MAC: Mines and Communities

Amnesty report slams Vedanta's operations in India

Published by MAC on 2010-02-15
Source: Amnesty International, Guardian (2010-02-14)

Numerous human rights and environmental abuses alleged

Last week, in Delhi and London, Amnesty International released its long-awaited critique of UK mining company Vedanta's exploits in Orissa, relating to the construction and operation of its Lanjigarh alumina refinery and prospective mining of the adjacent Nyamgiri hills.

One of the most detailed recent reports of its kind, it concentrates on documenting the human rights abuses and legal derelictions, suffered by local communities - specifically Dongria Kondh. But it also presents considerable detail on environmental offences committed by the company in the area over the past six years.

The full report is available at: http://www.amnesty.org.uk/uploads/documents/doc_20144.pdf

Vedanta has tried refuting Amnesty's allegations, claiming the majority of them are based on an "outdated document" (which is nonsense, as a quick perusal of the report shows).

Amnesty is inviting members of the public to send email protest messages to the Indian Minister of Environment and Forests, while also expressing concern at the company's planned six-fold expansion of the refinery:- http://www.amnesty.org.uk/actions_details.asp?ActionID=680#action

The report has generally been welcomed by Indian campaigners, but some have called upon Amnesty to go considerably further than merely demanding "better practice" by Vedanta.

If the Lanjigarh operations are illegal (which they are) and the company has been utterly impervious to observing Indigenous rights and environmental rules  (a fact recognised by the Norwegian government and several investors) -  then why isn't the world's leading human rights body calling for the project's cancellation?

[Comment by Nostromo Research, 14 February 2010]

Amnesty report slams alumina * mine run by Vedanta subsidiary in India

Mine in Orissa state is causing air and water pollution that threatens the health of local people and their access to water, report finds

The Guardian

9 February 2010

A report by Amnesty International out today found that an alumina refinery in eastern India operated by a subsidiary of mining company Vedanta is causing air and water pollution that threatens the health of local people and their access to water.

Amnesty International UK director Kate Allen said: "People have a right to water and to a healthy environment but Vedanta has failed to respect these rights in Orissa. Villagers were given scant and misleading information about the potential impact of the alumina refinery and mining project.

"They are living in the shadow of a massive refinery, breathing polluted air and afraid to drink from and bathe in a river that is one of the main sources of water in the region."

One local woman told Amnesty International that she used to bathe in the river but is now scared of taking her children there. "Both my sons have had rashes and blisters," she said. Amnesty recorded many similar accounts from people living around the Lanjigarh refinery.

Vedanta wants to expand the refinery sixfold but Allen said that the FTSE 100 company must ensure that its existing operations respect human rights before considering any expansion.

The Dongria Kondh tribe yesterday appealed to Avatar director James Cameron to help them stop Vedanta from opening a nearby bauxite mine on their sacred land.

Amnesty is also calling on the Indian authorities to set up a process to seek the free, prior and informed consent of the Dongria Kondh before allowing mining to proceed.

The report also discovered that Vedanta has failed to act upon the findings of the British government regarding its proposed bauxite mine. In October, a government agency charged with promoting guidelines on ethical corporate behaviour for multinational companies adopted by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) found that Vedanta had "failed to engage the Dongria Kondh in adequate and timely consultations about construction of the mine". The government said it "could not find any record of the views of the ­Dongria Kondh about the construction of the bauxite mine in the Niyamgiri Hills ever having been collected and/or taken into consideration by the company".

The Church of England last week said it had sold its £3.8m stake in Vedanta after mounting pressure to disinvest.

"We are not satisfied that Vedanta has shown, or is likely in future to show, the level of respect for human rights and local communities that we expect," said the church in a statement, adding that maintaining investments in Vedanta "would be inconsistent with the church investing bodies' joint ethical investment policy."

* Editorial note: The Guardian's sub-editor clearly didn't properly read the report filed by 
its reporter, before affixing this headline. As yet, Vedanta is not mining for bauxite in the
Nyamgiri Hills

India: Mining activity threatens indigenous people's rights

Amnesty International

9 February 2010

Indigenous communities in Orissa risk human rights violations if the Indian government allows subsidary companies of the UK-based Vedanta to proceed with mining in the Niyamgiri Hills and the expansion of the alumina refinery in Lanjigarh.

