Sunday, June 21, 2009

Gaon Chodab Nahin- A wonderful video on people's struggles

The Video "Gaon Chodab Nahin" is one of the most evocative presentations of the issue of displacement and cultural dislocations in India.The song describes the present day exploitation of nature, land, forests and people in the name of development. Based on the song originally sung in the Kashipur UAIL movement - I have heard Bhagwan Majhi sing that song- the video takes us across the heartlands India as it is ravaged by the phenomenal greed in name of development- to ask the basic question - O God of development, pray tell us, how to save our lives.

This video also won the best Music Video at the Second International Documentary and Short Film Festival, which concluded in Thiruvananthapuram in June 2009.

The link for the video is as below:

The video itself is below. For those who receive the posts through listserves, please do visit to have a look at this video.

Friday, June 19, 2009

More on Vedanta's plucked "Golden Peacock Award"

Awarded in haste, withheld
Over 170 organisations and individuals came together to highlight Vedanta's history of environmental irregularities to the Golden Peacock jury members, prompting a second look. Kanchi Kohli reports.

17 June 2009 - Some things make no sense whatsoever. On 12-13 June 2009, Vedanta Alumina Ltd (VAL), a world metals and mining giant was to receive the 2009 Golden Peacock Environment Management Award at Palampur, Himachal Pradesh (see here for more). The World Environment Foundation (WEF) and Institute of Directors are the two institutions behind the award. There is no way to understand this except as disregard - knowing or otherwise - of Vedanta's reputation.

A little education, then, for the benefit of these two institutions. In 2007, the Norwegian Council of Ethics had assessed its parent company Vedanta Resources and its Indian subsidiaries Sterlite Industries, Madras Aluminium Company (MALCO), Bharat Aluminium Company (BALCO), and Vedanta Alumina to judge whether the group was in breach of the council's Ethical Guidelines for investment. Following this, the Council had withdrawn its fundng, citing severe environmental damage and human rights violations linked to the group's operations in India.

While this was happening, a challenge to Vedanta's mining operations in Niyamgiri Hills in Orissa was pending before the Supreme Court of India before the forest bench. A monitoring body set up by this bench - as part of the T N Godavarman Thirumulpad v/s Union of India case - the Central Empowered Committee had recommended against the grant of approvals as the company had a history of irregularities in seeking both forest and environment clearances both for its refinery operations in Lanjigarh and proposed mining in Niyamgiri Hills of Orissa. Also critical was a strong movement against the mining by the Dongaria Kondh tribal community for whom Niyamgiri is a revered hill and deeply connected with their lives and livelihoods (see this earlier article).

The Supreme Court bench relied the Norwegian report even more than that of its own committee, and stated that it could not take the risk in handing over the mining operations to Vedanta. But the court, unexpectedly, had no qualms in allowing Sterlite Industries, Vedanta's subsidiary to work out a Special Purpose Vehicle with the Government of Orissa and Orissa Mining Corporation work out the best formula for mining. This was November 2007. (see here and here). All the modalities were discussed in court, and as an inexplicable formula the court granted its approval to Sterlite to mine in Niyamgiri Hills, subject to some conditions on 8 August 2008. It did not matter perhaps, that just about a month before in July 2008, the Martin Currie Scottish Trust Fund of Scotland also withdrew its 2.37-million-pound investment in Vedanta. This too was on the grounds of environmental and human rights violation by the company (see here).

Violations in other states

But Vedanta's stories don't start and end in the state of Orissa. Moving further to Tamilnadu there are two very stark and clear instances of the violations by Vedanta's subsidiaries. Sterlite's coppert smelter plant in Tuticorin is surrounded by fly ash and gypsum dumps. There are few villagers around who raise their voice against the air and water pollution being caused by the plant operations. There are days, says a local villager who did not want to be named, when they cannot open their windows due to the pollution, and some have chosen to live away due to the health hazards. This was verified around the site during inspection and discussions in May 2008 by Corporate Accountability Desk and Kalpavriksh members.

