MAC: Mines and Communities

World's "worst" mining company in the dock - again!

Published by MAC on 2010-11-08
Source: The Hindu, Times of India, Business Standard (2010-10-31)

Vedanta's Balco killings could land directors in court

Hardly a month passes without yet another serious accusation being levelled against Vedanta Resources plc - the mining company which, some have argued, is the "worst" on the planet.

In September 2009, a chimney being constructed for Vedanta's Balco aluminium subsidiary in Chhattisgarh's Korba district, collapsed, killing  at least 41 workers. See: Vedanta accused of illegally constructing death-dealing Indian power plant

Now, a local magistrate has ordered owners of the company - not just those in charge of operations on the ground - to answer charges that construction of the chimney was itself  illegal.

In theory this could mean Vedanta's chairman and majority-owner, Anil Agarwal, himself being called to court.

Meanwhile, Vedanta Aluminium has been found guilty of expanding its Lanjigarh alumina refinery without obtaining a proper permit. 

Whether the company will be given more than a slap on the wrist for breaking the law is decidedly moot, especially now that Vedanta's "poodle" - the Orissa state government - says it doesn't see anything wrong with the company's actions.

Collapsed BALCO chimney built on unacquired land, says administration

The Hindu

31 October 2010

Raipur: In its latest submission to the Additional District and Sessions Judge, the district administration indicated on Friday that Bharat Aluminum Company Ltd. (BALCO) began construction on a chimney for a 1,200 MW power plant in Chhattisgarh's Korba district without having acquired the land.

On September 23, 2009, as many as 41 contract workers were killed when an incomplete chimney collapsed at the construction site of the plant.

In a previous hearing, the court had inquired about the status of the land on which the chimney was constructed. According to the latest submission, the chimney was built on a 92.84-acre plot which is still classified as forest land owned by the State of Chhattisgarh.

"Noting that the land belongs to the State government, the judge has passed an order accusing BALCO of criminal trespass under Section 447 of the Indian Penal Code," said Mr. J.N. Chandra, counsel appearing on behalf of the prosecution.

This most recent charge is in addition to existing charges of culpable homicide not amounting to murder, under Sections 304 and 34 of the IPC, filed in the charge sheet prepared by the Korba police.

"The court has also issued notice to the owners of BALCO and ordered that they appear in court on November 9, 2010," Mr. Chandra said.

BALCO was privatised in March 2001, when the BJP-led Central government sold 51% of its stake to Sterlite Industries Ltd. for Rs.551.50 crore. Sterlite is India's largest non-ferrous metal manufacturing company and is owned by Vedanta Resources, a London Stock Exchange-listed company owned by Mr. Anil Aggarwal. It is unclear if Mr. Aggarwal shall appear in court, as demanded by Judge M.D. Jagdalla.

The confusion over BALCO's land has its roots in the company's controversial disinvestment in 2001. At the time of privatisation, Sub-Divisional Magistrate Emil Lakra had issued a notice stating that the land occupied by BALCO was acquired from tribal and dalit villagers for specified public purposes. The notice contended that once company ownership had passed on to private, non-tribal entities, the conditions of land acquisition had been violated. While the Supreme Court had overruled Mr. Lakra's notice, the court submission on Friday suggested that the exact extent of BALCO's land holdings in Korba was still unclear.

The chimney case has been marked by controversy since its inception. In August this year, Chhattisgarh Congress leader Mohammed Akbar alleged that three Chinese nationals implicated in the case had been granted bail on the basis of false sureties submitted by their lawyers. In papers handed out to the press, Mr. Akbar alleged that Indra Bhavan Singh, a 52 year-old adivasi who earned Rs.100 a day under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act had stood as a guarantor for the Chinese.

Public Prosecutor Mr. Chandra said that the prosecution had filed an application regarding the false bail sureties. BALCO's lawyer P.K. Aggarwal declined to comment on this issue.


Court summons for Balco owners

By Supriya Sharma

The Times of India

31 October 2010

RAIPUR: There is more trouble for the beleaguered Vedanta group. A court in Chhattisgarh's Korba district issued summons to the 'owner of Bharat Aluminium Company Limited (Balco) and others' on charges of criminal trespass in the case involving the death of 41 workers last year.

"The order does not mention the owner's name since the company's ownership deed was not available to the court, but it is well known that the owner of Balco is Anil Agarwal, the London-based chairman of Vedanta group," said J N Chandra, deputy director prosecution, representing Chhattisgarh government.

But other legal experts suggested the ownership could be vested in the board of directors and not the chairman alone. Vedanta group's Sterlite Industries controls majority stake in Balco, while the minority stake is held by the government of India.

Either way, lawyers said the order by additional district and sessions judge M D Jagdalla was significant since it shifted liability from paid employees to the owner of the company. On September 23, last year, 41 workers had been killed when an under construction chimney collapsed at the site of the company's upcoming thermal power plant.


Orissa unlikely to take stringent action against Vedanta

Business Standard

25 October 2010

The Orissa government is unlikely to take stringent action against Vedanta Aluminium Ltd (VAL) which has proceeded ahead with expansion work on its alumina refinery plant at Lanjigarh without prior environmental clearance.

In its order dated October 21, the Union ministry of environment and forests (MoEF) stated that the secretary (forest and environment), Orissa government shall take legal action under the provisions of Environment Protection Act, 1986 for violation of the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) notification.

"We cannot take any stringent action against VAL which has only gone ahead with expansion of its alumina refinery plant from one million tonne per annum (mtpa) to six mtpa. Besides, the company has claimed that it has the environmental clearance for the one mtpa and it does not require any separate environmental clearance for pursuing expansion work as it has not gone for any change in technology or process", a top official of the state government told Business Standard.

He stated that a team of officials of the state forest and environment department may visit the alumina refinery site of VAL to check any violation, adding, "At best, we can only impose a penalty on the company".

It may be noted that VAL has already invested Rs 5000 crore on the expansion plan of its refinery from one mtpa to six mtpa and that of its CPP from 75 MW to 300 MW. It has also completed around 60 per cent of the construction work of expansion. The expansion work involved an investment of Rs 10,000 crore.

The MoEF in its order dated October 21, has slammed the door on the company's expansion plans. The ministry has however, allowed VAL to maintain status quo and continue operations of its one mtpa refinery. The ministry has stated categorically that the company can source bauxite only from those mines which have prior environmental clearance.

The ministry has further stated that the Terms of Reference (TOR) issued to the company on March 12, 2009 for expansion of the alumina refinery from one mtpa to six mtpa and that of CPP from 75 Mw to 300 Mw is withdrawn and consequently, the public hearing conducted on April 25, 2009 stands cancelled.

VAL has been asked to maintain status quo at the project site without undertaking any further construction work in respect of its expansion project.

The MoEF has also directed VAL to submit an irrevocable bank guarantee for an amount of Rs 10 crore valid for a period of three years, within 15 days to the Orissa State Pollution Control Board for implementation of all environmental protection measures.

Moreover, VAL shall cover 25 per cent of the plant area by raising green belt within two years. The selection of the plant species shall be as per the agro-climate zone, preferable with the native species.

The company shall submit the detailed plan for 'Green Belt Development and Plantation' within 90 days showing the area to be covered, plant density and plant species, to the MoEF and complete the implementation of this plan within a period of two years.

VAL has also been instructed by the ministry to immediately install peizometers around the red mud and ash ponds to monitor the ground water level, fluctuations and quality parameters on a quarterly basis.

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