The Madras high court on Monday ordered that the Sastra private deemed university in Tamil Nadu’s Thanjavur district will remain under the court’s custody — in connection with a case involving alleged illegal encroachment by the university on government land — until the disposal of the case.
The Shanmugha Arts, Science, Technology & Research Academy (Sastra) University has allegedly constructed buildings by encroaching more than 30 acres of government land since its inception in 1984.
The varsity had moved the Madras HC last month seeking a direction to the state government to allow its proposal and permit exchange of land which the Tamil Nadu government refused stating that the Sastra university passes through a water body.
On Monday, the first bench of chief justice Munishwar Bhandari and justice N Mala orally directed the additional advocate general (AAG) J Ravindran to prove the state’s assertion.
The court also said that students’ stay and studies will not be affected because the hostel and other buildings now belong to the court only on paper.
More than 4,000 students are studying in the university.
The state government had on May 10, this year passed an order permitting an exchange of land between the government and private higher education institutions but the AAG informed the court that the Sastra university is not entitled to this. He reasoned that this land was earmarked to be an open prison and a portion of the encroached land is classified as a water body. Simply put they could not accept the alternative land owned by the university, the AAG said.However, Sastra’s counsels P H Arvindh Pandian and G Rajagopalan contended that no part of the 31.37 acres is a water course. The case has been posted to August 24 for next hearing.
On April 20, the first bench had pulled up officials after learning that the unauthorised occupation by the petitioners has been continuing for the last 35 years. The court asked the AAG to produce the copies of the interim orders passed from time to time in reference to the land in dispute because of which the encroachment could not be removed.
“The copies of the interim orders are sought by this court to find out justification for the inaction of the officials, otherwise the respondents are required to answer their inaction in regard to the alleged encroachment for the past 35 years and the construction of buildings therein,” the court had said in April.
The court had observed that it is “flooded with litigations” of encroachments and this happens when the officers fail to take action to protect the government land as per the provisions of law.
Reports said that the AAG had told the court that whenever government officials go to clear encroachments, ranging from 50 to 100 square feet of the government land, the poor occupants resist and tell them to first retrieve the 31.3 acres of land from Sastra before coming to them and they are left red faced.
Local activists have also pointed out a clout which the university may possibly have. According to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) Chennai chapter’s website, the unit started their Sangha Shiksha Varga in April 2017 from the university where the dean, Vaidya Subramaniam, inaugurated the camp for shikshartis (students). Despite repeated attempts, Subramaniam did not respond to HT’s calls and messages.
RSS ideologue and co-convenor of the Swadeshi Jagaran Manch S Gurumurthy is often a guest lecturer here for students on the topics of law, economics and India’s history. In 2013, Sastra university had appointed Gurumurthy as the research chair professor to mentor students and faculty to conduct research in Legal Anthropology. It is unclear if he still holds his post.