MAC: Mines and Communities

Vedanta found guilty of grave safety breaches in India

Published by MAC on 2012-12-27
Source: Hindustan Times, Express news service

London-listed company is complicit in killing of over forty workers

Vedanta Resources plc has been found guilty of flagrant breaches of health and safety regulations in the faulty construction of a power plant chimney which collapsed,  burying  at least forty workers alive.

The disaster - one of the worst in recent Indian history - occurred on 23 September 2009 at the company's Balco aluminium complex in Korba, Chhattisgarh; a Chinese engineering outfit has also been indicted.

These extremely serious findings are contained in a 122-page judicial report, released last week in the Chhattisgarh state assembly - and summarised below.

Editorial note: It has been more than three years since allegations of Vedanta's key role in the Korba calamity first emerged.

Not only did the company initially dismiss the disaster as an "act of nature" - and continued doing so for many months. It also proceeded to construct a replacement chimney without legal authorisation.

Vedanta has consistently failed to cooperate with, and ostensibly obstructed, investigations into the part it played in this avoidable tragedy.  See: Once more into the breach - Vedanta

Last week, the opposition Congress Party in Chhattisgarh called for Vedanta-Balco, and the two sub-contracted engineering companies, to face criminal charges.  

In fact, in November 2009 - just seven weeks after the chimney toppled -  three Balco officials were arrested and charged with culpable homicide. See: Vedanta officials charged with culpable homicide over Indian disaster

To our knowledge, those charges have never been rescinded.  

Chattisgarh Balco chimney mishap: judicial panel indicts Balco, Sepco and GDCL

Ejaz Kaiser

Hindustan Times

21 December 2012

Raipur - A state-appointed judicial commission, constituted to probe into the collapse of an under-construction chimney of 1200 MW plant, has held accountable the Vendanta-controlled Bharat Aluminium Company Ltd (Balco), Chinese group Shandong Electric Power Construction Corporation (Sepco) and its subsidiary Gannon Dunkerley & Company Limited (GDCL), for their failures to abide by the rules on safety and quality.

The commission also slammed the then district officials for being irresponsible and remaining apathetic.

The commission report was tabled in Chhattisgarh assembly on Friday. The chimney mishap claimed 41 lives on September 23, 2009 at Korba, about 225 km north-east of Raipur.

Bagging the chimney construction contract from Balco, the Sepco assigned the task to GDCL to erect 275-metre chimney for the power plant.

Following the incident, the state government constituted a one-man judicial commission headed by Raipur district judge Sandeep Bakshi to probe the incident.

"Prior to the construction of the chimney, the norms pertaining to the structure, quality and precautionary (safety) aspects of the project were not followed altogether," the commission said.

According to the report, the prerequisite safeguard measures were not in place as per the prescribed norms and regulations so as to ensure the safety and security of the labourers and others during the construction.

"For these Balco, Sepco and GDCL are accountable," it was pointed out. The report was also critical of the local officials deployed in the district then.

"The concerned officials of the municipal corporation, town and country planning epartment and the labour department in Korba were irresponsible and appeared callous."

The commission dwelled on six points: how and when the incident took place, what was the reasons for the incident, who were responsible for the collapse of the chimney, whether proper standardisation followed to maintain quality of works of the chimney or not, and if it were not maintained then who were responsible for that. And how to check [against] occurrence of such incidents in future.

The opposition Congress demanded criminal cases be lodged against those held accountable by the commission.

Balco is owned by the London-based Vedanta Group, a global mining and metal company, in which the Government of India hold 49% stake. Balco is totally managed by Vedanta.

Faulty material, engineering led to Balco deaths

Express news service

22 December 2012

Raipur -  Sub-standard construction material and engineering faults caused the collapse of a chimney at the Balco power plant in Korba that killed at least 40 labourers on September 23, 2009.

And for this, the blame lies squarely with the company and the administration, Justice Sandeep Bakshi, who led the judicial commission that probed the accident, said in his  report that was tabled in the Assembly Friday, days after the government said it had suspended the 1,200 MW plant's licence for operational delay.

The project, the report noted, violated legal, construction, land and municipal laws, and quality standards at every stage; its structural designs were not approved and no security measures were in place.

So if officials of the labour department and the municipal corporation had not been  negligent, if proper material had been used and safety precautions taken, Justice Bakshi pointed out, the accident could have been averted.

Its agreement with the Chhattisgarh State Electricity Board required Balco to construct the plant on its own but it outsourced the job to Chinese firm Shandong Electric Power Construction Corporation, which in turn outsourced construction of the 275 metre chimney to Gannon Dunkerley and Company Limited, the report said.

Interestingly, the report said the commission could not do an independent evaluation of the quality of construction work as material such as cement, iron rods and sand was not made available to it; Balco said they had provided the samples to Korba police, the police said the material had been dissolved.

So the commission was forced to base its findings on reports provided by SEPCO, GDCL and Balco, the report said.

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