Official reports of the Ministry of Environment and Forests and the Supreme Court Monitoring Committee (SCMC) on Hazardous Waste Management in the years 2004 and 2005 respectively, also point to the violations by the plant. The SCMC report states amongst other things, "The industry, as reported to the SCMC during the visit, is also emitting sulphur dioxide far in excess of the permissible standards particularly when the sulphuric acid plant is not operating. "

In the Kolli Hills of Tamilnadu, Vedanta's subsidiary MALCO was pushed to suspend its illegal mining operations in November 2008. This was following a petition filed in the Madras High Court by Piyush Sethia of Speak Out Salem presenting evidence that its bauxite mines had no permission under various environmental laws. Kolli Hills are part of the extremely biodiverse Eastern Ghats ecoregion, also dominated by primitive tribal groups. The hills are said to be guarded by Kollipavai, the local deity. (see here).

In Chhatisgarh it is the turn of BALCO. There is photographic evidence of 2007 of the overflow of red mud over the embankment which has spread down the side of a rivulet nar the Balco-Vedanta aluminium complex . In the mines at Kawardha-Daldali (district Kawardha) bauxite mines, there are pictures of 2007 where trucks are running on dirt roads spreading huge amount of dust in and around the area.

There is more. A public hearing for the environmental clearance for the expansion of the Lanjigarh refinery in Orissa took place amidst stiff opposition at Belamba village on 24 April 2009. Locally affected people had highlighted that the existing plant was already polluting the area around and it was causing severe health problems to both humans and animals (See video at this link). The public hearing had to be left incomplete by the concerned authorities, due to strong protests.

Jurors challenged

Today, over 170 organisations and individuals have come together to highlight all of this and much more to the Golden Peacock jury members, what they did not see, or chose to ignore. (See list of Jury members here). A letter embedded with various weblinks or email attachments with research studies, photographs and videos has been sent to the jurors, officials of WEF as well as India's newly elected Minister for Environment and Forests, Jairam Ramesh.

In all, this submission is no less than a comprehensive dossier attempting to highlight various well researched reasons to withdraw the award to the company and at same time initiate strong action. Addressed to the jurors, the letter seeks, "As jurors, you would have to explain how you chose to award a company that in the words of the Norwegian Government's Council of Ethics is clearly involved in "human rights violations." The dossier lays out a torrid controversy of fraud and financial malpractices shrouding this company. We hope, as jurors and persons of eminence, you would have the good sense to preserve your integrity by dissociating yourselves from this company in particular, and the Golden Peacock Awards, in general."

On 12 June, the Himalaya Niti Abhiyan (HNA) and activists from different parts of the country organised a protest outside the awards ceremony at Palampur, in tandem with the submission to the jury member with signatories from across the country. HNA also sent a letter dated 9 June to the Chief Minister of Himachal Pradesh requesting him to refrain from participating in the award ceremony. The letter also clearly rejects the sanctity of the award and it being conferred to Vedanta.

Following the furore, the jury has withheld the announcement of the award. Its members now contend that the full facts about the company were not brought to their attention earlier. Pending a second examination of the facts, it was announced that the award would be held back. None of the Himachal State government officials who were to attend the award ceremony did so.

Kanchi Kohli

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Himachal protest against Vedanta: Watch Video

If you remember the strange case of Vedanta Alumina being awarded The "Golden Peacock Environmental Management Award", here is a video of people in Himachal Pradesh protesting the giving of this award.
The protest was in Palampur at the foot of the Dhauladhar, where World Environment Foundation was planning to award Vedanta for its "incredible environmental performance" in Lanjigarh. We had posted an earlier post with all the relevant links and reports which illustrates Vedanta's acheivements in this field, and which has prompted sufferers of Vedanta's environmental doings in Tamilnadu to award them the "Ravaged Peacock Award"

The interesting thing is that the CM of Himachal, after being presented the dossier of Vedanta's environmental record refused to attend the award giving ceremony and so did the rest of HP government. I wish our own Naveen Babu would have shown similar considerations for our Orissa's environment and his Dongaria Kondhs.

