MAC: Mines and Communities

Global protests greet Vedanta’s 2016 AGM

Published by MAC on 2016-08-07
Source: Statements, Reuters

More articles on Vedanta can be viewed here

India, Zambia, London protest Vedanta’s AGM

Foil Vedanta press release -  (see link for photos, links and footnotes)

5 August 2016

Protests have been held in India and Zambia in parallel with today’s AGM of British mining company Vedanta Resources’ at Ironmongers Hall, Barbican, London. Inside the AGM dissident shareholders asked incisive questions submitted by Zambian villagers who are suing Vedanta in the UK for twelve years of polluted water, as well as displaced farmers who were never compensated for their land in Lanjigarh, Odisha, India and accuse Vedanta of murdering and harassing them with state collusion. A loud protest organised by Foil Vedanta took place outside the meeting, demanding that Vedanta subsidiary Konkola Copper Mines publish its hitherto secret annual accounts in Zambia, and accusing the company of pollution, human rights abuses and financial mismanagement in India and Afrika.

See the video of the London demo here and of the Delhi demo here.

At Vedanta’s London AGM activists from Foil Vedanta interrupted the meeting asking incisive questions to the Vedanta board and gathered shareholders on behalf of the Zambian Copperbelt villagers living downstream of Vedanta’s Konkola Copper Mines (KCM), who are demanding an end to twelve years of pollution by KCM, which has turned the Kafue into a ‘river of acid‘ and left them with no access to clean water. They asked why KCM has never submitted annual accounts in Zambia in accordance with national laws, and whether Vedanta’s deliberately obstructive approach to compensation cases as revealed in a recent London judgement was company policy.

Outside the meeting protesters drummed and chanted in loud voices, holding placards with pictures of the polluted Zambian villagers and victims of the 2009 chimney collapse which killed between 40 and 100 people at Vedanta’s BALCO plant in Chhattisgarh, India. The Sandeep Bakshi Judicial Commission report (leaked by activists in 2014) held Vedanta guilty of negligence in the incident but no action has been taken. A giant inflatable ‘Vedanta monster’ with snake like heads representing the company’s subsidiaries crowded the entrance frustrating the arriving executives and shareholders.

1,826 Zambian villagers are suing KCM and Vedanta in the UK for personal injury and loss of livelihood due to gross pollution, having won a precedent London jurisdiction hearing in May. The villagers are also demanding that KCM de-silt and remediate the contaminated areas so they can return to normal life. An estimated 40,000 people in total are affected by contaminated water which also affects the municipal piped water system.

One villager Judith Kapumba appears in a youtube video testifying to how contamination has destroyed their livelihood and their lives, claiming that many have ‘collapsed and died’ as a result of illnesses caused by drinking contaminated water, and that crops can no longer grow leading to starvation and extreme poverty. Leo Chikopela, one of the claimants in the UK case said;

“We have no water source apart from the river and its totally polluted. Most of us are very weak and have constant stomach pains. When we bathe using this water our skin itches.”

A number of scientific papers have documented the extent of contamination, with acid pH and heavy metal content regularly tens and even hundreds of times above legal limits.

Justice Coulson’s judgement on the polluted villager’s jurisdiction case indicted KCM for financial secrecy, historic dishonesty and attempts to pervert the course of justice, revealing that KCM have never filed any annual accounts in accordance with the Zambian Companies Act, and referring to a 2014 London arbitration case against KCM in which three judges found KCM to be dishonest, obstructive and willing to cause unnecessary harm. An UNCTAD report published in July 2016 found ‘systematic export underinvoicing’ of copper from Zambia starting in 2005, the year after Vedanta took over KCM (Zambia’s biggest copper producer). $12 billion of underinvoicing is recorded between 1995-2014.

Following damning audits of KCM in 2014, the Zambian government entity ZCCM-IH which owns 20.6% of KCM has also filed a case against KCM and Vedanta in London for $100 million owed on an April 2013 settlement.

The UK government has repeatedly promoted KCM via the Department for International Development’s Commonwealth Development Corporation (CDC), most recently in 2012 when KCM were sponsors and speakers at their Jubilee Economic Forum in London alongside then Zambian President Michael Sata.

