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. 

1 comment:

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