MAC: Mines and Communities

Golden Peacock ? Pure poppycock, claim Indian demonstrators against Vedanta

Published by MAC on 2009-06-22

Two years ago UK-listed Vedanta Resources plc was awarded India's "Golden Peacock " 2007 prize for best practices in training.

That event failed to ruffle many feathers, nor was doubt cast on the organisation making the award - the so-called World Environment Foundation (WEF) based in the UK. Nontheless an article in The Observer newspaper of May 2003 had trongly challenged the WEF's legitimacy and the credentials of its founder, Mr Madhav Mehra. See:

Things were very different this year, however, in the run-up to the 2009 Golden Peacock event.

Vedanta was once again nominated - this time for supposedly achieving "zero discharge" from its Lanjigarh alumina refinery in Orissa. This aroused intense ire from various Indian and overseas individuals and groups. They poured scorn on such a misguided decision, backing it with a solid dossier of information on the company's environmental violations.

After demonstrators took over the plinth prior to the Golden Peacock ceremony on June 13th, the award was withdrawn by the organisers. Some supposed "jurors" said they knew nothing about the selection of Vedanta. A high-profile Tibetan leader walked out early on, while the chief minister of Himachal Pradesh refused to attend.

The WEF had organised a group of local school children as a "human chain" to lend colour to the event.

But, when the protestors began delivering the case against Vedanta, many of them cheered.

No doubt they weren't the only ones.

[Comment by Nostromo Research, 17 June 2009] .

A 10 minute video of the demonstration at the WEF event can be viewed at:

Awarded in haste, withheld

Over 170 organisations and individuals came together to highlight Vedanta's history of environmental irregularities to the Golden Peacock jury members, prompting a second look.

Kanchi Kohli reports.

EPG Orissa

17th June 2009

Some things make no sense whatsoever. On 12-13 June 2009, Vedanta Alumina Ltd (VAL), a world metals and mining giant was to receive the 2009 Golden Peacock Environment Management Award at Palampur, Himachal Pradesh. The World Environment Foundation (WEF) and Institute of Directors are the two institutions behind the award. There is no way to understand this except as disregard - knowing or otherwise - of Vedanta's reputation.

A little education, then, for the benefit of these two institutions. In 2007, the Norwegian Council of Ethics had assessed its parent company Vedanta Resources and its Indian subsidiaries Sterlite Industries, Madras Aluminium Company (MALCO), Bharat Aluminium Company (BALCO), and Vedanta Alumina to judge whether the group was in breach of the council's Ethical Guidelines for investment. Following this, the Council had withdrawn its fundng, citing severe environmental damage and human rights violations linked to the group's operations in India.

While this was happening, a challenge to Vedanta's mining operations in Niyamgiri Hills in Orissa was pending before the Supreme Court of India before the forest bench. A monitoring body set up by this bench - as part of the T N Godavarman Thirumulpad v/s Union of India case - the Central Empowered Committee had recommended against the grant of approvals as the company had a history of irregularities in seeking both forest and environment clearances both for its refinery operations in Lanjigarh and proposed mining in Niyamgiri Hills of Orissa. Also critical was a strong movement against the mining by the Dongaria Kondh tribal community for whom Niyamgiri is a revered hill and deeply connected with their lives and livelihoods

The Supreme Court bench relied on the Norwegian report even more than that of its own committee, and stated that it could not take the risk in handing over the mining operations to Vedanta.

But the court, unexpectedly, had no qualms in allowing Sterlite Industries, Vedanta's subsidiary to work out a Special Purpose Vehicle with the Government of Orissa and Orissa Mining Corporation work out the best formula for mining. This was November 2007 All the modalities were discussed in court, and as an inexplicable formula the court granted its approval to Sterlite to mine in Niyamgiri Hills, subject to some conditions on 8 August 2008. It did not matter perhaps, that just about a month before in July 2008, the Martin Currie Scottish Trust Fund of Scotland also withdrew its 2.37-million-pound investment in Vedanta. This too was on the grounds of environmental and human rights violation by the company (see here).

Violations in other states

But Vedanta's stories don't start and end in the state of Orissa. Moving further to Tamilnadu there are two very stark and clear instances of the violations by Vedanta's subsidiaries. Sterlite's copper smelter plant in Tuticorin is surrounded by fly ash and gypsum dumps. There are few villagers around who raise their voice against the air and water pollution being caused by the plant operations.

There are days, says a local villager who did not want to be named, when they cannot open their windows due to the pollution, and some have chosen to live away due to the health hazards. This was verified around the site during inspection and discussions in May 2008 by Corporate Accountability Desk and Kalpavriksh members.

