to not give clearance to the project. Agarwal’s other project in Orissa — Vedanta University — seems to be going nowhere. It appears it would take years before the first brick is laid on his most ambitious, and grandest, education project.

Agarwal, founder of London-based Vedanta Group, turned heads in 2006 when he said he would set up an 8,000-acre, $3-billion university under the aegis of Vedanta Foundation (which later changed its name to Anil Agarwal Foundation or AAF) in the state’s coastal town of Puri. He also offered $1 billion from his personal funds. Agarwal’s holding in his companies is worth more than $10 billion (as on 31 March 2010).

However, as with most projects requiring land acquisition, the university project, too, got mired in controversy. On 17 March, Orissa Lok Pal Justice P.K. Patra recommended a vigilance probe against AAF’s land deals. In May, the environment and forests ministry withheld clearance for the university, citing “irregularities, illegal, unethical and unlawful deeds”.

With the odds stacked against it, AAF is weighing other options. “Two states have extended an invitation; a decision is likely to be taken on a new site in two months,” says Ajit Kumar Samal, in-charge of the university project. He, however, refuses to divulge more details. Experts say the alternatives to Orissa could be Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh, which have good educational infrastructure. “Any place near Hyderabad or Chennai would be a good location,” says Narayanan Ramaswamy, head of education practice at consultancy firm KPMG.

The more important question, though, is: is a large university of this kind feasible in India?

Too Ambitious?
Vedanta’s justification for requiring so much land is simple — to build an institution on the lines of Stanford and Harvard. The 8,180-acre Stanford University was established in 1891. Harvard, set up in 1636, is the oldest institution of higher learning in the US, and has about 5,000 acres. But both were set up when land was not a precious commodity. Besides, the US is a far bigger country than India, and can afford to have universities of such scale.

For a densely-populated country like India, 8,000 acres of contiguous land — later scaled down to 6,000 acres — for a university is hugely ambitious. Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University, for instance, has only 1,000 acres. Large universities like Hyderabad Central University and Banaras Hindu University have 2,300 acres and 1,300 acres, respectively. Utkal University, Orissa’s largest, functions in 400 acres.

“In today’s age of high-speed broadband communication, there is no need to be hell-bent on geographical proximity,” says Ramaswamy. The entire knowledge city in Dubai, which houses 30 universities and 450 business partners catering to over 40,000 students, functions well within about 575 acres of land.

Samal doesn’t agree, though. “The architecture is prepared keeping in mind the topography of the place. In Puri, there are no high-rise buildings and hence a ‘horizontal’ plan.”

But now, with Vedanta talking about other states’ interest in the university project, what happens to the 4,000 acres already acquired for it by the Orissa government?

Cheap Land
AAF doesn’t seem to have given it much thought. Developing this as an off-campus could be an option. But locals say the land acquisition is just on paper and “the land will continue to belong to those who reside on it now”. Samal says that AAF has spent Rs 100 crore on land acquisition so far. For 4,000 acres, that works out to Rs 2.5 lakh per acre, among the cheapest rates in India. The area is strategically located between Puri and Konark on the sea coast.

Click here to view enlarged image
Click here to view enlarged image

Others, too, have got land at cheap rates in Orissa for educational institutes. Harivansh Chaturvedi, director of Greater Noida’s Birla Institute of Management Technology (Bimtech), says that Orissa had offered land at Rs 7 lakh per acre in 2001; Bimtech bought 30 acres for Rs 2.20 crore. Haryana had offered 7 acres for Rs 17 crore. In 1985, Xavier Institute of Management was given 20 acres with a building at Bhubaneswar for free. The institute, in turn, reserves 50 per cent seats for local students.

AAF’s other option is to monetise the real estate by coaxing technology giants such as IBM, Wipro, TCS and Infosys to set up research facilities in the campus. It also wants to invite venture capitalists to fund start-ups doing research projects and develop this as a hub of innovation, in much the same way as Stanford does.

However, this won’t be easy. According to Praveen Bhagdada, manager at Bangalore-based Zinnov Management Consulting, technology companies weigh the pros and cons of an institute before signing up with it. “It is early days yet,” says an executive with a top IT firm.

