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Home > 2021 > Mamata Banerjee into the Vedanta trap | Sankar Ray

Mainstream, VOL LIX No 34, New Delhi, August 7, 2021

Mamata Banerjee into the Vedanta trap | Sankar Ray

Saturday 7 August 2021, by Sankar Ray

Willy-nilly, the West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee has walked into the corporate trap of Vedanta Limited (erstwhile Vedanta Resources plc), incorporated in UK, an NRI Anil Agarwal-led group, diversified natural resources company with interests in zinc-lead-silver, Iron ore, steel, copper, aluminum, power, oil and gas and infamous for wanton violation of environmental norms. In 2018, mass protests against Vedanta’s Sterlite Copper subsidiary at Tuticorin in Tamil Nadu for causing environmental damage by its copper smelter and police firing that killed 13 protesters, ended in a shut-down of the plant.

The WB CM, claimed Agarwal, had contacted the later within a fortnight of return to power of the All India Trinamool Congress and requested investments by the Vedanta group in West Bengal. “It is remarkable. Within 14-15 days of formation of the government in Bengal . I got two communications in the state’, he said while speaking at an open virtual discussion with Indian Chamber of Commerce. The Vedanta supremo praised the change of mindset of governments at the Centre and in the state for their proactive approach towards investors. He specially praised ministers of Narendra Modi-led NDA government for’ valuing what industry wants and said the government can divest 60-70 per cent stake in PSUs as hive-off would take time’.

Samarendra Das, author of ‘Vedanta’s Billions: Regulatory Failure, Environment & Human Rights and one of the crusaders for Adivasis and dalits who are fallen prey to ‘mining mafia’ in the corporate arena, has shot a letter to Mamata Banerjee cautioning her government of the disastrous consequences of letting Vedanta into West Bengal.” Vedanta Ltd, controlled as it is by Anil Agarwal, is totally unconcerned about those rights, indeed we go as far as to say that the evidence indicates that Vedanta Ltd is willing to break laws and breach the rights of workers and communities in its business activities to make profit. Such consistent behavior has attracted widespread criticism of courts, investment institutions, public authorities, and civil society, notably, The Norwegian government pension fund (2007, 2016) and Insurance multinational Aviva”, Das informed the WB CM in a 1000-word letter.

Describing the AITC government as ‘people-centred unlike the Central Government’ and one state government that prides itself for keeping up ‘a balance between the rights of workers and communities’, Das, now convalescing from cold injury in London, cited how Agarwal-led group has been criticised in India and abroad for trampling corporate social responsibility and rebuked by judiciary.

Records have it that Vedanta The report contains evidence to prove that Vedanta Ltd committed numerous violations in Goa, Odisha and Chhatisgarh in India and Zambia in Africa.

The group acquired 51 per cent controlling stake in Zambia’s largest copper mine, Konkola Copper Mines (KCM), in 2004 and upped its share to 79.4 p.c. in 2005. “In 2006 a tailings pipe burst, releasing highly acidic waste into local tributaries of the River Kafue. In 2011 the Zambian High Court awarded $2 million to 2001 claimants for damage to health and livelihood following the incident. In his ruling Justice Musonda found KCM guilty of ‘gross recklessness’ and turning ‘the residents of Chingola into Guinea Pigs’. He stated that KCM had acted with ‘impunity and immunity’ as they had been ‘shielded from criminal prosecution by political connections and financial influence, which put them beyond the pale of criminal justice’. In April 2015 the Supreme Court upheld the guilty verdict against KCM but reduced the payable compensation to only 12 claimants who had medical records of injury”, Das wrote.

The Supreme Court of India in its judgment (Goa Foundation v Union of India [2014] 6 SCC 590) “found that (amongst other illegalities), Vedanta Ltd’s iron ore mines in Goa had been operating illegally since 22nd November 2007 until mining was eventually halted on 12 September 2012. Four years later the Supreme Court upheld the finding in The Goa Foundation vs M/S Sesa Sterlite Ltd. And Ors. 2018(2) SCALE103, but also went on to consider other evidence which found: The State ignored the fact that every single mining leaseholder had committed some illegality or the other in varying degrees’ ”, the letter states.

Dharitri, a leading Oriya daily in Bhubaneswar, front-paged a story on how Vedanta officials they openly bribed police and pollution board to manage their risk. Mentioning the report, Narsingha Mishra, member, Odisha legislative assembly and leader of Congress legislature party as also member, 19th Law Commission of India in a letter to the Odisha chief minister has Lays bare the unholy nexus between government, officials and the mining mafia and demanded an immediate enquiry into the report.
A probe by the Rajasthan government unearthed massive irregularities in the functioning of Hindustan Zinc Limited, a subsidiary of the Vedanta group and one of the world’s largest and India’s only integrated producer of Zinc-Lead and Silver. leading to potential royalty losses worth thousands of crores to the government. Between 2013-14 and 2018-19, HZL allegedly evaded paying royalties worth Rs 2,537 crore on silver, and worth Rs 1,113.67 crore on lead and zinc, totaling potential revenue loss worth Rs 3,613 crore to the state government. It was a central public sector undertaking until 2002 when, during the tenure of BJP-led NDA government with Atal Behari Vajpayee as the Prime Minister, HZL’s controlling shares were sold to the Vedanta group.

Foil Vedanta, an independent grassroots solidarity organization focused primarily on the London de-listed India-focused mining company Vedanta Resources Limited and a coalition of organisations released sometime back a report ‘Vedanta’s Billions: Regulatory failure, environment and human rights‘ days severely indicted the Agarwals ahead of the annual general meeting of Vedanta Resources’ AGM. The report narrates legal judgments against Vedanta across its global operations and snaps fingers at the City of London and Financial Conduct Authority for utter failure in regulating or penalising the corporate group. The report contains a long list of London miners exposed to ‘corporate massacres’ A British MP Hywel Williams MP described the corporate records of the group as ‘deeply concerning and disturbing’. A protest took place at the FCA headquarters in Canary Wharf, demanding that British regulatory authorities do not let Vedanta flee the London Stock Exchange without being held to account.

A summary of legal judgments against Vedanta across its operations, reveal its abusive modus operandi, with a special focus on illegal mining in Goa, pollution and tax evasion in Zambia, as well as illegal expansion and pollution in Thoothukudi, Tamil Nadu, industrial disaster at Korba in Chhattisgarh, land settlement and pollution issues in Punjab, displacement and harassment of activists in Lanjigarh, Odisha, and a mineral allocation scam in Rajasthan.

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