In Chingola, Zambia, residents of Nchanga South submitted a petition to the press and the London AGM decrying the fumes and noise from KCM’s copper smelter, which is less than 50m from houses on East 1st Street, and demanding to be compensated and resettled as per the 2006 Environmental Impact Assessment. Posting on their facebook group Justice for Residents of 1st Street Against Pollution, 1st Street resident Ngmanaya Luhana said:

In Kitwe former KCM miners who have never received their terminal benefits since being retrenched in 2009 held a protest ahead of the next hearing in their ongoing case against KCM in the Zambia High Court on 8th August. 2500 miners were retrenched by KCM in November 2015, and have also been denied proper benefits, leading to riots. Chairman of the group, Francis Wambuzi said;

“Like so many other former miners we have been from pillar to post fighting this injustice. We want the government and Zambians to know how former miners, the backbone of this country are being treated after losing their jobs. Vedanta cannot profit at our expense.”

Demonstrators in London claimed that Vedanta is hiding its tax evasion and capital flight, as well as shifting its liabilities onto the Zambian state. Samarendra Das from Foil Vedanta said:

“Vedanta has been found guilty of polluting the Kafue river and damaging communities livelihoods and health in Zambia. In India they are indicted for negligence in the country’s second largest industrial disaster at Korba in 2009, and have lost their iconic Niyamgiri mine due to popular resistance. The ground swelling protests in India and Zambia are demanding justice from the British Government to initiate an inquiry against Vedanta’s practices and delist them from the London Stock Exchange.”

In Bhubaneswar, capital city of the State of Odisha in India, indigenous Dongria Kond from Niyamgiri as well as Lanjigarh land losers and activists opposing Vedanta’s planned Puri University, rallied in front of Vedanta’s office a Fortune Towers, demanding that Vedanta is kicked out of its two Odisha bauxite operations * at Jharsuguda, where ongoing pollution has led to farmers protests, and displaced people have never been compensated, and Lanjigarh (Niyamgiri) where local tribal activists and protesting land losers have been beaten, harassed and killed by police this year, under the pretence that they are Maoists. Fact finding teams led by former Chief Justice of Bombay High Court Justice B G Kolse Patil, as well as the National Confederation of Human Rights Organisations (NCHRO) found state collusion between the police and Vedanta, who have been thwarted in their attempt to mine Niyamgiri’s bauxite by the people’s movement.

Padmanav Choudhury from Asarpada village, an active member of Niyamgiri Suraksha Samiti (Niyamgiri Protection Coucil) and a land loser yet to receive any compensation from Vedanta said:

“I was tortured for two days, hung upside down and thrashed by police for participating in a demonstration against police atrocities in Niyamgiri. Vedanta and the Odisha government are working together to deny our democratic and legal right to object to their mine. No matter what they do, we will not leave Niyamgiri or give up our fight.”

Despite a May Supreme Court ruling which rejected Vedanta and the Odisha state’s right to challenge the ban on Niyamgiri mining Mines Minister Piyush Goyal stated in July that he would again try to push the Niyamgiri project through. Mass demonstrations have again celebrated the Supreme Court victory this June.

Adivasi and Niyamgiri Suraksha Samiti leader Dadhi Pusika echoed the protesters demands that the refinery built to process Niyamgiri’s bauxite should now be decommissioned, saying:

“Lanjigarh must be shut down and stopped from causing pollution, misery, and landlessness in our villages. This a not just a local issue. It is a global struggle of the humanity to protect nature and civilisation.”

In Delhi, students from Birsa Ambedkar Phule Students’ Association (BAPSA) held a solidarity demonstration at Odisha Bhawan calling for an end to Dalit Bahujan and Adivasi suppression by Vedanta at Niyamgiri, and punishment of their attackers, as well as an Indian and international ban on Vedanta. The group was rounded up police and continued their demonstration at the police station. See the video here.

BAPSA activist Chinmaya Mahanand said:

“Police have unlawfully detained us and tried to ban our protest at Odisha Bhawan. Whether in Delhi or Odisha the State is colluding with Vedanta to prevent any objection to its crimes. We demand that the land losers of Niyamgiri are rehabilitated with equivalent land, and that goondas responsible for atrocities against them are arrested and punished according to law.”