Another interesting thing is that Himachal's newspapers all were full of the misdeeds of Vedanta. How unlike our newspapers in Orissa, growing fat on corporate advertisement, who never mention the misdeeds of Vedanta but only sing their praise (see the Statesman's Orissa page for almost a daily slew of press release on Vedanta's CSR - I suppose the CSR also applies to the press and its correspondents). Maybe some shame would be in order.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Activist protest Golden Peacock award by WEF to Vedanta Alumina in Himachal

Posted by Ravinder Sood on Jun 12th, 2009 in Environment, News.
(The post has been borrowed from the site My Himachal (

PALAMPUR: Twenty activists representing environment and social action groups today barged into the World Environment Foundation’s (WEF) opening ceremony of the ‘Global Convention for Climate Change’ being held at the Palampur Agriculture University grounds with posters and banners screaming “Stop greenwashing corporate crimes” and “Stop selling climate change”. The activists were protesting against the WEF’s Golden Peacock award to the Vedanta Alumina Limited for its refinery in Lanjigarh Orissa. The protestors gathered in front of the stage after a tussle with the organisers managed to seize the stage the microphone, and highlight the various environmental crimes and human rights violations that the company has indulged in not just in its Orissa project but other project sites across the country.

The activists briefed the Tibetan Prime Minister in exile – Samdhung Rinpoche, who was present as a Chief dignitary at the function about the national campaign that has built up against the company and the devastation cause by the company in Orissa. He immediately walked out of the venue at this point. Subsequently, hundreds of children from schools In Palamapur, present at the ceremony, who cheered as the protest gathered momentum, also left the venue. Delegates of the conference at the venue were also given pamphlets as well as the letter written to the jury, endorsed by more than 170 organizations, asking for the withdrawal of the Golden Peacock to Vedanta.

In January 2009, WEF withdrew the Golden Peacock Award given to Satyam Computers, literally days before the company submitted its fraudulent balance sheet to shareholders. “We do not expect any integrity from the organizers of the Golden Peacock Awards. However, many of the jury members are persons of good reputation and integrity. We are concerned that your decision may have been arrived at in the absence of full information. We would also like to give you an opportunity to review some disturbing information regarding the conduct of Vedanta and its subsidiaries, and to dissociate yourselves from the award to Vedanta to avoid a Satyam-style embarrassment,” endorsers to the letter to jurors wrote.

Guman Singh, leader of Himalaya Niti Abhiyan who spoke on behalf of the campaign appreciated that Chief Minister of Himachal who was to be the Chief guest at the function had withdrawn his participation from the event after pressure from the campaign and the controversy around awardee company. Mamata Dash, an activist from Orissa tried to draw the attention of the delegates towards the crimes committed by Vedenta on the Dongria Kondh adivasis in the Niyamgiri hills for its bauxite mines. Just as she began speaking Madhav Mehra, founder of WEF, tried to shove her off the stage. After a scuffle with the activists, Mehra made a statement that he had no interest with Vedanta and that they would review the award and even withdraw just like they had done in the Satyam case if the facts were found to be true. As the tussle continued between the activists and the organizers, the ground echoed with slogans like “WEF down down” and “Vedanta company chor hai!”. As the protestors left the venue, to save his face Madhav Mehra tried to trivialize the issue and only spoke of all the “good work” done by Vedanta.

Letter to the Jurors of Golden Peacock Award given to Vedanta for "Environmental Management"

Hundreds of organisations and individuals have signed on to the protest letter to the Jurors of the Golden Peacock Award for Environmental Management being awarded to Vedanta in Palampur on 13th June, 2009. Please find the letter below


8th June 2009

Dear Jurors of the Golden Peacock Awards:

This is to request you to issue a statement to dissociate yourselves from the organisers of the Golden Peacock Awards for reasons laid out below.

In September 2008, literally days before Satyam Computers presented its cooked up balance sheet, the World Environment Foundation (WEF) presented the company with a “Golden Peacock Award” for corporate governance. It was conveniently withdrawn in January 2009, after the company's senior management, including the founder chairman, were arrested for financial fraud. Satyam's award reflects the lack of due diligence on the part of the awards selection committee, and exposes the Golden Peacock Awards for what they really are – corporate greenwash.

The lapse on the part of the organisers of this award to adequately inform the jurors is evident from the fact that one of the grounds for the award to Vedanta is – zero discharge at its alumina facility in Lanjigarh, Orissa, India. This facility has been at the heart of a massive controversy, involving violation of the rights of indigenous people, desecration of a highly biodiverse forest and watershed, and the highly irregular lenience shown by courts and the Government to blatant violations of the law in setting up and operating the smelter.

