Amnesty International has now published a briefing, Vedanta’s Perspective Uncovered, which repudiates Vedanta’s attempts to exonerate itself. The briefing draws on evidence received from communities affected by those operations and on the findings of non-compliance by India’s regulatory authorities and other official bodies. Most of this evidence relates to the period 2010-2012. The briefing concludes that there has been little change on the ground situation in Orissa and that Vedanta’s pronouncements on human rights cannot mask its practices there.
Dear Anil Agarwal,
You may be aware that, for the last one decade, one of India’s remotest Adivasi communities has successfully battled your company Vedanta’s joint venture plans with the Orissa Mining Corporation (OMC) to open a bauxite mine at the pristine Niyamgiri hills in southwestern Orissa.
This 8,500-strong pre-literate community of Dongria Kondh considers Niyamgiri as sacred and is concerned about its material and spiritual survival as a community of the potential negative impact of the mines on its life and livelihood. As the community intensified its protests, Its existential angst has found a universal chord of resonance – ranging from other Adivasi communities in the rest of India to the international admirers of James Cameron’s runaway three-dimension science fiction graphic Avatar.
You may recall that Congress leader Rahul Gandhi too visited the Dongria Kondh twice – in 2008 and 2010 – and declared that he would be the their foot soldier in Delhi. Following this,India’s Ministry of Environment and Forests decisively rejected the forest clearance for your joint venture mine plans. The Dongria Kondh and their Niyamgiri hills have now taken the battle to the legal arena – by intervening in the ongoing Supreme Court hearing on the OMC’s challenge to the Ministry’s rejection, even as your company awaits the verdict.
Your company has also been in the limelight because of reports of abuses against local Majhi Kondh and Dalit communities in 12 villages around the Lanjigarh alumina refinery on the foothills of Niyamgiri. Members of these communities, who sold their farmlands to the refinery, have been affected due to loss of livelihoods and subjected to hardships due to the impact of its pollution, especially from its two red mud ponds. There have been instances when those who dare to protest against their plight have been targeted by the local police and imprisoned on false charges. Most of this has now been confirmed by a recent National Human Rights Commission Inquiry. Even as the abuses continue, your company has persisted with its efforts to expand the refinery six-fold, but the Ministry has halted this for the time being.
You may recall that, Amnesty International joined Indian activists in defending the human rights of these communities and published two reports, in 2010 and 2011, on the abuses suffered by them: that your company Vedanta and the Orissa authorities never made proper impact assessments of the mine or refinery expansion plans, nor adequately informed the local Adivasi communities about them or sought, as per Indian legislation, to consult them or, as per international human rights law, their consent for the same.
Over the last two years, your company has come under pressure from your UK-based bank lenders and investors. In response, your company has published a report Vedanta’s Perspective in which it defends its past approach, but claims to have developed a human rights and sustainability policy framework. Your company acknowledges Amnesty International’s questioning of its human rights record, but at the same time, attempts to rebut the findings in the 2010 and 2011 reports.
In response, Amnesty International has now published a briefing, Vedanta’s Perspective Uncovered which repudiates your company’s attempts to exonerate itself. The briefing draws on evidence received from communities affected by those operations and on the findings of non-compliance byIndia’s regulatory authorities and other official bodies. Most of this evidence relates to the period 2010-2012. The briefing concludes that there has been little change on the ground situation in Orissa and that your company’s pronouncements on human rights cannot mask its practices there.
We, therefore, urge you to implement Amnesty International’s following recommendations to address the persistent human rights concerns associated with your company’s operations in Orissa.
# Urgently and fully address the existing negative environmental, health, social and human rights impacts of the Lanjigarh refinery: this should be done in genuine and open consultation with the affected communities at Lanjigarh.
# Proactively disclose to the affected communities information on the existing refinery and plans for its expansion and the mine plans; ensure that this is done in a manner that is accessible to them and cooperate fully with any state process on such disclosure.
# Make a public commitment not to expand the refinery or go ahead with the mine plans until existing problems are addressed; full, impartial and adequate assessments of the human rights implications of the proposed projects are carried out; and effective plans are developed and action taken to ensure that human rights are respected and protected.
# Ensure the Dongria Kondh’s free, prior and informed consent is obtained prior to any continuation of the proposed mine project and respect their decision if they do not consent to the mine plans.