Monday, July 25, 2011

Vedanta Orissa projects ban must be upheld

Ongoing attempts by UK-based mining company Vedanta Resources to overturn an Indian government decision blocking a proposed bauxite mine and expansion of an alumina refinery in Orissa should not be allowed to succeed, new report by Amnesty International says.

The report, Generalisations, Omissions, Assumptions, reveals that the company has failed to adequately consider the human impact of its proposed projects with an investment of US$ 1,7 billion in Orissa.

“Vedanta’s mine and refinery expansion projects must not be allowed to go ahead. The company is trying to overturn the Indian Environment Ministry’s decision to block its plans, claiming they have taken into account the impact on the local people and environment. In fact Vedanta’s Environmental Impact Assessments have been wholly inadequate.” said Madhu Malhotra, Amnesty International’s Asia Deputy Director.

The High Court of Orissa on Tuesday upheld the Indian government's decision made in August 2010, to reject Vedanta's plans for the six-fold expansion of the Lanjigarh refinery, finding that the project violated the country’s environmental laws.

However, its joint venture partner for the mining project, Orissa Mining Corporation, has challenged the government's decision to deny clearance for the proposed mine at Niyamgiri hills in the Supreme Court of India.

The Vedanta subsidiary that would manage the project, Sterlite Industries, has also challenged the Ministry’s denial of environmental clearance at India’s National Green Tribunal.

For the last several years, Dongria Kondh, a 9,000-strong Indigenous community, has been protesting against the mine plans.

“Vedanta’s onslaught of legal action should not be allowed to mask the truth about its projects. The Indian government must not be hoodwinked into thinking that Vedanta has complied with environmental regulations. The reality is very different indeed,” said Madhu Malhotra.

“Villagers have consistently been given scant and misleading information about the potential impact of Vedanta’s proposals. Today they are living with a massive refinery in the middle of their community, the air is choked with dust and huge lorries full of raw bauxite hurtle down their roads. The refinery and its toxic waste pond are right beside the local river, so people are now unsure whether their main source of water is safe to use,”.

Amnesty International’s report is based on close analysis of the Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs) undertaken by Vedanta to obtain clearance for the proposed bauxite mine in the Niyamgiri Hills and the expansion of an alumina refinery in Lanjigarh. The report concludes that the EIAs are fundamentally inadequate and fail to meet India’s regulatory requirements.

Areas in which the EIAs are inadequate include a failure to consider the impact of lorries transporting tones of bauxite through rural villages; failure to acknowledge dust and odour as potential pollutants; failure to assess the cultural significance of the Niyamgiri Hills to the Dongria Kondh indigenous people who live there; lack of inadequate information on water usage and failure to disclose design criteria of ‘red mud’ waste ponds, which are located next to the Vamsadhara river and have already reportedly spilled into the river, which is a primary water source for local people.

The report also finds that the regulations imposed by India’s Ministry of Environment, through the EIAs, are limited in scope and fail to address a number of social and economic concerns surrounding corporate activity in India, such as land use, displacement of people, and rehabilitation issues.

“India needs effective laws in place to hold companies accountable for their actions, which could curtail Vedanta’s campaign of misinformation carried out amidst aggressive legal action,” said Madhu Malhotra.

• On 27 July 2011, Vedanta Resources holds its UK AGM in London
• The alumina refinery is operated by Vedanta Aluminium. Vedanta Resources owns 70.5 per cent of Vedanta Aluminium and Sterlite India Ltd. owns the remaining 29.5 per cent. Vedanta Resources owns 59.9 per cent of Sterlite India and has management control of the company. The mining project would be operated as a joint venture involving Sterlite India (74 per cent) and the state-owned Orissa Mining Corporation (26 per cent).

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