According to a company press release "Vedanta Alumina refinery is the first alumina refinery in the country to become a Zero Discharge Refinery. Through the recycling process, utilization of 100 per cent treated or untreated effluents within the plant has reduced the dependency on external source of water to a greater extent."

That there is zero truth in this claim is exposed by the evidence in the dossier accompanying this letter. Zero discharge systems are defined as systems that do not discharge any wastes, that everything is recycled, and that no pollutants are discharged into the environment.

Recent photographs taken as recently as in April 2009 clearly demonstrate the shoddy environmental management at Vedanta's Lanjigarh facility. These photographs are as Annexure 1 with this letter.

The OPSCB (Orissa State Pollution Control Board) has issued at least three notices to VAL so far for violating pollution norms at its Lanjigarh plant. The inspection report documents effluent leakage from storage ponds adjacent to the River Vamsadhara, a lifeline for hundreds of communities downstream (See point 5 below for further details).

We, the undersigned, are persons that are very familiar with the antecedents and the ongoing illegalities committed by Vedanta Resources Plc, and its subsidiary companies like Vedanta Alumina, Sterlite Industries and MALCO. Some of us have personally suffered at the hands of this company. We are writing this letter to you in good faith because we learnt that the jury had decided to award Vedanta Alumina with a Golden Peacock for environmental management. We do not expect any integrity from the organisers of the Golden Peacock Awards. However, many of the jury members are persons of good reputation and integrity. We are concerned that your decision may have been arrived at in the absence of full information. We would also like to give you an opportunity to review some disturbing information regarding the conduct of Vedanta and its subsidiaries, and to dissociate yourselves from the award to Vedanta to avoid a Satyam-style embarrassment.

You should also be aware of the reputation of the President of the World Environment Foundation, Mr. Madhav Mehra, because jurors often do not have the time to review the background of organisations to whom they lend their integrity and credibility. An article about Mr. Madhav Mehra titled “The Contradictions of Madhav Mehra” that appeared in the Guardian group's newspaper The Observer in 2003 can be seen at is appended below for your reference.

We have put together a dossier including samples of documents that present the real face of the corporation that you have chosen to award with the Golden Peacock for environmental management. The dossier documents Vedanta and its subsidiaries' dubious track record with regard to environmental management, respect for the rule of law, financial integrity and sensitivity to the rights of indigenous communities.

1. Violation of Indigenous Peoples Rights: Vedanta Alumina, which has been chosen by you for the award, is implicated in a massive violation of the rights of indigenous people. The Dongria Kondhs, a primitive tribe, has been forced to relinquish their rights over their homeland, and cultural and livelihood resources to accommodate the company's refinery and mines complex. The company's mines, no matter how benign, will rip through a hill that is the sacred deity of the tribe that has lived in these hills for centuries without leaving a trace on the sensitive ecosystem of the biodiverse watershed forests. The hills that are slotted for mining are home to the Golden Gecko, a species that figures in IUCN's Red List of endangered species. The Niyamgiri Mountains are the primary source of drinking water for the entire area, apart from being the source of two important rivers of Orissa Nagabali and Vamsadhara which are the lifeline of at least 50000 people downstream. . (See pictures at: and detailed documentation at and submissions from activists at: ).

2. Blacklisted by Norway: Vedanta has been blacklisted by the Ethics Council of Norwegian Government Pension Fund. On the basis of this report, the Norwegian Government, in 2007, divested its pension funds from stock investments in Vedanta Resources and related companies, citing in their reports “serious malpractices and contraventions of environment norms and ethics by the Vedanta Management in the past wherever they operate.” The report specifically mentions the procedural violations in the procurement of environment and forest clearances for mining in Niyamgiri Hills. The Council also based its decision on the concious lack of compliance of environmental and pollution related conditions by Sterlite's Copper Smelter Plant in Tuticorin, Tamil Nadu. (See: for this report).

