At 2.30pm today 10 people arrived unannounced at the offices of Cairn Energy at the Clydesdale Plaza in central Edinburgh. They installed themselves at the grand entrance to the building, blowing whistles and shouting: “No oil for Vedanta! Stop, stop, stop the deal!” and “Vedanta out of Sri Lanka”, attracting the attention of the floods of passers-by attending the Edinburgh theatre festival. Three of the demonstrators gave out leaflets in the street from the campaign group Foil Vedanta and explained that the demonstration was timed with Cairn India’s AGM in Mumbai, where the Vedanta-Cairn deal would be discussed.
Protesters claim this is a British issue as both Cairn and Vedanta are British companies, and have been aided by David Cameron and the British Ambassador to India in pushing the deal through. The leaflets highlight Vedanta CEO Anil Agarwal’s position as the 17th richest man in Britain and claim the British government has allowed him to evade millions of pounds worth of tax using Jersey and Bahamas based tax havens.
One of the placards showed Cairn CEO Bill Gammell and Vedanta CEO Anil Agarwal in bed with David Cameron and read ‘Bill Gammell, Anil Agarwal, David Cameron in bed for oil’ while another slogan accused all three of having ‘blood on their hands’.
A stack of leaflets was handed in to the building to distribute to Cairn Energy staff and a security guard warned those gathered that the police would be called if they remained at the building. This warning was taken seriously in the light of Cairn Energy’s zero tolerance policy on protests at the same offices by Greenpeace a month earlier, at which the company took out injunctions against Greenpeace preventing them from publishing any pictures of the event. The protesters left after an hour.
The leaflets describe the protest as in solidarity with Indian people’s movements in communities affected by Vedanta’s atrocities including Niyamgiri and Puri in Orissa, Advalpal in Goa, and Thoothkudi in Tamil Nadu. They stress Vedanta’s poor environmental track record and demand that the company should not be allowed to take over Cairn India, an oil company drilling in pristine ocean off Sri Lanka.
18th August 2011
Exactly one month after Greenpeace occupied Cairn Energy’s Edinburgh offices to protest their Arctic oil drilling(1), the offices have been targeted again by campaigners objecting to Britain’s role in the take-over of key subsidiary Cairn India by British-Indian mining company Vedanta Resources plc. On the day of Cairn India’s AGM in Mumbai, protesters banged pots and pans to disturb the Edinburgh offices and shouted ‘Vedanta – blood on your hands’ and ‘Cameron get out of India’. They are angry that Vedanta – already accused of multiple violations of environmental law in India(2) – are being allowed to buy an oil company which is drilling in sensitive frontier oil fields around Sri Lanka’s coral reefs, and even angrier that David Cameron has personally helped to pave the way for the deal.
Vedanta has waited a year to complete its 58% buyout of Cairn India (leaving 22% with parent company Cairn Energy). When the Indian government delayed the deal citing uncertainty over Vedanta’s safety record and ability to handle ‘strategic oilfields’, David Cameron sent a personal letter to Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh urging him to prevent ‘unnecessary delays’(3). Britain’s Indian High Commissioner Richard Stagg also wrote to the Indian PM over a royalties dispute between Cairn India and Rajasthani state oil company ONGC which was hampering progress on the deal, telling him that any change in financial conditions could ‘render the proposed transaction unviable’(4). Vedanta currently own 28.5% and await a Cairn India shareholder resolution to complete the deal.
Miriam Rose from the group Foil Vedanta said the protest was in solidarity with people affected by Vedanta’s activities in India:
Vedanta has been found guilty of flooding a village with toxic mine waste, killing 40 workers when a poorly built chimney collapsed, illegally grabbing tribal land and polluting major rivers. How can a company with such a poor track record be trusted to deep drill for oil in the most bio-diverse area of Sri Lanka’s coast? Vedanta are a British company and should be accountable to British law for their crimes. Instead Anil Agarwal’s cosy relationship with the UK government has helped him become one of the richest men in Britain. His politician friends even help his business and allow him to evade millions of pounds of tax by keeping his earnings in tax havens.(5)(6)
Cairn India have already begun drilling in Block SL-2007-01-001 of Sri Lanka’s Mannar basin, using a fifth generation Japanese drill ship the ‘Chikyu’ which was damaged in the Sendai tsunami and awaits repair on one of its thrusters. The block extends right to the edge of the Bar Reef Marine Sanctuary, a pristine coral reef which is thought to be the most biodiverse area off India’s coasts(7).
Cairn employees have expressed fear over the Vedanta takeover, worried about pay and working conditions and that the mining giant has no experience in the risky business of oil(8).
