‘Lives sacrificed in the uncaring pursuit of profit’

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CONTROVERSIAL India-based mining company Vedanta was again the subject of an angry protest in London yesterday.

London Mining Network, Amnesty International, Survival International and other campaign groups attended and protested outside the Vedanta AGM to raise numerous concerns about the impact of the company and its subsidiaries around the world.

The protest group Foil Vedanta held a lively demonstration outside the AGM.

Despite a series of ongoing human rights and environmental violations and a fivefold increase in the company’s net debt, the company chair Anil Agrawala recently awarded himself a 16% pay rise.

After the scandal of last year’s multiple releases of toxic red mud from its Lanjigarh alumina refinery into local river systems, Vedanta was recently found to be dumping toxic fly ash into woodland around its Jharsaguda smelter in the Indian state of Orissa.

In Goa, in addition to repeated instances of water pollution caused by flooding of its Sesa Goa iron ore mines, some of the company’s operations have been closed by an Indian Government judicial committee for operating illegally.

In May, Vedanta had two safety awards withdrawn.

It was to receive a Silver Award from the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) despite deaths and injuries at its Lanjigarh smelter.

When Indian activists and allies in London Mining Network pointed this out to RoSPA, the award was cancelled.

The British Safety Council suspended a similar award pending investigations.

Vedanta’s BALCO subsidiary was responsible for the deaths of at least 42 workers when a chimney collapsed in 2009 at its Korba complex in Chhattisgarh.

Because of multiple levels of subcontracting, and because the company bulldozed the site shortly after the disaster, the exact number of deaths and the identity of the dead workers remain unconfirmed.

Vedanta is pushing to obtain the 49% of BALCO that it does not already own.

BALCO’s bauxite mines in Chhattisgarh employ children, and workers operate in extremely risky conditions, with women workers carrying ore on their heads as they walk barefoot across rock piles.

Many of these workers are from the Baiga Indigenous People whose rights have been ignored in developing the mines.

Sreedhar Ramamurthy, Chair of Indian NGO Mines Minerals and People, said: ‘This is a company which has been violating corporate governance, financial, human rights, Indigenous rights and environmental laws from the beginning.

‘It uses tax havens to hide its ill-gotten profits.

‘It has broken laws to open mines, broken laws to operate them and in Goa it is breaking laws as it closes them.

‘From cradle to grave and across the range of violations it has become the embodiment of law-breaking.

‘It is only a decade old.

‘Why should Britain have such a decadent company on its stock exchange?’

Roger Moody, a researcher with London Mining Network, said: ‘It is outrageous that a man whose company has been directly responsible for such impoverishment and illegality should be rewarded with a 16% pay rise.

‘Vedanta’s annual report says that the company regrets six employee and sixteen contractor “losses”.

‘It can’t even bring itself to acknowledge that these are lives sacrificed to its uncaring pursuit of profit. Vedanta is incorrigible.’

Vedanta plc is a London listed FTSE 100 company which is owned by billionaire Anil Agarwal and his family through companies in various tax havens.

It has been consistently fought by people’s movements but is being helped by the British government to evolve into a multi-headed monster and spread across India and round the world, diversifying into iron in Goa, Karnataka and Liberia; Zinc in Rajasthan, Namibia, South Africa and Ireland; copper in Zambia and, most recently, oil in the ecologically fragile Mannar region in Sri Lanka.

In Odisha, India, Vedanta’s bauxite mining and aluminium smelters have left more than ten thousand displaced people landless, contaminated drinking water sources with ‘red mud’ and fly ash, and devastated vast tracts of fertile land in an area which has seen famine every year since 2007.

Vedanta’s mine on the sacred Niyamgiri hills has been fought by Adivasi (indigenous)-led people’s movements for seven long years and has so far been stopped.

This has rendered their subsidiary Vedanta Aluminium (VAL) a loss-making company, starving its refineries at Jharsuguda and Lanjigarh of local bauxite.

In Goa, Vedanta’s Sesa Goa subsidiary has been accused of large-scale fraud and illegal mining.

In June 2009, following a pit wall collapse which drowned Advalpal village in toxic mine waste, a nine-years-old local boy, Akaash Naik, filed a petition to stop the mine, and mass protests later that year halted mining at one of Sesa Goa’s sites.

In 2011 there were more major mine waste floods. In South Goa a 90 day road blockade by 400 villagers succeeded in stopping another iron ore mine. Sesa Goa are paying ‘silence funds’ to try and prevent similar action at their South Goa mine.

In Tamil Nadu, Tuticorin Vedanta subsidiary Sterlite has flouted laws without remorse, operating and expanding without consent, violating environmental conditions, and illegally dumping toxic effluents and waste.

In 1997 a toxic gas leak hospitalised 100 people sparking an indefinite hunger strike by a local politician and a ‘siege on Sterlite’ that led to 1,643 arrests. Later that year a kiln explosion killed two.

An estimated 16 workers died between 2007 and 2011. Police recorded most workers deaths as suicides.

Pollution Control Boards, judges and expert teams have on several occasions reversed damning judgements on the company, demonstrating large-scale corruption and bribery.

Activists are waging a court battle which has stopped operations for several short periods.

Also in Tamil Nadu, Mettur Vedanta bought MALCO’s aluminium complex at Mettur two years before permission for their Kolli Hills bauxite mines expired but continued to mine illegally for 10 years.

Five Adivasi villages were disturbed and a sacred grove destroyed before activists’ petitions stopped mining in 2008.

Without local bauxite and with protests preventing bauxite coming from Niyamgiri in Orissa, the factory at Mettur was also forced to close.

However, the abandoned and unreclaimed mines continue to pollute the mountains and a huge red mud dump by the Stanley reservoir pollutes drinking water and blows toxic dust into the village.

In Chhattisgarh, Korba Vedanta bought the state owned BALCO’s alumina refinery, smelter and bauxite mines for ten times less than their estimated value in 2001 despite a landmark 61 day strike by workers.

Since then wages have been slashed and unionised workers are losing jobs.

In 2009 a factory chimney collapsed, BALCO claimed 42 were killed, but in fact 60-100 people are still missing.

Witnesses claim these workers from poor families in neighbouring states are buried underground in the rubble, which was bulldozed over immediately after the collapse.