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The making of India's biggest University
Sreelatha Menon
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March 04, 2008
Vedanta and the Anil Agarwal Foundation want to go beyond business and do their bit for education in the country. They wants it to be the best possible and, more importantly, the biggest possible.

Hence the temple town of Puri will soon have a Vedanta University in its outskirts, spanning a whopping 10,000 acres. And it would bear resemblance more to a city than a university thanks to its size and the population of five lakh that it will hold.

The Vedanta University is to be totally not-for-profit,  funded by a $1 billion endowment grant from Anil Agarwal Foundation, says the website for the university for which the company had signed an MoU with the Government of Orissa two years ago.

The size of the university, or rather the city, outsizes all top universities in the country and some of the big ones abroad. The MoU says that "the University will transform Orissa into a primary centre for knowledge in India," and "will join the ranks of the world's greatest Universities such as Harvard, Stanford, and Oxford."

But while Harvard University makes do with 380 acres, Chicago University has 211 acres, and  MIT has 169 acres, back in India, Hyderabad Central University has 2,300 acres followed by IIT Kharagpur with 2,100 acres, Banaras Hindu University 1,300 acres and Kanpur University 1,055 acres, Jawaharlal University has 1,000 acres,

Madras University has 625 acres and other IITs have below 700 acres. Utkal University which is the biggest in Orissa functions from 400 acres. The MoU gives a lot of justification for the huge size of the plot the Anil Agarwal Foundation  has asked for the university. It says that the campus would have academic and non-academic buildings to cater to the needs of one lakh students and faculty and staff of half that number.

Besides, the university will have multiple specialities like  medicine, engineering, performing arts, humanities as also sports facilities of Olympian scale. "The campus shall house Olympic-calibre sports complexes, golf courses, and other sports and recreational facilities. "To have a creative environment, large water bodies and open spaces shall be adequately provided," it goes on.

The campus will be fully residential and "since the proposed location is far away from the modern city, the university township has to be independent and self-contained," it says. It further adds: "In order to accommodate the facilities as afore-specified, it is estimated to have a land area of about 10,000 acres."

The MoU also says that the Government of Orissa will provide a four lane road from Bhuvanaeshwar city to the site in two years. Though the student strength is to be one lakh and a faculty and staff of 50,000, the total population of the township will be five lakh, which is the population of the state of Sikkim.

Hence the water and power needs are also in that scale.  Power requirement would be to the order of 150 Mw during 2008 and 2012 and up to 600 Mw by 2020. About 45 Mw of power suffices the state of Sikkim. The needs of Vedanta would surpass that.

The land requirements don't end with 10,000 acres, The MoU wants the 5 km radius around the site to be totally under the control of the campus so that no construction or development is allowed there. But the university justifies these with its big dreams to "nurture generations of global leaders." It is another matter that global leaders and Nobel laureates have been produced  by universities with much  smaller campuses.

Massachusets Institute of Technology has produced about 61 Nobel laureates, Chicago University has produced 41 laureates and Harward has given 35 Nobel laureates. All have less than 400 acres. Harward has the most at 380 acres and MIT the least at 169 acres.

And it is the size which is already evoking protests and resentment for Anil Agarwal Foundation's dream of a world class university.

The MoU signed by the company with the Government of Orissa in June 2006 will lapse in June this year unless the clauses are translated into a legislation. The protests have forced the Foundation to scale down the size of the campus to 6,300 acres in its website though the MoU still mentions 10,000.

According to C V Krishnan, head of education and healthcare, the draft legislation is ready and the State Cabinet is likely to approve it soon. He said that the university would begin enrollment for some courses from 2009 itself.

Prafulla Mahantara, who led the protests against the Vedanta mining project in Orissa, says that the university is nothing but land grab in another form. "It is going to displace 18 villages and also feed on water and power like a monster. We will not let it happen," he says.

These things don't find mention on the official website which has most recently invited tenders for setting up a 1,600 bed hospital as part of its multi speciality 95-discipline university.

The university to come up on the Puri Konark marine drive is annoying activists like Mahantara who question the relevance of such a venture in a place where children don't even have access to schools.

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