Notes and References:
(2) Vedanta’s Environmental and Human Rights Crimes Identified by the Indian Authorities
Vedanta’s bauxite mining has killed thousands, mainly Adivasi (indigenous) people, in India in accidents, police firings, forced displacement, injury and illness. It has displaced thousands of families and destroyed the environment, contaminating drinking water and devastating vast tracts of fertile land in an area of Odisha which has experienced famine regularly since 2007.
In Niyamgiri, Odisha: In August 2010 India’s then Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh stopped Vedanta from mining the Niyamgiri mountain which is the sacred mountain of the Dongria Kondh adivasis in Odisha. But Vedanta has now appealed to the Supreme Court against this decision.
In Lanjigarh, Odisha: In August 2010, the Environment Ministry ruled that Vedanta and its subsidiary Sterlite had contravened the Forest Conservation Act of 1980 by illegally clearing forest to establish its alumina refinery in Lanjigarh in 2006 and by again by expanding the plant in 2009. Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh criticised the Supreme Court for allowing the Lanjigarh project. The National Human Rights Commission identified 3.66 acres within the refinery that legally belong to Adivasis. Following this, the administration has now registered a case of land-grab against the company. This is the first time that Vedanta’s illegal land-grabbing has been ‘officially proved’.
However Vedanta’s environmental crimes continued On 5 April and again on 16th May this year a wall of the red mud impoundment (storing toxic waste) collapsed, polluting the Vansadhara river. The wall had not been properly constructed despite warnings from the Odisha State Pollution Control Board in December 2008 when it had previously collapsed.
In Puri, Odisha: In November 2010 the Odisha High Court ruled that Vedanta’s acquisition of thousands of acres of land in Puri for the so-called Vedanta University was illegal and void. The court ordered Vedanta to return the land it had stolen to the original owners.
In Jharsuguda, Odisha: In September 2010 the Odisha State Pollution Control Board found that Vedanta’s 500,000 tonne smelter and another nine captive power plants in the Jharsuguda district of north Odisha were operating without clearances from it and were violating water and air pollution Acts.
In Advalpal,Goa: In November 2009 the Bombay High Court ruled that Vedanta’s Sesa Goa iron ore subsidiary, the largest exporter of iron ore in India, was illegally dumping mining waste near Advalpal village in north Goa. On 6 June 2010, the dumps collapsed due to heavy rains. Tonnes of mining waste overflowed into a stream leading to floods. The Indian Bureau of Mines found that the mining plan had been violated.
In Thoothukudi, Tamil Nadu: In September 2010, the Madras High Court ordered Vedanta to stop production at its Thoothukudi copper smelter for environmental reasons — a decision that has been overturned by a stay order of the Supreme Court for the time being. Villagers from Thoothukudi complain of severe respiratory ailments
In Korba,Chhattisgarh: Vedanta and its subsidiary BALCO (which is 100% managed by Vedanta) have been found culpable for the collapse of a power plant chimney causing the deaths of 40 people. Vedanta built the chimney on state-owned forest land and had ignored ‘stop notices’ and threats of legal action and dismantling of construction work by the Korba Municipal Corporation. The chimney collapsed, according to a report commissioned by the Korba police, because of “careless, poor construction practice and poor workmanship in the construction of piles” and “improper cement content in the concrete mix” and because new layers of the chimney were being built before lower levels had been given time to cure properly”.
In Zambia: In December 2010,Vedanta’s Zambian subsidiary Konkola Copper Mines (KCM) was fined in court for polluting the very river it had poisoned four years earlier in the north of the country. In November 2006, effluents cascaded from a burst slurry pipeline into the Kafue river, raising chemical concentrations to 1,000% of acceptable levels for copper, 77,000% of those for manganese and 10,000% for cobalt. Following the most recent event, the UK company was also found guilty of willfully failing to report it to the authorities.
(3) James Lamont and Amy Kazmin in New Delhi, and Alex Barker in London, Financial Times, Feb 18th 2011 ‘Cameron intervenes in Cairn sale’
(4) EI Finance. April 27, 2011. ‘Vedanta Buys Smaller Cairn India Stake as Delays Continues’
(5) Vedanta’s CEO, Anil Agarwal is the seventeenth richest person in Britain, whose personal wealth has grown even in the recession by 583% according to 2010 figs5.
(6) Vedanta plc is a London listed FTSE 100 Mining Corporation owned by Anil Agarwal and his family through a number of shell companies in tax havens – Bahamas-based company Volcan Investments Limited, Twinstar Holdings Ltd, THL KCM Ltd in Mauritius and Vedanta Resources Cyprus Ltd and others6
(7) Arijit Barman, Business Standard, Mumbai, August 17, 2011. ‘A year on, Cairn drills into Sri Lankan waters’.
(8) Himangshu Watts, 12/8/11, ‘Cairn India staff keep fingers crossed on future in Vedanta’, Economic Times of India.