Vedanta gets award for environment management; Film on pollution by Vedanta’s refinery released
* Institute of Directors gives the Golden Peacock Award to Vedanta for its environment practices at a climate change conference in Palampur, Himachal Pradesh
* Former chief justices, former politicians and bureaucrats in the jury for the award.
* The company has violated environment and forest laws. Orissa Pollution Control Board served notices to Vedanta for non-compliance with regulations
New Delhi, June 11, 2009: Sham Public Hearing: The Real Face of Vedanta a film highlighting the pollution caused by Vedanta’s refinery in Lanjigarh, Orissa was released today. This 30-minute film has been made by independent film maker Surya Shankar Dash and draws attention to the plight of the communities suffering from the pollution caused by the one million tonne per annum aluminium refinery plant of Vedanta.
The film also captures the public hearing held for the expansion plans where people lambasted the company for the pollution caused by it. Vedanta plans to expand its plant to 6 MTPA, making it the world’s biggest aluminium refinery. The public hearing was organised as part of the clearance process. Vedanta’s pollution is affecting more than twenty villages in its vicinity causing widespread skin and respiratory problems.
To add salt to wounds, Institute of Directors is awarding the Golden Peacock Award to Vedanta at the global convention on climate security at Palampur, Himachal Pradesh from 12-14 June 2009 organised by the World Environment Foundation. Vedanta is incidentally also the co-sponsor of the conference.
Unfortunately, the jury for the award includes big names. Former chief justices of India namely M N Venkatachaliah, A M Ahmadi, and P N Bhagwati, T K A Nair, the principal secretary to the prime minister and politicians like former prime minister of Sweden Dr Ola Ullsten are part of the jury that decides on the awards.
“This is yet another example of greenwashing and legitimising the ruthless corporatisation of natural resources impacting the bio-diversity and indigenous people dependent on it, “ says Dash.
In fact, the jury seems to have over looked the recent objections raised by the Orissa Pollution Control Board against Vedanta for non compliance with regulations.
Vedanta has a history of environment violations. Not only in India but also in countries like Zambia. In case of Lanjigarh, Orissa, the refinery has been polluting the river Vansadhara through its wastewater pond adjacent to the river. There is also clear indication of ground water contamination by its red mud (hazardous waste generated from the refinery) and flyash pond.
In fact, the Norwegian Government's Council of Ethics investigated Vedanta's records, and in its recommendations to the Norwegian Government wrote "The Council will, after the assessment of the substance of the accusations against Vedanta Resources Ltd …. recommend that Vedanta Resources Ltd, as well as its subsidiaries Sterlite Industries Ltd. and Madras Aluminium Company Ltd. be excluded from the investment universe of the Government Pension Fund – Global due to an unacceptable risk of complicity in current and future severe environmental damage and systematic human rights violations."
ECOLOGICAL AND SOCIAL IMPACTS
The most infamous has been Vedanta’s plans to mine bauxite from the Niyamgiri hills. Niyamgiri is an ecologically sensitive area and the source of water for the region. It is a specialized kind of wildlife habitat, dominated by grasslands and sparse tree communities. These kinds of sites are breeding habitat of many herbivores such as barking deer and four horned antelopes. Niyamgiri also falls in the elephant corridor between Karlapath and Kotagarh Wildlife Sanctuaries.
In its initial report to the Supreme Court the Wildlife Institute of India (WII) had noted that “these plateaus are very productive with high occurrence of several herbivore and carnivore species.”
Niyamgiri is also home to the Dongaria Kondh tribals for whom Niyamgiri is of incalculable religious and cultural value. Mining of the top of Niyamgiri is akin to sacrilege for this colourful and endangered primitive tribe. This highly endangered primitive tribe with a population of 6000 will become extinct if Niyamgiri hills are diverted for mining.
Recently, in April 2009, the ministry of environment and forests (MoEF) cleared the mining project of Vedanta. This is despite widespread protests and the scathing report of the Central Empowered Committee (CEC) of the Supreme Court questioning the integrity of the authorities involved. “The casual approach, the lackadaisical manner and the haste with which the entire issue of forests and environmental clearance for the alumina refinery project has been dealt with smacks of undue favour/leniency and does not inspire confidence with regard to the willingness and resolve of both the State Government and the MoEF to deal with such matters keeping in view the ultimate goal of national and public interest,” the CEC report said.
Vedanta had in 2003 applied to MoEF for environmental clearance for the proposed refinery in Lanjigarh. The application made no mention of the 58.9 ha of forestland it required. The clearance for this was filed in a separate petition for clearances under the Forest Conservation Act.
The CEC was in 2004 was petitioned by several activists to halt Vedanta’s operations in Lanjigarh after the MoEF granted it clearance. The CEC questioned the ministry’s approval, following which the ministry asked Vedanta to halt the operations. In its report, the CEC had ruled out mining in the Niyamgiri hills.
The apex court referred the matter to MoEF’s Forest Advisory Committee (FAC), which in turn asked the WII and Central Mine Planning and Design Institute Limited (CMPDIL), to assess the project for soil erosion and impact on water resources. CMPDIL, during Supreme Court hearings cleared the project of all water-related concerns.
WII, in 2006, submitted a unfavourable report initially but changed its stance later in the year adding a supplementary report, which included a Rs 42-crore plan for mitigation of impact on wildlife. Based on the two reports, FAC recommended diversion of forestland for the mining project.
For the press release and other information please contact Surya Shankar Dash on 09437500862, 41660901, or write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org