This open letter signed by a number of UK MPs and other public figures expresses concern about the track record of Vedanta and asks UK parliamentarians and ombudsmen to monitor the upcoming decision making on Niyamgiri, and ensure it is fair and adheres to UK and international conventions:
14th May. Open Letter
Dear: Hon. Members of Parliament, Lord Adair Turner – Financial Services Authority and UK Listings Authority, Martin Wheatley – Financial Conduct Authority, UK National Contact Point for the OECD guidelines for multinational enterprises.
We are public figures concerned with the activities of British registered company Vedanta Resources and the environmental and social violations the company has been convicted of in India, Zambia and elsewhere. For example, in March Vedanta’s copper plant in Tamil Nadu, India was shut down following a major gas leak which affected thousands of people living near the factory. In particular we are registering our concern about the behaviour of Vedanta with regards to their proposed Niyamgiri mine and existing Lanjigarh refinery in Kalahandi, Odisha.
This week more than 5000 Dongria Kondh tribals and other farmers and local people from grassroots group Niyamgiri Suraksha Samiti conducted a six day foot march (Padayatra) to visit 104 villages on and around the Niyamgiri mountains. The marchers stopped in the villages to make them aware of the upcoming gram sabha (village council) hearings which will determine the fate of the Niyamgiri hills and their livelihoods in the next month or so. Foil Vedanta’s orange banner featured heavily in the march. It was brought by our delegation who will be working alongside the NSS and Dongria in Odisha in the coming weeks.
At the same time the Odisha government has now announced that gram sabhas will be held in only twelve villages, while Niyamgiri Suraksha Samiti point out that 160 villages will be affected by the mine. The selected villages are five in Kalahandi district – Jadijhola, Palbiri, Phuldumer, Ejurpa and Konakadu, and seven in Rayagada district – Jharpa, Khambesi, Kesharpadi, Batuli, Serkapadi, Lakhpadar and Lamba.
Meanwhile the tribal affairs minister V.Kishore Chandra Deo has written to the Odisha state governor S C Jamir decrying the impact of ‘indiscriminate mining activities’ on scheduled tribes and urging him to use his special powers under Schedule V of the constitution to stop the mine at Niyamgiri and withdraw the MoU. Jamir then convened a joint meeting of ST/SC Development, Steel & Mines and Forest & Environment Secretaries and the Chairman-cum-Managing Director of Orissa Mining Corporation (OMC) to allegedly ‘take stock of the status of Niyamgiri hills’.
On Monday 29th April more than 10 platoons of police attacked a peaceful gathering of around 2000 people who were sitting on the bed of the threatened Suktel river, which is being dammed for another major aluminium project in Odisha. In a brutal lathi charge 16 people were arrested and others injured. Most seriously injured was Amitabh Patra, an activist film maker who had been documenting the protests and the police brutality. His head and camera were smashed and he was unconscious for two hours before being taken to hospital where he regained consciousness. Another journalist and poet Lenin Kumar was also injured and arrested. The 16 are now in Bolangir jail where demonstrations are being held demanding their release.
The arrested farmers, tribal women and journalists are: Bhadrasen Chatria, Manchand Sahu, Minaketan Chand, Narayan Swain, Cheturam Rajput, Phula Pradhan, Nilakanti Sahu, Girija Pradhan, Panchali Pradhan,Sukanti Bariha, Bhanumati Bariha, Sarojini Bhua, Sushila Bariha, Subhakeshi Bariha, Amitabh Patra, and Lenin Kumar.