3. Gross violators of human rights and environmental standards: The ‘War on Want’ report has indicted Vedanta and their various subsidiary concerns worldwide as ‘gross violators of human rights and environmental standards’. Later, in July 2008, the Martin Currie Scottish Trust Fund of Scotland also withdrew their 2.37-million-pound investment in Vedanta again on the grounds of ‘environmental and human rights violation by the company (See news report at:

4. High-level censure: A special monitoring body set up by the Supreme Court of India, the Central Empowered Committee, has submitted several reports highlighting the irregularities and corruption by VAL and recommended that the permission to mine the rich forests of the area should not be granted to the company. This report was also important in the decision of the Norwegian Council of Ethics ( See: for this report).

5. Guilty of Pollution: The Orissa State Pollution Control Board has issued at least three notices to VAL so far for violating pollution norms at its Lanjigarh plant. The notice had asked the company to take immediate steps with references to the violations related to the refinery operations. Evidences abound (See:

6. Illegal Mining: Vedanta's subsidiary The Madras Aluminium Company (MALCO) was forced to suspend its illegal mining operations in Kolli Hills in Tamil Nadu, in November 2008 following a petition filed in the Madras High Court presenting evidence that its bauxite mines had no permission under various environmental laws. Kolli Hills too is a highly biodiverse area dominated by primitive tribes. (See news report at )

7. Illegal construction: Sterlite's copper smelter plant in Tuticorin, Tamil Nadu has over the years violated several environmental norms in its operations. Till date there is large amounts of ash and gypsum dumps lying around the plant site, causing air and water pollution. The stipulated requirements to adhere to Green Belt to reduce the pollution impacts are not being followed. (See document attached as Annexure 2) Further, the factory complex has no license to be constructed. Highlighting the inordinate influence the company wields over Government, the Tuticorin factory does not have a Consent to Establish under the Water and Air Acts. (See Supreme Court Monitoring Committee report dated September 29, 2004 at

8. Pollution in Lanjigarh: Well-researched accounts by different human rights as well as environmental groups reveal that the Vedanta Alumina Refinery at Lanjigarh, which has been operational since 2006, has severely polluted the local environment causing untold misery to the local population. Ever since the refinery has come up there, drinking water sources have become severely contaminated. The refinery has released toxic mud in Vamshadhara river which has had a direct health impact on the local people and animals who use water from the river. People are inflicted with skin infections, gastro-enteritis, asthma, etc. Effluents stored in the red mud ponds have already made their way into drinking water sources, poisoning them. Around 40 villages around the plant have been impacted by fly ash pollution, which descends on their home and agricultural lands and crops bringing down agricultural productivity, hence further pauperizing them.

9. Public Opposition: Villagers around the Lanjigarh facility showed up in large numbers on 24 April, 2009, to protest against the company's proposal to expand during a public hearing held by the Orissa State Pollution Control Board. The public hearing had to be “officially adjourned” because of the protests. The local people, complained about severe environmental and health hazards caused by the refinery and not only objected to its expansion plans but rather urged to close down the existing plant. Shouldn’t the minutes of the recent public hearing for expansion of the refinery be attached to show practically every speaker complaining about the pollution? (See video at ).

10. Global polluter: Well documented articles and reports also highlight the company's consistent negligence with respect to environmental management across the world. The article Undermining Development: Copper Mining in Zambia documents the company's operations in Zambia.

11. Elsewhere in India: See also Annexure 3 for photographs of Vedanta's impacts in Korba, Chhatisgarh, India.

As jurors, you would have to explain how you chose to award a company that in the words of the Norwegian Government's Council of Ethics is clearly involved in “human rights violations.” The dossier lays out a torrid controversy of fraud and financial malpractices shrouding this company.

We hope, as jurors and persons of eminence, you would have the good sense to preserve your integrity by dissociating yourselves from this company in particular, and the Golden Peacock Awards, in general.

We wish to let you know that as persons interested in setting the record straight, we and other activists will be taking action against the Awards granting organisation and the ceremony.

We do not expect any corrective behaviour from the organisers of the awards. We see very clearly that their intention is not to reward exemplary corporate behaviour. Rather, it is to help beleaguered companies tide over their public relations crisis by roping in eminent people to lend their names for pre-decided awards. However, as jurors, we would like to extend to you the benefit of the doubt, and offer you this information for review. Should you decide to dissociate yourself from this award, kindly let us know.

Look forward to your response and action in this regard.


