Students, workers and civil rights activists gathered in their hundreds today in Delhi to protest at the mining company Vedanta, and the Indian government’s support of highly destructive mining projects in forests and on indigenous peoples’ lands.
Today, hundreds of angry activists of Krantikari Yuva Sangathan (KYS) as well as students and workers from across the city gathered outside the Jor Bagh office of the Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF), Government of India.
The joint protest was called as part of a global campaign against the private company, Vedanta Resources Plc.
They allege the company has been using “unfair means” and “the deadly nexus it shares with both state authorities and successive central governments in India” to push through its bauxite mining project in the sensitive wildlife habitat, Niyamgiri Hills of Odisha.
The protesters who had gathered under the banner of KYS extended full support and solidarity to all those struggling across the world against the corporate giant.
Preparing for Vedanta’s AGM
Today’s protest was triggered as the Vedanta Company meets for its annual general meeting on 1st August, and with the MoEF’s recent statements about removing “obstructions” to foreign investment and diluting the Forest Rights Act.
The proposals of the recently elected BJP-government to amend the ‘consent’ clauses in the Land Acquisition Bill and the Finance Ministry’s proposals to disinvest its minority shares in BALCO and Hindustan Zinc have also fuelled today’s protest.
The protestors say these maneuvers “indicate the government’s willingness to tweak the laws to favour private companies like Vedanta which are facing public ire.”
Activists, civil liberties groups and workers’ organizations are extremely wary of the BJP government’s pro-corporate stance, given that Vedanta has been a major funder of the BJP in its recent election campaign. In addition the lawyer who defended Vedanta in the Supreme Court has been appointed Attorney General by the Narendar Modi regime.
Vedanta: ‘consistent violations’ – but it’s back!
Trouble for Vedanta first began when activists and tribals near its Lanjigarh plant complained about the Company’s functioning and protested against the Company’s expansion plans.
A four-member panel set up by Government of India in the Ministry of Environment and Forests investigated the bauxite mining proposal over Niyamgiri near Lanjigarh in the districts of Kalahandi and Rayagada in Orissa. It concluded in its report August 2010 report that
“The Vedanta Company has consistently violated the Forest Conservation Act [FCA], the Forest Rights Act [FRA], the Environment Protection Act [EPA] and the Orissa Forest Act in active collusion with the State officials … Allowing mining … by depriving two primitive tribal groups [residing in the region] of their rights over the proposed mining site to benefit a private company would shake the faith of the tribal people in the laws of the land.”
In its verdict, the Environment and Forest ministry of Government of India finally scrapped the Company’s forest clearance and the Company’s proposed Niyamgiri mining project was scrapped. The Supreme Court of India asked the tribal people to take the decision, in which the Company’s proposal was rejected in all village council meetings unanimously.
But despite the Supreme Court ruling the Company has pressured the Government to pass its mining expansion plans in the region.
‘Ill-treatment and harassment’ of local people
Wherever the Company has made its acquisitions, it has drawn serious protests because of its “ill-treatment and harassment of local populations directly affected by its mining operations”, says KYS, citing the Dongria Kondh tribe of the Niyamgiri Hills. It accuses teh company of
- arm-twisting of tribal populations that sought to be displaced;
- unregulated mining that brings irreparable harm to local flora, fauna and human populations;
- cost-cutting in waste disposal and production that enhances air and water pollution;
- illegal transactions such as tax evasion;
- exploitation of labour employed in connected manufacturing plants; and
- the creation of super profits that are never used for public betterment, unlike in the case of public sector undertakings from whose profit earnings governments can draw the income for social benefit schemes;
- illegal mining and export of iron-ore that violated the export allowance granted by the Government of India in 2010-11;
- brutal treatment of workers across its joint ventures in Africa and India.
Vedanta is India’s largest mining and non-ferrous metals company. It was created by Anil Agarwal in 1976, who is now the Company’s executive chairman. As a multinational company, Vedanta also has mining operations in Australia and Zambia, as well as oil and gas operations in three separate countries.