Saturday, June 13, 2009

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 It was conveniently withdrawn in January 2009, after the company's senior management, including the founder chairman, were arrested for financial fraud.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)

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