Oxford University’s Saïd Business School has come under fire for its involvement with an Indian urbanization project whose developers have been accused of human rights abuses.
The site, to be called “Lavasa”, is being developed in an area south-east of Mumbai and will consist of four completely new towns constructed in the Warasgaon lake area. The modern-day “hill station” will offer luxury housing, healthcare and entertainment and aims to be “a centre for excellence in education and research”.
The project is being run by Lavasa Corporation, a division of Hindustan Construction Company (HCC). Lavasa Corporation’s website lists Saïd Business School as part of a “tie-up” with the project. The collaboration would “address major business issues affecting India through collaborative research” and would also deliver executive education programmes.
According to a report conducted by the People’s Commission of Inquiry, poor and marginalised communities living in the area have been subject to intimidation by project officials, forcibly evicted from their land and tricked into signing land-exchange documents in return for little or no compensation.
The report also claims that the Lavasa project is supported by state government, which has allegedly contravened existing legislation to give permission to destroy extensive natural forests and habitats. The Commission is headed by a number of eminent Indian professionals and is supported by various environmental and human rights groups.
Medha Patkar, a leading Indian social activist, has also expressed concern over the treatment of the population in the area. Patkar has accused Lavasa Corporation of using illegal means to take land and homes away from local people, adding that the state has reneged on its responsibility to protect downtrodden communities.
She believes around 5,000 people have already been affected, and estimates that a further 5,000 may encounter similar treatment commenting, “This is not the right kind of development paradigm and it needs to be questioned.”
In response to the allegations, Jimmy Mogal, Vice-president of HCC said, “Our own research reveals the Commission has virtually no agenda other than to oppose all development.” He further commented that Lavasa Corporation are considering taking legal action against the Commission.
HCC has called the claims, “baseless allegations made by the so-called People’s Inquiry Commission….their allegations are false and libellous.”
The Corporation has since announced its intention to initiate legal proceedings against media outlets in the UK which have covered the story. A letter of claim issued by Lavasa’s solicitors, and seen by Cherwell, states that “Lavasa has purchased for the project only land that has been voluntarily offered to it at prices agreed with vendors by private negot
iation and after proper verification of title.” The letter also emphasises the requirement under Indian law that sale deeds are registered by the relevant authority by the vendor and buyer, stating that this “rules out any prospect of threats or coercion.”
On the subject of accusations of deforestation, the letter also stresses the lengths to which Lavasa Corporation has gone to care for the area, including additional tree planting, commenting, “as a result of LCL’s environmental initiatives Lavasa is in fact much greener than before.”
Vaibhav Tiwari, Assistant Vice President at Lavasa, has also stressed the company’s commitment to transparency, adding, “The company has invested enormous amounts of time and effort to participate in the State Govt. of Maharashtra’s tourism policy, whilst always remaining fully compliant with all state and federal laws.”
Professor Colin Mayer, Dean of Saïd Business School, was not available for comment. A spokesperson for Oxford University commented, “Allegations about the Lavasa project are a matter for the Lavasa Corporation. Oxford University has only just heard about these allegations and has not yet had a chance to hear Lavasa Corporation’s formal response.”
A representative from Saïd Business School added, “[we are] unable to give specific details about the School’s activities in India. Saïd Business School Limited is still in discussions with Lavasa Corporation.”
Student groups have expressed concern at the continuation of the University’s involvement with the project. Oxford University Amnesty International Vice-President, Ruth Simister said, “Oxford University will demonstrate negligence, if not indifference, for human rights if they proceed with a partnership with the Lavasa developer without carrying out further investigations.”
Executive education programmes are already being delivered by Oxford University on a number of continents. In the past, Saïd Business School has provided tailored programmes for business clients including Telefonica, BMW Group and Standard Chartered.