Processes to assess the human rights and environmental impact of the proposed projects have been wholly inadequate. The Indian government has so far failed to respect and protect the human rights of communities, particularly the rights to traditional lands, water, food, health, including a healthy environment, and work.

Send an appeal now to the Indian authorities - http://www.amnesty.org.uk/actions_details.asp?ActionID=680#action

Background information

Sterlite Industries India Limited, a subsidiary company of the UK-based Vedanta Resources PLC along with the Orissa state government's Mining Corporation have sought permission from India's Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) to mine for bauxite in the Niyamgiri Hills. If allowed to proceed, the mining activity could violate the human rights of the Dongria Kondh community. For centuries, the 8000-strong Dongria Kondh community has regarded the Niyamgiri Hills as sacred and central to their identity. The hills are also a source of sustenance and livelihood as the Dongria Kondh practice hunting, gathering and shifting cultivation on the hill slopes. The Dongria Kondh oppose mining in the Niyamgiri Hills as it not only threatens their traditional way of life but also impacts their livelihood and water sources. During a visit to the Niyamgiri Hills in March 2009, Amnesty International found evidence to suggest that the proposed mine could pose a serious threat to the Dongria Kondh's rights to traditional lands, water, food, health, including a healthy environment, and work.

Additionally, in Lanjigarh, at the foot of the Niyamgiri Hills, the Majhi Kondh and other marginalised communities risk human rights violations if Vedanta Aluminium Limited, another subsidiary company of Vedanta Resources, is permitted to proceed with the six-fold expansion of its existing alumina refinery operations. Vedanta's current refinery, located in the catchment area of the river Vamsadhara, began operations in 2006. Since then there have been periodic reports of human rights violations and environmental damage associated with the refinery's construction and operation. The Orissa Pollution Control Board has also documented numerous failures on the part of the company to adequately manage waste disposal from the refinery. During a visit to Lanjigarh in March 2009, Amnesty International documented violations of the rights to water and health including the right to a healthy environment.

More than 800 families of the Majhi Kondh community along with other marginalised groups in Lanjigarh, risk the compulsory acquisition of their farmlands if the Ministry allows the proposed refinery expansion.

Processes to assess the impact of both the mining operation and refinery expansion on local communities have been wholly inadequate, and both the state and national governments have failed to respect and protect the human rights of communities as required under international human rights law. Vedanta Resources and its subsidiary companies have ignored community concerns, flouted state and national regulatory frameworks and failed to adhere to accepted international standards and principles in relation to the human rights impact of business. Final clearance from the Indian Ministry of Environment and Forests is now required before mining can begin. Environmental clearance for the expansion of the refinery is also pending with the Ministry.

Indigenous communities in Orissa risk human rights violations if the Indian government allows subsidary companies of the UK-based Vedanta to proceed with mining in the Niyamgiri Hills and the expansion of the alumina refinery in Lanjigarh.

Processes to assess the human rights and environmental impact of the proposed projects have been wholly inadequate. The Indian government has so far failed to respect and protect the human rights of communities, particularly the rights to traditional lands, water, food, health, including a healthy environment, and work.

You can also directly leave a message on the Minister's website - http://moef.nic.in/modules/contact-ministry/contact-ministry/

 


Vedanta Defends India Mine Project

by PRASENJIT BHATTACHARYA AND JEFFREY SPARSHOTT, Livemint (Wall Street Journal)

9 February 2010

Vedanta Resources PLC Tuesday responded to criticism and negative publicity regarding its industrial and mining practices in India's Orissa state, saying it's taking measures to address both human rights and environmental concerns.

The international criticism is hurting Vedanta's image and investor confidence. Last Friday, the Church of England said it had sold its £3.8 million stake in Vedanta, as it wasn't satisfied the company had shown "the level of respect for human rights and local communities that we expect," specifically pointing to the mining and refinery projects in Orissa.

