MAC: Mines and Communities

Vedanta - once more unto the breach!

Published by MAC on 2011-05-24
Source: Wall Street Journal

Second red mud spill reported in Orissa

The Norwegian government seemed to have got it right when it dumped its holding in  London-listed Vedanta in 2007, effectively damning the company as a "serial offender". See: Norwegian government indicts Vedanta as "grossly unethical"

In late 2010 the company was found guility of polluting a river in Zambia, just four years after it did almost exactly the same thing. See: Vedanta: serial offending in Zambia too?

Then, last week - and only a month after toxic wastes cascaded from a breach in its red mud pond at the Lanjigarh alumina refinery in Orissa,- there's been another, virtually copycat spill.

Orissa Locals Fear Red Mud Spill

By Krishna Pokharel

Wall Street Journal

18 May 2011

On the afternoon of May 16, after heavy rain in Lanjigarh village in India's eastern state of Orissa, a pond storing waste from Vedanta Aluminium Ltd.'s alumina refinery started overflowing into a nearby river, according to local villagers.

The spillage of thick red waste, known as red mud, continued for about an hour until officials from Vedanta Aluminium repaired the wall of the pond, said Samarendra Das, a local filmmaker and activist.

The waste is the toxic byproduct of bauxite - from which aluminum is extracted - and is harmful to people and animals. In October 2010, Hungary declared a state of emergency after red mud flooded the town of Kolontar, killing 10 people.

Mr. Das said that the breach in the Lanjigarh refinery pond is a recurring phenomenon. He blames Vedanta Aluminium, a unit of London-listed Vedanta Resources PLC, for being careless. "They are creating havoc," Mr. Das says.

Vedanta couldn't be reached for comment.

The company's expansion plans in India have been waylaid by environmental concerns raised by both the government and local villages and tribes. Orissa is a sensitive area as many protected tribes live there, but Vedanta still hopes to mine the state's Niyamgiri Hills as well as expand its Lanjigarh refinery.

Locals are apprehensive about the impact such projects will have on their lives and livelihoods, while India's Ministry of Environment and Forests has raised objections because of environmental concerns.

Surendra Nag, a 36-year-old villager, says the red mud spillage from the pond next to Vedanta's refinery happens every time there is a heavy downpour. The rains on May 16 sent waste spilling into Vamsadhara River and other nearby water bodies, he said.

Vamsadhara River, which flows from Lanjigarh to the Bay of Bengal in Andhra Pradesh, has been the source of water for drinking, bathing and washing for locals for many years and was clean before the refinery was set up, villagers say.

"Now we don't drink its water because of the waste from the refinery that flows into it," Mr. Nag said. But people still use the river for bathing and washing clothes. "We are getting eye, skin and respiratory diseases due to this but we don't have other options," he added.

The complaints about red mud spillage could prove a further setback to Vedanta's expansion plans.

The company wants to increase the Lanjigarh alumina refinery's capacity to six million metric tons a year from the current one million, but the Ministry of Environment and Forests in October rejected its request, citing environmental violations.

Vedanta says it hasn't violated environmental regulations. The ministry has asked the company to make a fresh application , but it's not clear yet whether it is doing so.

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