In London Foil Vedanta warned shareholder that Vedanta Resources is bluffing them with grand claims of mergers and acquisitions to hide its toxic debt situation – with $8.6 billion of debt and $1.8 billion in intercompany loans, amounting to debt of 7 times Ebitda, and $2.9 billion in debt covenants due in 2016. They will point out that Chairman and 69.9% owner Anil Agarwal’s claims to have invested $4 billion in Africa have already been disproved by Zambian government audits which revealed the company had in fact failed to invest any CAPEX in the subsidiary since buying it in 2004, only reinvesting internally generated cash.

In India, Vedanta’s attempts to assure shareholders and media that their attempted merger with oil subsidiary Cairn India is going ahead has been denied by top minority shareholder Life Insurance Corporation of India (LIC), who sent a recent public statement denying their approval. The merger with Indian arm Vedanta Ltd, would give Vedanta access to Cairn’s $2.6 billion cash reserves. Meanwhile Agarwal has appealed to the Indian government to ‘monetise what is below the ground’, enabling speculation and advocating an oil boom comparable to Shale Gas in the US, and a third CEO has quit Cairn India over differences with the Vedanta Resources board. Cairn India is India’s biggest fracker at the Raageshwari deep gas field and has the world’s largest EOR polymer flood field at Mangala in Rajasthan, which injects 400,000 barrels of polymer liquid (water and chemicals) per day to extract oil in a drought ridden area.

Agarwal has also been making grand statements about India’s need to develop mining on an Australian scale to end poverty, again making the case that iron ore mining and steel production should be ramped up to satisfy domestic demand and infrastructure development, while Vedanta Ltd are in fact one of India’s major exporters of iron ore.

To address their debt crisis subsidiary HZL in March declared a special golden jubilee dividend at 1200% effectively paying parent company Vedanta Ltd $1.2 billion.

* Editorial note: Jharsuguda is Vedanta's aluminium smelter site in Orissa. The company's two bauxite mines are in Chhattisgarh; one of which, at Mainpat, has been closed since 2012; the second of which is at Bodai Daldali. (See second article, below).

A tale of two worlds – Vedanta AGM 2016

6 August 2016

The following is a personal reflection on Vedanta’s recent Annual General Meeting (AGM) by Andy Whitmore

Like strawberries and cream at Wimbledon, or stories of seagulls stealing chips in Brighton, it seems that protests focussed on Vedanta’s AGM in London are becoming a British summer tradition. The fact that the AGM occurs in the news ‘silly season’ when most people are on holiday, is I am sure a coincidence. It can’t possibly be that the company wants to bury the inevitable bad publicity that comes from the time when it must annually face the glare of public – or at least shareholder – scrutiny?

Towards the end of what was an arduously long meeting at the Ironmonger’s Hall, a shareholder spoke of trying to reconcile the two worlds that she had heard in the meeting. They were the accusations of human rights abuses, atrocious work conditions and environmental pollution in Vedanta’s operations in India and Zambia, and the silky smooth reassurances coming from the board that the company really cared and was effectively ahead of the curve in terms of its corporate social responsibility.

The differences were most effectively illustrated when shareholders had visited mine sites and come back to report on what they had seen. At one point a questioner noted he had shown the company’s shiny new “sustainable development” [sic] report to villagers who were shocked by its contents, noting that one person quoted in it – fulsomely praising the company – did not exist in the village to which he was attributed.

The company’s primary response was to say they would investigate. This caused some frustration in heated discussions, because this was what had been promised before. One shareholder, raising the issue of the appalling lack of health and safety at the Bodai-Daldali mine in the central Indian state of Chhattisgarh (see: India’s tribal slaves to stone) noted the issues had been reported before, with promises of investigation, but little seemed to change. Vedanta’s CEO, Tom Albanese, said he was shocked by what he had seen (although the Chair Anil Agarwal seemed to suggest the footage may not be genuine). As was pointed out by the shareholder, it seems head office booked inspection visits in advance; maybe if they really wanted to see what was going on perhaps they should pop along unannounced?

Maybe that is the problem of the two worlds, that those at the top would really rather not look too deeply into the problems? One shareholder noted that for Tom Albanese to make the claims he does (and he makes many claims; his presence in the company has succeeded in polishing what was a very rough lump of ore), he is either ignorant or deliberately misleading shareholders. Perhaps Mr. Albanese sleeps well at night, having taken Vedanta’s shilling, by skilfully blocking out the thought of some of the company’s greatest harm.

