How could varsity enjoy vast area for decades: Madras HC – The Indian Express

Chennai News

Wondering as to how Sastra University in Thanjavur district of Tamil Nadu was allowed to enjoy an area of 32 acres for over three decades, the Madras High Court directed the Tamil Nadu government to submit its reply by April 25.

It could not be done without the connivance of the authorities concerned, the First Bench orally observed and wanted the government to show the reasons for not taking appropriate action for 35 years.

The Bench was admitting a writ appeal from Shanmuga Arts, Science, Technology and Research Academy (Sastra), a deemed university, challenging a GO dated February 23 this year, which refused to assign 31.37 acres of government land that was held by the university. On 23 February, the GO was passed by the Thanjavur Tahsildar pursuant of an earlier order of the High Court directing the government to take the land back. The GO granted four weeks to the university to vacate from the alleged encroached land.

According to the appellant-university, it owned 86.80 acres of agricultural land in neighbouring Thatchankurichi village with all amenities, including electricity supply and a borewell. It offered to hand over any of its properties in exchange for assignment of the 31.37 acres of government land. It had also agreed to pay the difference in value.

However, the government did not consider the plea. Hence, the present appeal to quash the GO and direct the government to reconsider the entire issue in the light of a 2018 Supreme Court order.

It was also brought to the notice of the court that over 14,000 students were studying in the university and 1,500 staff members working there. Nearly 3,000 women were staying in a women’s hostel constructed on the government land which also housed several other super-structures.

Originally, a Division Bench of Justices Nooty Ramamohana Rao (since retired) and S M Subramaniam in August 2017 had delivered a split judgement on assigning the government land to SASTRA. While the former directed the government to consider the request for payment of Rs 10 crore by the university, the latter directed it to vacate.

The matter was referred to a third judge — C V Karthikeyan — who, in August 2018, concurred with Justice Subramaniam. Subsequently, the Supreme Court too dismissed the appeal from the university, but held that the appellant can seek appropriate remedy, if any available under law, before the forum concerned.

On the strength of such observation, the university on September 20, 2018 wrote to the then Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami praying for assignment of the government land. On February 5, 2020, the government constituted a committee, headed by IAS officer Gagandeep Singh Bedi, to study the issue and submit its recommendations. Bedi was relieved from the committee after his appointment as Greater Chennai Corporation Commissioner in October 2018. S Jayanthi succeeded him. She submitted her recommendations and thereafter, the government decided to take the land back for an open-air prison for adolescent offenders in October, 2021.