CC: 1. S. Z. Qasim, Chairman, World Environment Foundation (WEF).

2.Jairam Ramesh, Union Minister of Environment and Forests (MoEF)

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Tribals in Koraput protest mining and ask for speedy implementation of Forest Rights Act

New coverage on protests in Koraput

MNCs eye forests for mining

Statesman News Service 
KORAPUT,  5 JUNE: Multinational companies are running roughshod over the environment and livelihood of people in the state and their free run allowed by the government because they have invested huge amount, alleged Mr Prafulla Samantara here today. 
Mr Samantara, a environmental activist was addressing a tribal rally here to mark the World Environment Day. 
He apprehended that the multinational companies and moneybags will pressurise the government to stall implementation of the Forest Rights Act. "The pro-tribal Act will never get implemented in its totality," he cautioned while pointing out that multinational companies were eyeing valuable forest
land of Koraput, Kalahandi and Bolangir districts for mining activity. 
Mindless and large scale mining in these regions will have a disastrous impact on the ecological balance, he said. 
Looking at these concerns of the people where there is a danger of losing the basic livelihood opportunities, the government should put a ban on any mining activity in Deomali, Maliparvat, Kodingamali, Bafilimali and Sadubohumali mountains in Koraput district. 
Scores of streams flow from these mountains and once mining starts there no water source will be left for the people and even the Kolab river will lose its source of water, he warned.Thousands of tribals representing different anti-displacement unions like Deomali Surakhya Sangram Parishad, Maliparvat Surakhya Samiti, Koraput Zilla Basachyut Mahasangh along with members of Paraja Sangh, Kuvi Sangh,Gadaba Sangh, Koraput Zilla Banavasi Sangh from across the district took out a huge rally in the district headquarters before submitting a memorandum to the district collector in this regard. The tribal leaders demanded expeditious implementation of Forest Rights Act-2006 and issuance of land pattas in favour of the tribals. 
They also urged the district administration to create new forest in the devastated land through the participation and ownership of the community. Rather than promoting mines, efforts were needed to establish more and more small scale food processing units while supporting the cultivation of fruits like pineapple, orange and lemon in the region starting from Niyamgiri to Deomali mountain range, the leaders stated in their memorandum.


Environmentalists up in arms against mining

The Hindu


Environmental activist addresses rally of tribals

State urged to encourage more small-scale food processing units

KORAPUT: Companies responsible for environmental degradation in the State have invested a large amount of money to help candidates win the Assembly and Lok Sabha elections, Praful Samantra, environmental activist from Bhubaneswar, said here on Friday. He was addressing a rally of tribals on the occasion of ‘World Environment Day’. Now it was feared that they would pressure governments to prevent the Forest Rights Act from being implemented in its true spirit as the act if gets implemented in its totality would go against the very companies who wish to grab most of the valuable piece of land especially in places like Koraput, Kalahandi, Bolangir and other underdeveloped regions of the State, he said.Looking at these concerns of people who faced the danger of losing basic livelihood opportunities, the Government should put a ban on any mining activities in Deomali, Maliparvat , Kodingamali, Bafilimali and Sadubohumali mountains in Koraput district, he said.Scores of streams flow from these mountains and once these were mined there would not be any water source left for people and even Kolab river would lose its source of water, he said.Thousands of tribals representing different anti-displacement unions like Deomali Surakhya Sangram Parishad, Maliparvat Surakhya Samiti, Koraput Zilla Basachyut Mahasangh along with members of Paraja Sangh , Kuvi Sangh, Gadaba Sangh, Koraput Zilla Banavasi Sangh from all across the district took out a huge rally in the district headquarter before submitting a memorandum to the district Collector in this regard.Tribal leaders demanded speedy implementation of Forest Rights Act-2006 and issue of land pattas for tribals. They urged the district administration to create new forests in the devastated land through participation and ownership of the community. Rather than promoting mining, efforts were needed to establish more small-scale food processing units while supporting the cultivation of fruits in the region starting from Niyamgiri to Deomali mountain range, the leaders said in the memorandum.