Companies such as Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Motorola, Mitsubishi and Lockheed Martin are located in the Stanford Industrial Park. Blue-chip companies such as Silicon Graphics, Sun Microsystems and Cisco had begun as ideas in the university’s computer science department.

Agarwal would be hoping for a similar miracle in India. Whether that will happen in Orissa or somewhere else, or whether it will happen at all, is a billion-dollar question.

shalini dot sharma at abp dot in (This story was published in Businessworld Issue Dated 02-08-2010)

July 25, 2010 at 2:07 pm Leave a comment

Vedanta University: Lanjigarh versus Puri

Following letter was sent to

Dear All,

When an incredible and elegant solution stares you in your face, you have to be completely dysfunctional and utterly intellectually challenged not to take it. Yet this is the current situation about location of Vedanta University. Locating the university in the vicinity of Lanjigarh solves several problems at one stroke, yet sixty milers want to locate it near Puri. Incredible.

It will be good,very good, for the entire KBK region,particularly for the large number of Adivashis will sacrifice not only their home and hearth, but their way of life. They being largely illiterate and possessing no marketable skills, they will be disoriented and will have insurmountable difficulties to carve out a new life with the  few rupees they will get in exchange for their habitat. With an institution of the size proposed, there will be good job opportunities. Hopefully the institution will spawn a variety of ancillary industries, and other institutions which can  give them good chance of a good alternate livelihood.

KBK has been a sink hole where various large scale attempts that have been made to rehabilitate into a healthy society have just been failures and the vast amount of money simply disappears. Vedant University will be strong and reliable anchor  in the community which will automatically attract various infrastructures which the entire region so desperately needs. A critical mass of literate and sophisticated population will develop because of adjacent Central University in Koraput, and thus a new nucleus of educational excellence will be generated. And some day, the kids of those displaced Adivashis may be managers of Vedanta and other institutions. And civil servants who find all kinds of excuses not to be located,they  will eagerly compete to be there.

Vedanta will benefit tremendously because its image of a ruthless destroyer of habitat of disadvantaged populace and mindless destroyer of environment; that image will change into a benevolent philanthropist and builder of healthy society. Mind you, it still has to be a good caretaker of the environment and has to actively engage to protect the sensitive ecology of the region. My feeling is that the local populace will actively cooperate with Vedanta to see that Vedanta becomes a successful profitable venture at the same time jointly engage in protecting the ecology.

The unnecessary confrontation between Vedanta on one side and environmentalists and displaced Adivashis can be avoided. Vedanta will emerge as a hero, and can serve as a role model for other mining enterprises. At the same time it will avoid confrontation with Puri-ites regarding land accumulation for building the university. 

It will also be great for Orissa government. Many from Koshala or Western Orissa including me are very critical of Orissa government for over concentrating practically most human resource development activities in the vicinity of Bhubaneswar leaving rest of Orissa largely untouched. Location of Vedanta University in Kalahandi will be first good step to address the inequity, and hopefully this will be followed by similar gestures throughout Orissa away from the sixty mile strip. Location of Vedanta University will cost the government nothing. Cash strapped Orissa government has not been able to manage adequately the institutions of higher learning. Now it can focus in strengthening the existing ones. And the long neglected huge population of Adivashis,who are literally dying because the government has put their horrendous problems under the carpet, will have some ray of hope of good future.

Some argue that the decision of location of Vedanta university in Puri was the decision of Vedanta not Orissa government. But is the Orissa government is so weak that major educational development is surrendered to a industrial house ? With such a majority in the Orissa assembly, one would think that the government is full control of what happens in the state.

Therefore only conclusion one can derive from such decision is that Navin’s government is simply a regionalistic one dominated by self-centered   “academics” and “intelligentsia” with no vision of overall development of Orissa; and this really the way they want. These self centered folks are not interested in reduction of inter-regional disparity, or are interested in rational solutions of the problems. They are simply engaged in rationalisation of the decisions which irrational in essence.

So do you think that wisdom will prevail, and Vedanta University will be located in Kalahandi after all  ? Do not hold your breath. The change of status of dysfunctional to functional is not in the cards.


Professor Arjun Purohit,Kingston, Ontario, Canada

May 4, 2010 at 11:19 pm 2 comments



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