Official reports of the Ministry of Environment and Forests and the Supreme Court Monitoring Committee (SCMC) on Hazardous Waste Management in the years 2004 and 2005 respectively, also point to the violations by the plant. The SCMC report states amongst other things, "The industry, as reported to the SCMC during the visit, is also emitting sulphur dioxide far in excess of the permissible standards particularly when the sulphuric acid plant is not operating. "

In the Kolli Hills of Tamilnadu, Vedanta's subsidiary MALCO was pushed to suspend its illegal mining operations in November 2008. This was following a petition filed in the Madras High Court by Piyush Sethia of Speak Out Salem presenting evidence that its bauxite mines had no permission under various environmental laws. Kolli Hills are part of the extremely biodiverse Eastern Ghats ecoregion, also dominated by primitive tribal groups. The hills are said to be guarded by Kollipavai, the local deity.

In Chhattisgarh it is the turn of BALCO. There is photographic evidence of 2007 of the overflow of red mud over the embankment which has spread down the side of a rivulet near the Balco-Vedanta aluminium complex . In the bauxite mines at Kawardha-Daldali (district Kawardha) there are pictures of 2007 where trucks are running on dirt roads spreading huge amount of dust in and around the area.

There is more. A public hearing for the environmental clearance for the expansion of the Lanjigarh refinery in Orissa took place amidst stiff opposition at Belamba village on 24 April 2009. Locally affected people had highlighted that the existing plant was already polluting the area around and it was causing severe health problems to both humans and animals. The public hearing had to be left incomplete by the concerned authorities, due to strong protests.

Jurors challenged

Today, over 170 organisations and individuals have come together to highlight all of this and much more to the Golden Peacock jury members, what they did not see, or chose to ignore.A letter embedded with various weblinks or email attachments with research studies, photographs and videos has been sent to the jurors, officials of WEF as well as India's newly elected Minister for Environment and Forests, Jairam Ramesh.

In all, this submission is no less than a comprehensive dossier attempting to highlight various well researched reasons to withdraw the award to the company and at same time initiate strong action. Addressed to the jurors, the letter seeks, "As jurors, you would have to explain how you chose to award a company that in the words of the Norwegian Government's Council of Ethics is clearly involved in "human rights violations." The dossier lays out a torrid controversy of fraud and financial malpractices shrouding this company. We hope, as jurors and persons of eminence, you would have the good sense to preserve your integrity by dissociating yourselves from this company in particular, and the Golden Peacock Awards, in general."

On 12 June, the Himalaya Niti Abhiyan (HNA) and activists from different parts of the country organised a protest outside the awards ceremony at Palampur, in tandem with the submission to the jury member with signatories from across the country. HNA also sent a letter dated 9 June to the Chief Minister of Himachal Pradesh requesting him to refrain from participating in the award ceremony. The letter also clearly rejects the sanctity of the award and it being conferred to Vedanta.

Following the furore, the jury has withheld the announcement of the award. Its members now contend that the full facts about the company were not brought to their attention earlier. Pending a second examination of the facts, it was announced that the award would be held back. None of the Himachal State government officials who were to attend the award ceremony did so. ⊕

Mining major's green award withdrawn

The Hindustan Times

19th June 2009

Mining magnet Vedanta Resources, promoted by billionaire Anil Agarwal, faced humiliation after the Golden Peacock award for environmental management was withdrawn after protestors spoke of its poor environment record.
Vedanta was among the 25 companies to be awarded by the London-based think tank World Environment Foundation (WEF).
Protestors barged into a climate change convention organized by WEF in Palampur, in Himachal Pradesh, last week. They denounced Vedanta's poor environment record in Orissa.
Government pollution inspectors have commented on the ‘alarming' and ‘continuous' seepage of toxic waste from the its aluminum refinery.
Orissa's Kondh tribe living near the refinery have told Survival International, an NGO, that they have had skin problems after bathing in the polluted water and also their cattle have died after drinking water from polluted streams.
Adding that dust from the refinery has choked their crops.
Mamata Dash, a demonstrator, said: "We now have 200 endorsements of our letter [denouncing Vedanta's award] in a short time, which shows that people are reacting to Vedanta's adverse effects." The letter was also present to the organisers.
After hearing the demonstrators, the event organizers decided to withhold the award.
The environmentalists had earlier persuaded Himachal Chief Minister P.K. Dumal to stay away from the event.
Ashok Kapur, a retired IAS official and one of the organisers, said the demonstration was a job of Vedanta's rivals. "We have nothing to do with Vedanta. They were one of the 200 applicants for the award. The demonstrators were paid hooligans," he said.
Vedanta Resources, meanwhile, had energetically publicised its receipt of the award - supported by climate change activist Al-Gore - sponsored by the WEF and the UK's Institute of Directors.

