Saturday, October 24, 2009

Struggles against Vedanta in India

Presentation by Sayantoni Datta for Convention on Niyamgiri held on 10th October 2009 in New Delhi

A joint meeting with various groups engaged in resistances against mining held in Salem, Tamil Nadu in August 2009 only reiterated that the demand for ‘no mining in Niyamgiri ’ is a judicious one. The notorious company’s modus operandi and unethical practices have been repeatedly exposed across India. People who have been witness to and victims of these large-scale violations called for a strengthening of the campaign against Vedanta’s operations in India in August at the meeting.

I have been requested to share with you a short introduction to the resistances and struggles in the rest of India. It is revealing that while the Court has sanctioned mining in Niyamgiri, the same Court has been taking decisions on stay orders and several violations and malpractices of the company in other states. Vedanta seems to have a certain expertise and confidence in carrying out illegal activities and encroachments, and a history of malfunctioning plants, leakages and accidents. It is ironic that today Vedanta is being blindly touted as the ‘beacon of development’ for Orissa by the Orissa government.

In the last year Vedanta had acquired Sesa Goa and Dempo operations in Goa, well known activist Claude Alvares states ‘The incidents of mining violations on Sesa Goa mining leases are a result of the take-over of the company by Vedanta, a company with one of the poorest environment records in the whole world. Vedanta is pushing iron ore extraction in its Sesa Goa mines beyond the capacity of the environment to absorb destructive damage. Allowing expansion of this company’s operations in Goa can only spell doom for Goa’s natural environment.’[1] I highlight here three crucial litigations, which have been continuing in Goa. The story of Sonshi School, the Sirigaon Litigation and the Advapal Litigation.

At, Advapal village the company had started dumping illegal waste near the Advapal nullah. The huge illegal mining dumps near Advapal nullah, flowed into the nullah, destroying the concrete embankments and flowed into peoples homes and paddy fields. 9-year-old Akash Naik and his mother filed a PIL in Bombay High Court on September 19, 2009. After the PIL was filed, it was found that the company had not adhered to its mining plan and was engaged in illegal dumping of mine waste. The Bombay High Court ordered a stay order on Phase 1 and Phase 2 mining in Advapal. Flow of mining wastes and siltation into paddy fields and homes is devastating the village and creating inhabitable conditions. Akash shares that even though he is nine, he must take on this responsibility, for he was fed up of seeing the people in his village battling with policemen and local politicians, if they do not act, there would be nothing left in future.

Just as mining is creating darkness in our natural environments in the future, so too is its role in creating darkness in children’s lives. Sonshi school in Sattari, Goa is now surrounded by 5 mining sites, and children are studying in the midst of mining dust and elevated noise from the mines. There is no playground and running water in the school, mining overburden has been dumped upto 10 ms near the steps of the school. Only one teacher remains in the school who is extremely fearful of taking any action. Filing of RTIs has had no response and activists like Durgadas Gaonkar have been threatened on the same. It is a clear case of encroachment of Government Land by Sesa Goa, but most are fearful of severe repression by mining companies and mafia there. Children are left with very little alternative as the nearest. school after Sonshi is 10 kms away. Because of the inhuman conditions, attendance has dropped drastically in the school.

At Sirgaon village members petitioned the Court when they found that their wells had begun to dry up, alleging depletion of water resources, degradation of agricultural fields vis-αΊ£-vis the mining activity in Sirigaon village (Bicholim Taluka) in North Goa District. The Goa bench of Bombay High Court ordered for a detailed investigation, which was conducted by National Environmental Engineering Research Institute based in Nagpur. The findings in the NEER report stated that there are three mining companies involved which include Dempo, Vedanta’s subsidiary, Chowgule and Rajaram Bandekar Mines. The landscape here is completely changed. While the topographic highs have disappeared, large depressions or mining pits have been dug which have gone below –20m(amsl) to 43 m (amsl). The report states that ‘the deepening of the mines resulted in the loss of recharge area for the wells and the soil analysis results indicate that the silt deposition from the mining overburdens has degraded the soil fertility in the agricultural fields of Sirigaon village. Proper slope stabilization needs to be carried out in the mining areas to minimize runoff of the overburden dump material to the nearby agricultural fields. 660.25 lakhs rupees has been estimated by the report for mitigative measures such as recharging the aquifer, making arrangements for rainwater harvesting, stabilizing slopes in the area’[2]. The next hearing is due to come up today for Sirigaon and the Court has given a temporary stay order on mining for the time being. People of Sirigaon are saying no to any further mining in the area.

