Vedanta Aluminium's Indian safety record is tarnished
Now it won't get two prestigious UK awards
A subsidiary of controversy-dogged UK mining company Vedanta Resources has suffered not just one - but two - serious setbacks in its attempts to portray itself as "accident free".
On Tuesday 15 May, Vedanta Aluminium Ltd (VAL) was to receive the prestigious Silver Award from the UK's Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) at a ceremony in Birmingham, Britain's second largest city.
This was based on claims, made by VAL to RoSPA, that no-one had been seriously injured at its Lanjigarh bauxite refinery in Orissa during the last reporting period.
But, in fact, a VAL employee died in a fire at the Lanjigarh site last month, and several others were injured.
Now, in response to vociferous criticisms by activists in India and the UK, RoSPA has withheld the award, pending further investigation of the company's safety record.
The British Safety Council (BSC) has also suspended making a similar award to VAL at a gala banquet to be held in London this Friday.
Vedanta loses British safety awards after Indian fatality
The suspension of the awards was sparked by a letter from campaigners linked to the London Mining Network
By Simon Bowers
14 May 2012
Multinational mining group Vedanta Resources has had two British safety awards - including one endorsed by the UK's Health and Safety Executive - suspended after campaigners drew attention to controversies including a fatality at the group's perations in Orissa, India.
The British Safety Council had been due to present representatives from a subsidiary, Vedanta Aluminium, with a "distinction" award for its Lanjigarh refinery at a black-tie gala dinner at the Grosvenor House Hotel in Mayfair on Friday night. An invitation to the event, described by organisers as "the Oscars of health and safety", has now been withdrawn.
In a statement, BSC said: "Information has been brought to [our] attention concerning a fatality at the site in April and in connection with earlier occurrences ... The BSC has today notified the company of its decision and sought full particulars of the circumstances surrounding the fatal accident and dangerous occurrences."
The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) has also suspended a "silver award" that was due to be presented to Mukesh Kumar, president of Vedanta Aluminium, at a ceremony in Birmingham.
The suspension of the awards was sparked by a letter from campaigners linked to the London Mining Network. It comes two years after the BSC stripped another Vedanta subsidiary of a safety award after the Observer drew its attention to the firm's involvement in one of the worst industrial tragedies in India's recent history.
At least 40 workers were said to have been killed by the collapse of a 240-metre, part-built chimney in Korba, in the state of Chhattisgarh.
On both occasions, information passed to the BSC was widely available on the internet.
Last month, a project manager at a Vedanta contractor firm reportedly burned to death and four others received minor injuries in a fire while staying on a Vedanta campus site in Lanjigarh.
Kumar told local media: "The project manager of our red mud refining agency died during the fire accident. I cannot call it lapse in the security measures as I believe the rains and possibly a loose electric wire caused the accident."
Vedanta reported two fatalities among its employees and 24 contractor deaths across its businesses and projects for the year to 31 March . "Learnings have now been shared across the group and preventative action taken," it said in its annual report.
The BSC allows firms applying for its international safety awards to assess themselves.
They are barred from receiving an award if there is a fatality at the site in question. In the case of Vedanta's Lanjigarh aluminium refinery, the fatality occurred after the application had been processed, but the BSC had not been informed.
Critics of Vedanta's practices at Lanjigarh also point to allegations of two caustic residue spills - accusations the BSC is taking seriously.
A spokesman for Vedanta said officials in India could not be reached for comment.
Roger Moody, of the London Mining Network, said: "The process of self-assessment should not be allowed for these awards. Gong-giving is quite an art in India and Vedanta are past masters at trading off these kinds of awards. The fact that they are endorsed by the official British regulator is seen as very, very significant."
A spokesman for the HSE [UK government Health and Safety Executive] confirmed that the BSC awards did carry a general endorsement, but added: "We are not involved in the detail of the selection process, or judging the winners."
Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (UK) Suspends Award to Vedanta Aluminium Limited, Pending Investigation
British Safety Council Follows RoSPA's Lead
Joint Press Release
14 May 2012
On 14 May 201, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) and the British Safety Council (BSC) both withheld prestigious safety awards they had earlier promised to Vedanta Aluminium Limited ( VAL), a subsidiary of London-listed Vedanta Resources plc.
The awards were due to be presented this week at gala dinners held in Birmingham and London.
Both bodies say they will conduct further investigations into safety standards at VAL's Lanjigarh bauxite refinery in Orissa, India.
Their moves were prompted by allegations against VAL made by several environmental and human rights advocates in India and the UK. The critics claim the company omitted to mention two serious safety breaches during 2011, when the red mud pond at the refinery burst its banks, spilling caustic residues into the adjacent soil and waterways.
According to leading Orissa environmentalist, Prafulla Samantara:
"While these incidents are denied by president of VAL, Dr Mukesh Kumar, they are documented on local peoples' mobile phones and can be watched on YouTube. The company received notification from the Orissa Pollution Control Board as early as 2007 that the retaining walls of its red mud pond had not been built according to the approved design criteria.
Says Mr Samantara: "We were deeply concerned that these organisations in the UK could make any award to a company which admits in its latest shareholder report for the year 2010-2011 [p22], that 2 employees and 24 contractors died across the company's operations.
"Vedanta has been attempting to abuse the self-assessment application process used in these awards to try and validate operations which have already been deemed illegal by the Indian government."
"At Lanjigarh, VAL has been in contravention of environmental and planning laws, by continuing to expand the refinery, despite an order to stop by the government's Ministry of Environment and Forests (1).
As recently as 28 April 2012, according to a report in India's Business Standard [30 April 2012]: "At least one person was killed and four others got minor injuries during a fire accident" at the Lanjigarh refinery.
VAL's president, Mukesh Kumar, confirmed that "the project manager of our red mud refining agency, S Ganeshan, died during the fire accident" which Mr Kumar blamed "on a possible electrical fault and heavy rains" (sic).
"It would have been extremely insensitive to the family of the dead man if VAL were honoured with any kind of safety award" says Mr Samanatra.
In announcing suspension of its award, RoSPA's Awards Manager, David Rawlins said on 10 May:
"I can confirm that in accordance with our scheme rules, the Silver Award previously notified has been suspended pending further investigation.
"The entrant [VAL] has been informed that the award will not now be presented on Tuesday 15th May and we have also strongly advised them against travelling to attend the ceremony in Birmingham."
In August 2010 the British Safety Council withdrew two international safety awards it had already made to BALCO - another Indian subsidiary of Vedanta Resources.
The step was taken in response to information provided by The Observer newspaper, revealing that BALCO had failed to mention the deaths of 41 employees after a 2009 chimney collapse, when it applied for the awards. See: http://www.minesandcommunities.org/article.php?a=10358
The BSC's delayed withdrawal of these awards created embarrassing publicity for the Council, demonstrating its failure to adequately assess information supplied by Vedanta at the time.
For further information
Contact in UK: Simon Chambers 0207 729 7970
Contact in Delhi: Mamata Das 98682 59836
Contact in Orissa: Prafulla Samanatra 94372 59005
(1) See "HC dashes Vedanta hopes to expand refinery", Times of India, 19 January 2012