Vedanta rebutted a critical report by human rights group Amnesty International which had faulted the company for polluting areas around its Lanjigarh alumina refinery and displacing the Dongria Kondh tribe for its planned bauxite mine.

"The majority of the Amnesty International report is based on an outdated document," the company said, adding that Amnesty International "was fully briefed by Vedanta on the nationally scrutinized processes and environmental safeguards followed over many years by the company prior to commencing the project and during its development."

Amnesty said the Lanjigarh alumina refinery is causing air and water pollution that threatens the health of local people, and the mine "threatens the very existence of the Dongria Kondh, an 8,000-strong indigenous community that has lived on the Niyamgiri hills for centuries."

It said India's government should stop Vedanta's planned bauxite mine and expansion of the Lanjigarh refinery.

The mine's bauxite will be used to produce alumina at its refinery. Vedanta said earlier it will invest $2.5 billion in the project.

Vedanta said the criticism of the project is misplaced, since "it will deliver significant economic stimulus to the local community, especially historically underdeveloped areas of Orissa."

The company said it's spending 505.3 million rupees ($10.8 million) to lessen the impact of its mining and refinery projects on wildlife, adding that its refinery project has met the pollution norms of the state government fully.

On the issue of displacing tribals for its bauxite mine, the company said it has rehabilitated 120 families affected by the project so far, with a member of each family being given a job at the Lanjigarh refinery.

Adding to Vedanta's barrage of negative publicity, U.K.-based tribal rights group Survival International Monday placed an advertisement in U.S. entertainment weekly Variety appealing to James Cameron, director of the blockbuster movie Avatar, to support the cause of tribals displaced by Vedanta's planned mining project. It said the film's theme mirrored the tribal struggle against Vedanta.

"Avatar is fantasy...and real. The Dongria Kondh tribe in India are struggling to defend their land against a mining company hell-bent on destroying their sacred mountain," the advertisement said.


Vedanta resources' statement on Amnesty report is full of errors and omissions, says Amnesty

Amnesty International Press Release

10 February 2010

Amnesty International today reacted to a statement from Vedanta Resources, which was distributed by a marketing agency in Delhi yesterday, regarding Amnesty's 9 February report "Don't Mine Us Out of Existence". The statement does not address any of the substantive concerns raised by Amnesty International in its report. Vedanta Resources' statement is also full of errors and omissions. For reasons of brevity, Amnesty International has only dealt with the main errors and omissions in the statement below.

Vedanta Resources has claimed in a statement that it has "repeatedly offered engagement ... and dialogue on every aspect of the Amnesty report ... But this offer of direct engagement has been rejected". Amnesty International first sought a meeting with Vedanta Resources in London in September 2009 but received no response. Vedanta Resources contacted Amnesty International for the first time on 5 February 2010 offering to engage in a discussion. This offer was accepted by Amnesty International on 8 February 2010.

Amnesty International also notes in this regard that the table detailing the chronological order of Vedanta's dialogue with Amnesty International is inaccurate. Amnesty International has offered Vedanta Resources three opportunities to comment on it's research findings. A summary of research findings was sent to Vedanta Resources on 11 September 2009, a first draft of the report was sent on 13 November 2009 and an updated draft on 19 January 2010 setting a deadline for comments of 26 January 2009. Amnesty International also met with Vedanta Aluminium in Lanjigarh in March 2009 while conducting field research for this report.

Vedanta Resources has claimed that the majority of the Amnesty International report is based on an outdated document. The company has not elaborated on or supported this claim.

Amnesty International's report is based on more than 18 months of research, including three field missions to the Lanjigarh area and the Niyamgiri Hills in August 2008, February/March 2009 and September 2009. While there, Amnesty International researchers carried out one-to-one interviews and focus group discussions with men and women from the Dalit, Majhi Kondh Adivasi and other communities across eight villages in the Lanjigarh area. They also conducted focus group discussions with men and women from the Dongria Kondh in 19 hamlets in the Niyamgiri Hills close to the proposed mining site. Amnesty International also obtained copies of all the Orissa State Pollution Control Board's reports from June 2006 (before the refinery commenced trial operations) to August 2009, which are analysed in detail in the Amnesty International report. The Pollution Control Board documented numerous instances where the company has failed to put in place adequate pollution control measures and recurrent instances of air and water pollution caused by the refinery. Amnesty International researchers also interviewed civil society groups based in Delhi and Orissa and met with various government officials, including district officials and officials of the Orissa State Pollution Control Board.