More likely his slumber is assured by the promise of “zero harm”. This seems the most bizarre fad afflicting large extractive corporations, or those financing them. How can a company displacing people to rip up the earth on a vast scale do “zero harm”? In the latest “sustainable development” report Mr. Agarwal states “the priority is not just to focus on zero harm, but also to ensure zero discharge and waste”. Right. This is a mining company we are talking about here. Even if the company is causing huge problems now (enough to land them in court!), there will be incremental technical improvements that will make things alright eventually. Perhaps those are the two worlds; we live in the real world now, and they live in the fantasy world of the future.

The two worlds were also evident when an argument broke out among the shareholders, after one had asked people to stop wasting time by raising issues around how the company made its money, and only to talk about the returns to investors and financial issues, which he then of course proceeded to do at great length. When others pointed out that it might be relevant to question how the money is made, something of a verbal scrap ensued. Again, it seems there is a real world where one considers how money is made, and an abstract world where money is the prime, no sorry the only, concern.

However, in the end the two worlds were best illustrated when those of us who had sat through the whole meeting appeared somewhat tired and shell-shocked, blinking back into the summer sun. We were greeted by the drums and chants of protestors who had stayed outside during the whole, dreary meeting. Despite expressing righteous anger, they had continued to drum, and effectively party while inside our senses were numbed by numbers and PR speak. They had celebrated life in the open air, while some of us inside the stuffy, wood-panelled hall had felt it been stolen from us, minute by slow minute. To quote Trainspotting, if forced to choose between the two worlds, “choose life”.

Vedanta Resources aims to close merger with Cairn India in early 2017

By Barbara Lewis

5 August 2016

London - Mining and energy group Vedanta Resources expects to complete its merger with Cairn India early next year, a move that would boost the firm's financial strength, Vedanta's CEO said on Friday.

Vedanta is among the resource firms hit by a collapse in commodity prices and it is also facing legal action and activist protests over its operations in Zambia.

In a speech to a London shareholders' meeting, CEO Tom Albanese said the rationale for the merger was compelling, which was why Vedanta announced improved terms in July.

"The merger ... will contribute significantly to our overall financial strength, not least through a potential re-rating, which will lower our overall cost of capital," Albanese said, according to a copy of his speech.

"We expect to close the transaction in the first quarter of 2017."

The deal, which will give Vedanta access to oil and gas explorer Cairn India's $3.5 billion cash pile, has faced opposition from some big minority shareholders, including British-based Cairn Energy, but Albanese said he did not foresee obstacles.

Vedanta's debt to EBITDA ratio is 5.7 for 2016 compared with the level of around 3 analysts view as comfortable.

Albanese told Reuters after the meeting that Vedanta had repaid close to $1.2 billion of bonds in the first quarter and had no further Vedanta Resources debt maturing until 2018.

"We are committed to deleveraging the balance sheet," he said, citing a share price rally - the stock has almost doubled since the end of last year - as proof of market confidence.

Albanese also predicted the commodity price slump has ended.

"My own personal view is that for the first time in more than five years, most commodities will end this calendar year higher than they began the year," he said in his speech.

To Reuters, he declined to comment on a case involving Vedanta's copper mining in Zambia because it is being litigated.

Protesters, under the banner of the activist organization Foil Vedanta, demonstrated at the shareholder meeting, chanting "shame, shame" and "looters, polluters" as executives walked in.

In May, a high court judge decided that a claim could proceed in the English courts on behalf of 1,826 Zambian villagers seeking compensation following what they say is damage to their health and land caused by Konkola Copper Mines. Vedanta, which has a majority stake in Konkola, has appealed that decision and said Zambia is the appropriate jurisdiction. It expects to know the outcome of the appeal next year.

(Reporting by Barbara Lewis; editing by Grant McCool)

Dongrias' stir against Vedanta Alumina


6 August 2016

Bhubaneswar: Dongria tribals led by Niyamgiri Surakshya Samiti, an outfit fighting for protection of Niyamgiri hills in Kalahandi and Rayagada districts, staged demonstration in front of the Fortune Towers, which houses the Vedanta office, here on Friday. They protested against alleged police atrocities and Vedanta's alumina refinery at Lanjigarh in Kalahandi.

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