Vedanta UpdatePublished by MAC on 2007-08-04
4th August 2007
Vedanta: beseigned by accusations
August 1st saw the largest demonstration yet at Vedanta's 4th Annual General Meeting in London. Several activists had travelled specially from Orissa, India. Kumuti Majhi and Phulme Majhi spoke strongly in Oriya inside the meeting (with interpreters) about the danger to their livelihood from mining Niyamgiri and the mafia Raj that makes their life hell - a total contrast to the company's claimed commitment to "enhancing the communities' quality of life".
R.Sreedhar (geologist) pointed out that every Vedanta project is operating at the margins of the Law, starting construction without proper clearance and with major court cases looming against the company for gross breaches of law. Specifically mentioned was the company's illegal expansion of its Tuticorin copper smelter in south India, the pollution it had caused in Zambia, and heightened prospect of a major penalty for Vedanta's operations of its gold mines and processing plant in Armenia, now closed by Government order, which awaits confirmation by an Armenian court - possibly later this week. [see below]. Orissa journalist, Samarendra Das, also raised the question of Vedanta's donations to political parties (of which the right-wing Hindu nationalist party, the BJP, is known to be the main but not the only recipient).
Prafulla Samantara, a leading Orissa activist with people's movements, refused to go into the meeting as a shareholder/proxy but spoke to journalists outside. He highlighted the dire threat to Orissa's resources and communities posed by the company, and the way Vedanta is manipulating the truth at every turn, in order to get hold of India's resources, He also accused the company of bribing politicians and bureaucrats and using improper influence to secure mining rights to Niyamgiri.
Under questioning from one shareholder activist at the AGM, Anil Agarwal incidentally revealed that Vedanta is indeed getting its bauxite for Lanjigarh from its mines at Bodai-Daldali in Chattisgarh, and sending it back there (to Korba) to be smelted: this is despite an earlier order that bauxite mined in Chattisgarh state should be processed there. As some shareholders pointed out, the Bodai Daldali and Mainpat mines (in Kawardha and Surguja districts) are of questionable legality on numerous fronts, while extremely harsh conditions prevail there for the Gond and Baiga tribal whose land has been taken for the bauxite mines, which are still expanding at villagers' expense. [see below]
Representatives of Action Aid asked searching questions about the company's claims that it has provided exceptionally good rehabilitation to villagers moved to the new Vedantanagar colony in Orissa, to make way for Vedanta's Lanjigarh alumina refinery. They supported Phulme Majhi's statement that the life quality of those people has seriously declined, and that they often come begging for food to the villages which still grow their own food. Vedanta's lawyer at the Indian Supreme Court hearing last May had claimed that the company was offering people in the district " two square meals a day". The reality is, those living near the refinery have completely lost their food security.
At one point, and in order to counteract the negative impression of his company's activities, created by over an hour of activist questions, Kuldip Kaura (Vedanta's Chief Executive Officer) read out excerpts from Vedanta's Sustainable Development report, with a long list of money spent on various "good works" educational & health projects. But, no accountability at all has been provided, to check the data or determine how the stated sums were really spent. As Dai Singh Majhi, another tribal activist, has pointed out: the company's strategy is "to flood us out with money", while corruption is rampant.
Executive chairman, Anil Agarwal, let questions proceed for longer than he would have liked, and it was only following pressure from the "dissdent shareholders" that he allowed the two tribal representatives to speak (as proxy shareholders). His replies seemed urbane, yet in reality demonstrated a complete inability to give convincing answers to the relentless questioning of Vedanta's integrity and legality. Vedanta Resources plc is one of the fastest-expanding mining companies on the planet. Currently it is trying to raise an extra 7-10 billion dollars to diversify into the power sector.
Among the roughly thirty protestors inside and outside the AGM were: Kumuti Majhi and Phulme Majhi of Niyamgiri, Prafulla Samantara of the National Alliance of People's Movements, R.Sreedhar of Mines Minerals & People and the Environics Trust, Samarendra Das of the SJP (Socialist People's Platform), Bratindi Jena from Kalahandi Nagarik Satchetan Manch, Amit Srivastava from the India Resource Centre (US), Roger Moody, Andy Whitmore and Richard Solly (shareholders) and others associated with the London Mining Network, as well as several representatives of Action Aid.
[Report from Felix Padel, with a contribution from Roger Moody, 2 August 2007]