Stir hits work on alumina project

The Hindu

Staff Reporter

Affected people holding dharna for enhanced compensation

Environmental clearance for the company not renewed since 2003, says Praful Samantra

BERHAMPUR: Agitation by people affected by the project has again stalled the construction work of Utkal Alumina International Limited at Kashipur in Rayagada district.The agitators have been holding dharna since Wednesday and are not allowing company officials to reach the project site. It may be noted that this company of the Aditya Birla group has proposed to build an alumina plant at Kashipur at a cost of around Rs 5,000 crores.This factory would rely on the bauxite mining in nearby areas. The recent agitation is being led by leaders of the Prakrutika Sampad Surakhya Parishad (PSSP), an organization which has spearheaded the anti-alumina project agitation in the area for a decade. Convener of the PSSP Bhagaban Majhi said this time the protestors were demanding that Kumarmangalam Birla himself come over and hold talks with the protestors regarding their demands. The agitators are demanding enhanced compensation.This project continues to face opposition of tribals and dalits of the area. Trouble for the company has multiplied as the already displaced families have now come up with new demands of enhanced compensation, jobs and other benefits. The displaced families are demanding a compensation of Rs. 10 lakhs for each acre of agricultural land acquired by the company and guarantee of job to the members of affected families.Since its conception in 1992 the company has been facing opposition of locals and environmentalists. In 2008 work of the project was stalled for more than 107 days by a similar agitation. In 2007 the project work had to be stopped for 127 days due to agitation of affected families. In 2006 it was for 55 days and in 2005 the number of days when no project work could be taken up due to local opposition was over 60 days.Environmental activist Praful Samantra said now the very families who had helped the company for land acquisition have started to stand up against it. Even the local leaders of political parties were participating in recent agitation, he said.It proves that the company had not been able to satisfy the people to be affected by the project which would affect the environment, life and livelihood in the area, he said.Mr Samantra said the Utkal Alumina had not yet got the environmental clearance for its mining areas renewed since 2003. He criticized the government for providing new mining lease to the company despite this.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Environmental Hoax: Vedanta gets Golden Peacock Environmental Management Award

This is really incredible - totally unbelievable. 

As per reports in the Statesman, "Vedanta"- the company owned by Anil Agrawal has been awarded an award called "Golden Peacock Environmental Management Award" by an organisation called "World Environment Foundation" which has its office in UK and in India. According to a company press release "Vedanta Alumina refinery is the first alumina refinery in the country to become a Zero Discharge Refinery.Through the recycling process, utilization of 100 per cent treated or untreated effluents within the plant has reduced the dependency on external source of water to a greater extent." This apparently is the reason that they have received this award. 

Really. Please see the pictures at epgorissa website . These pictures show the actual release of toxic mud in Vamshadhara by Vedanta's alumina refinery, children and people who are suffering from skin disease through the release of toxic waste by Vedanta's refinery, as well as Google Earth map showing where this waste is being released into the river.

Maybe this is not sufficient evidence. How about a monitoring report by Orissa Pollution  Control Board of the same alumina refinery available at the epgorissa website. The conclusion of this report says: 
  • Some more problems like seepage/leakage from Dirty Water Pond, adjacent to Vanshadhara River have been identified.  This requires immediate attention. There is also public agitation on pollution of river Vansadhara.
  • ESP in boiler No.3 is inadequate.  The emission is expected to be more when it will be fired with thermal grade coal. 
  • Red mud pond has not been constructed as per the design specification and there is clear indication of ground water contamination in the area.
That is just the pollution from the alumina refinery. Readers would be pleased to know that Vedanta is so environmentally conscious that it started largescale work on its aluminium smelter even before it received environmental clearance from the Government of India. Please see an objection for the same filed by activists here , on the basis of which the Orissa Pollution Control Board asked Vedanta to immediate stop the work. It had followed the same tactics in the case of the alumina refinery at Lanjigarh, and in both cases managed to get post facto environmental clearances for its factories.