Vedanta Resources has also claimed that Amnesty International's report implicitly criticises a number of highly respected Indian organisations including the Supreme Court of India. Amnesty International has not commented on the Supreme Court's order granting clearance to the mining project in its report. Amnesty International more generally considers that the litigation at the Supreme Court of India was largely on environmental rather than on human rights grounds (fundamental rights under the Indian Constitution). Therefore many of the issues raised by Amnesty International in relation to the impact of the mining project on the human rights of the Dongria Kondh were only partially touched upon in the litigation. Amnesty International also notes that the Dongria Kondh were not parties to the case. The Supreme Court was also not provided with the Orissa State Pollution Control Board's reports about the pollution from the refinery. Amnesty International hopes that if a case is submitted on violations of the Dongria Kondh's and other communities' human rights, that the Supreme Court of India would consider such a case to determine if there have been any violations of fundamental rights under the Indian Constitution.

Vedanta Resources states that "The report strikes at the heart of a project directly related to India's economic growth and rural upliftment". Amnesty International's focus is on ensuring that human rights are respected and protected in the context of commercial activity. Amnesty International acknowledges the positive role that business can and does play in realising human rights, including through providing employment and generating revenues that contribute towards sustainable development. But the positive role of business does not give any business actor carte blanche to abuse human rights with impunity. Business operations must not harm human rights. States must ensure that they do not do so. In the case of the mining and refinery operations in Orissa the companies involved and the government have failed to respect and protect human rights - it is these failures that Amnesty International's report documents.

The ‘Background Information' provided by Vedanta Resources, attached to their public statement, does not address the main concerns highlighted in Amnesty International's report. Amnesty has highlighted in detail all the instances where the Orissa State Pollution Control Board documented that the company had failed to adhere to the ‘zero discharge' requirement (see pages 46 - 68 of Amnesty report). Vedanta Resources has made no comment on this issue; nor has the company addressed the issue of the failure to disclose the nature and extent of the pollution documented by the Pollution Control Board from 2006 - 2009, and its possible impacts, to local communities.

Vedanta Resources has stated that no Dongria Kondh will be displaced at the mining area. It has also pointed to scientific assessments of the environmental impacts of the mining project and its co-operation with the Dongria Kondh Development Agency under the Special Purpose Vehicle. Vedanta Resources has not addressed any of the concerns raised by the Dongria Kondh themselves and reported by Amnesty International. The site of the open cast mine falls within the traditional lands of the Dongria Kondh. The Amnesty International report highlights the Dongria Kondh's concerns about how the mining plans would undermine their traditional land rights and religious beliefs. The impact of mining would not be confined to the area under excavation and would have wider impacts, as is the case with almost all mining projects. The scientific assessments referred to by Vedanta Resources failed to examine the possible impacts of mining on communities living on the Hills, including those in close proximity to the site of the mine, despite the fact that these communities are clearly highly dependant on the Hills for water, food and livelihood.

All of the assessments to which Vedanta refers have been undertaken without any consultation with those most affected, the Dongria Kondh themselves. Vedanta Resources' statement refers to "development of the resources of the Dongria Kondh (including enhancing their quality of life and conservation of their culture)", referring to a process being conducted by a government agency and the company. The company does not explain what, if any, measures are being taken to consult the Dongria Kondh themselves on these plans. As far as Amnesty International could discover, no effort has been made to consult the Dongria Kondh on these dchevelopment initiatives, especially those that are closest to the proposed mining site.

Amnesty International strongly urges Vedanta Resources to engage with the affected communities and the human rights concerns documented in Amnesty International's report. For too long Vedanta has tried to deny rather than address the very real human rights problems on the ground.

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