Sunday, June 21, 2009
Friday, June 19, 2009
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 Following this, the Council had withdrawn its fundng, citing severe environmental damage and human rights violations linked to the group's operations in India.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.
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. ⊕
Thursday, June 18, 2009
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
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
Dear Jurors of the Golden Peacock Awards:
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,
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 http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2003/may/11/theobserver.observerbusiness2) 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
2. Blacklisted by
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: http://thescotsman.scotsman.com/scotland/Scots-firm-pulls-cash-out.4388531.jp)
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: http://www.freewebs.com/epgorissa/CENTRAL%20EMPOWERED%20COMMITTEE%20report.doc 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: http://www.epgorissa.org/INSPECTION%20REPORT%20OF%20VEDANT%20ALUMINIUM.doc)
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 http://www.expressbuzz.com/edition/story.aspx?Title=Illegal+mining+in+Kolli+Hills+stayed&artid=Zke/kKGPhno=&SectionID=vBlkz7JCFvA=&MainSectionID=fyV9T2jIa4A=&SectionName=EL7znOtxBM3qzgMyXZKtxw==&SEO= )
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
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 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g6-P5SKW8bQ ).
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
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
New coverage on protests in Koraput
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
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.
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
Affected people holding dharna for enhanced compensation
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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.