Miner setback at green awards
Martin Waller: City Diary

The Times (London)

19th June 2009

Vedanta Resources, the London-quoted mining company, has had an important award for environmental excellence snatched back out of its hands after renewed protests over its environmental record. Vedanta, which is controlled by Indian billionaire Anil Agarwal, has been fighting a running battle with activists over its operations in India, on land claimed to belong to the Kondh tribes in Orissa. Recently, Joanna Lumley threw her support behind the protests.
A subsidiary of the miner was due to receive one of the Golden Peacock Awards, for environment management. These are among the most celebrated in India and the gong was to be handed over at a ceremony there. But activists took over the podium and the organisers decided it would be "withheld".
Among the judging panel for the Peacock Awards are former prime ministers of Sweden and Canada. Vedanta, inevitably, rejects any criticism of its environmental record. "Vedanta Resources is committed to conducting all of its activities sensitively and responsibly," the company tells me.


Protestors Set Record Straight on Golden Peacock Awardee Vedanta

Twenty environment and social activists from different parts of India took over the opening ceremony of UK-charity World Environment Foundation's "Global Convention on Climate Security" to denounce the Foundation's Golden Peacock Awards. The activists highlighted the foundation's choice of Vedanta Alumina as winner of the environmental management award to argue that the award was nothing but "greenwash" or deceptive use of "green" marketing or PR.

Claiming the stage from the surprised WEF president Madhav Mehra, Mamata Dash of New Delhi-based Kashipur Solidarity Group and Guman Ji of Him Niti Abhiyan presented evidence about Vedanta Alumina's ongoing pollution at the Lanjigarh facility.

Vedanta was allegedly chosen for the award on the basis of its claim that its controversial Lanjigarh aluminum refinery is a zero discharge unit. The company and its parent and sister concerns are mired in controversies involving human rights abuses, environmental degradation and financial irregularities including tax evasion, fraud and insider trading.

Giving the 36 persons listed as jurors by WEF on their website the benefit of doubt, more than 120 people had earlier written to them with evidence on the company's controversial track record.

Dismissing the organisers of the award and the award winners as "birds of a feather," the endorsers asked dignitaries and jurors to dissociate themselves from the awards or risk being tarred by the same brush.

The Himachal Pradesh chief minister and a number of senior bureaucrats of the HP Government, who were slotted to attend the opening ceremony, withdrew in the last minute owing to the Vedanta-centred controversy around the convention.

School children brought to the venue to form a human chain dispersed after the activists took the stage at the Palampur Agriculture Universit grounds. Activists holding posters and banners saying "Stop Greenwashing" and "Stop Selling Climate Change" briefed the Tibetan Prime Minister in exile -- Samdhung Rinpoche, one of the chief dignitaries, about the company, following which Rinpoche walked out of the venue. Delegates at the conference were also given pamphlets and copies of the letter written to jurors, and endorsed by more than 170 organisations.

In January 2009, WEF withdrew the Golden Peacock Award given to Satyam Computers, literally days before the company submitted its fraudulent balance sheet to shareholders. "We do not expect any integrity from the organisers of the Golden Peacock Awards. However, many of the jury members are persons of good reputation and integrity. We are concerned that your decision may have been arrived at in the absence of full information. We would also like to give you an opportunity to review some disturbing information regarding the conduct of Vedanta and its subsidiaries, and to dissociate yourselves from the award to Vedanta to avoid a Satyam-style embarrassment," endorsers to the letter to jurors wrote.

Guman Singh, leader of Himalaya Niti Abhiyan who spoke on behalf of the campaign appreciated that Chief Minister of Himachal who was to be the Chief guest at the function had withdrawn his participation from the event after pressure from the campaign and the controversy around awardee company. Mamata Dash, an activist from Orissa tried to draw the attention of the delegates towards the crimes committed by Vedenta on the Dongria Kondh adivasis in the Niyamgiri hills for its bauxite mines.

Just as she began speaking Madhav Mehra, founder of WEF, tried to shove her off the stage. After a scuffle with the activists, Mehra made a statement that he had no interest with Vedanta and that they would review the award and even withdraw just like they had done in the Satyam case if the facts were found to be true. As the tussle continued between the activists and the organizers, the ground echoed with slogans like "WEF down down" and "Vedanta company chor hai!".

Himalaya Niti Abhiyan, Kashipur Solidarity Group, POSCO Pratirodh Solidarity, NFFPFW, PUDR, Saheli, The Other Media, Harit Swaraj Abhiyan

For further information, please contact:
Mamata(9868259836), Kanchi(9811903112)New Delhi
Rahul Saxena (9816025246 ) and Manshi Asher (9816345198) Himachal Pradesh

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