It is interesting to see the confidence with which Vedanta has acquired these very mines which have reached their tether in terms of extraction and are now impacting their neighbouring or peripheral areas, illegally dumping wastes, encroaching on lands and drawing water from neighbouring sources. The first impact of mining is on water, Goa’s water, land, housing, forests, and agriculture have been severely impacted by mining.

In fact the struggle groups in Tuticorin in south of India where Vedanta had imported ‘a secondhand, decommissioned copper smelter plant from Australia’[3], complain about how water has been drawn out from the area and now the company provides water to the residents for only four hours a day. Tuticorin struggles started when fish workers found that the company was discharging its chemical effluents into the river and the sea. The company had violated all the three conditions of the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board, that a plant must be situated 25 kms away from Gulf of Manar; 1 km away from residence and 500 metres away from water sources[4]; all the conditions have been violated. Plus Gulf of Manar comprises the National Marine Park and special species. Exasperated by Vedanta’s flouting of all rules and recommendations; of dumping piles of phospho gypsum, the Supreme Court Monitoring Committee on Hazardous Wastes ordered a shutting down of the smelter in July 2005 as it fully violated the Hazardous Waste Act 1989 rules.

MALCO manufacturing Aluminium bought over by Vedanta in 1996 went on a major expansion drive. Bauxite mined from Yercaud (Shervarayon ranges) & Kolli hills (home to shola forests) was transported to Mettur plant . From 1996 the company in Kolli hills had been mining illegally till 2008 without a single mandatory permission. On a petition in the High Court, Chennai the company admitted to its illegalities, mining was shut down at MALCO. Presently a 135 mw thermal plant is in operation and there is a proposal to expand it to 1035 mw. Salem city groups & Mettur farmer associations are currently warning the company of doing so[5].

The company has operated the bauxite mines without permissions for more than 10 years, where the mining lease expired in 1998. The company's Consent to Operate issued by the Tamilnadu Pollution Control Board under the Air and Water Acts expired in 2002. MALCO's mines also did not have permission from the Hill Area Conservation Authority, or environmental or forest clearance from the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests. The company has deposited a mountain of toxic "Red Mud" - a highly caustic by-product of smelting - on the banks of the Stanley Reservoir on River Kaveri.. The company assures to clear of all of this. Local activists state that this would take three years if 50000 tonnes is removed every month.[6]

‘Going by bauxite production figures declared by Vedanta in its 2008 annual report, the company is estimated to have removed more than 3 million tonnes of bauxite from the Kolli Hills despite having no permission to do so since 2002’[7].

There is no guarantee on the other hand that this would benefit anyone locally, in a study conducted by the India Resource Centre, ‘In the first quarter of 2003, Sterlite’s sales rose 14%. Its export turnover grew threefold (by 201%), while its domestic turnover fell by nearly a quarter. The company’s tax provision tumbled by 84%, to a large extent
because the increase in exports enabled the company to benefit from tax breaks on export profits.’[8]

In a meeting with Bankers held in London in September 22, 2009 many of the banks were shocked at some of the facts, in a discussion held under Chatham House Rules, a Dutch Bank which has now disinvested but had been engaging with the Company to reform itself, gave a final conclusion that Vedanta the company is not willing to acknowledge any of the problems it is causing, and is beyond reform.

Through these experiences we have found that whether a Dempo, a Balco, a Sesa Goa or a Vedanta, the colour of mining practices have been the same. It has brazenly flouted rules and regulations and standards on environment, labour, land acquisition, pollution parameters, and safety precautions for the local people, and to continue doing so it has used local police force, and government bodies in a nexus to support these acts, using overt acts of repression through threats, kidnapping, police harassment, defamation suits and subtle repressive measures such as surveillance on those voicing discontent.

1. Presentation on Goa Mining Issues: Summary with urgent appeals, Conference of bankers financing Vedanta , London,September 22, 2009
3.Vedanta Salem Meeting Report prepared by Isha Agarwal
4.Vedanta Dossier and Letter to the Jury of Golden Peacock Awards
5.Ravages Through India, India Resource Centre

7.Sirigao: NEERI Report to High Court - Executive Summery
8.Sebastian Rodrigues
9.Sebastian Rodrigues, GOAMAP
10.Piyush Sethia, Speak Out Salem


[2] Sirigao: NEERI Report to High Court - Executive Summery By Sebastian Rodrigues

[3] Ravages Through India,
[4] As shared by activists from Tuticorin at Salem Meeting, July 2009, Vedanta Salem Meeting Report
[5] Piyush Sethia, Speak Out Salem
[7] ibid
[8] Ravages through India

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