And then there is the 500 pound environmental gorilla in the room - the proposed mining of Niyamgiri Mountain by Vedanta. Niyamgiri is probably one of the most important ecological hotspots in whole of Eastern Ghats. Those who want to know about is ecological significance can look at this report . In case one is not confident of a report prepared by Civil society groups, then what about an official report prepared for the Supreme Court by the Wildlife Institute of India
some of whose excerpts are quoted as below:

  • it can be stated that the Niyamgiri and its adjoining area are excellent remnant forests and wildlife habitat available in the region. Occurrence of less shifting cultivation qualifies the forests and wildlife habitat much better than that of the existing Kotagarh WLS (Sanctuary)
  • Bauxite mining in Niyamgiri plateau will destroy a specialized kind of wildlife habitat, dominated by grasslands and sparse tree communities. These kinds of sites are breeding habitat of many herbivores such as barking deer and four horned antelopes.
  • This situation eventually will reduce elephant movements across Niyamgiri massif to Karlapath and Kotagarh Wildlife Sanctuaries and ultimately effect the population structure and there by its genetic diversity.
  • The area proposed for clearing of trees for alignment of road also harbours giant squirrel a highly endangered canopy dwelling species that inhabit specialized habitats characterized by closed canopy forests.
  • The threats posed by the proposed project to this important ecosystem will lead to irreversible changes in the ecological characteristics of the area.
Then there was the famous Report prepared by the Central Empowered Committee of the Supreme Court on the refinery and mining of Niyamgiri. This exhaustive report finally recommended to the Supreme Court:

  • The CEC is of the considered view that the use of the forest land in an ecologically sensitive area like the Niyamgiri Hills should not be permitted.   The casual approach, the lackadaisical manner and the haste with which the entire issue of forests and environmental clearance for the alumina refinery project has been dealt with smacks of undue favour/leniency and does not inspire confidence with regard to the willingness and resolve of both the State Government and the MoEF to deal with such matters keeping in view the ultimate goal of national and public interest.   In the instant case had a proper study been conducted before embarking on a project of this nature and magnitude involving massive investment, the objections to the project from environmental/ecological/forest angle would have become known in the beginning itself and in all probability the project would have been abandoned at this site.     
  • Keeping in view all the facts and circumstances brought out in the preceding paragraphs it is recommended that this Hon'ble Court may consider revoking the environmental clearance dated 22.9.2004 granted by the MoEF for setting up of the Alumina Refinery Plant by M/s Vedanta and directing them to stop further work on the project.
Yes sir, inspite of all these negative reports from its own expert committees, the Supreme Court not only didn't penalise Vedanta by revoking its environmental clearance, but even gave its green signal for the mining of Niyamgiri. Only Judge Arijit Pasayat, an ex-member of the forest bench may be able to enlighten us on this paradox. 

This company and its parent company is known for violating environmental laws. In fact, the Norwegian Government's Council of Ethics investigated Vedanta's records, and in its recommendations to the Norwegian Government wrote "The Council will, after the assessment of the substance of the accusations against Vedanta Resources Ltd., in light of point 4.4 of the Ethical Guidelines, recommend that Vedanta Resources Ltd, as well as its subsidiaries Sterlite Industries Ltd. and Madras Aluminium Company Ltd. be excluded from the investment universe of the Government Pension Fund – Global due to an unacceptable risk of complicity in current and future severe environmental damage and systematic human rights violations." The whole Report of the Council of Ethics investigations can be found here. It is a very interesting and illuminating document.

There is  massive documentation of environmental violations of Vedanta, not only in India (see the excellent report Vedanta Ravages through India ) but also abroad in countries like Zambia (see Undermining Development: Copper Mining in Zambia). It becomes quite clear that this is a company which operates with deliberate impunity, purchases each and every regulatory agency, and is a major environmental violator of all laws and in the words of the Norwegian Council on Ethics "is clearly involved in human rights violation".

That raises a question - how does a jury that comprises of very eminent people such as Justices Venkatachaliah, Ahmadi and Bhagwati,  well known bureaucrats such as TKA Nair, Dr. V K Agnihotri, ex- CVC Vitthal, Filmmaker Gobind Nihalani and a whole host of other very eminent and one is sure well meaning people select this "Vedanta" for this award. Are they aware that the WEF which has instituted this award has received funds from Vedanta, as proudly indicated on their website where Vedanta is one of the sponsors of the "Climate Change Jamboree" being organised by WEF at Palampur where one of the programs is to give this award away to Vedanta.

Well, I rest the case here - whether we can consider this travesty of an award the most blatant case of corporate greenwashing ever in the history of India.