Today the Indian Supreme Court held its latest hearing on Vedanta’s planned mega-mine which threatens the Dongria Kond tribe who live in the Niyamgiri hills. In the court the Ministry of Environment and Forests submitted its affidavit which re-affirmed their previous decision to refuse the bauxite mine on the grounds of violation of the Forests Rights Acts which protects ‘forest dwellers’ and traditional tribal groups.
In London activists from Foil Vedanta and other grassroots groups have held a series of demonstrations on all hearing dates. They have dumped mud on the India High Commission, held a noise demonstration at Vedanta Headquarters and targeted the Financial Services Authority demanding that Vedanta is de-listed from the London Stock Exchange. An investigation into the company’s listing has now been launched by the UK Listing Authority (UKLA).
According to the Economic Times of India the MoEF’s affidavit says that mining of the Niyamgiri hills would violate the right of the Dongria Kond (now scheduled as a vulnerable tribal group) to use the forest for traditional purposes and their right to religion as the hill itself is sacred to them. However, as a multitude of mining companies will be watching this precedent court case very closely, the MoEF has been careful to leave the Forests Rights Act open to permitting other industrial development. The Times quotes the MoEF’s affidavit:
In its affidavit, the ministry said eligible forest dwellers cannot be evicted “till the process of recognition and vesting of individual and community forest rights under the Act is complete.” Even in areas where rights have been recognized or are “likely to be recognised” diversion of forest land should be “avoided” and that it should be “the last resort after examination of alternatives.”
Meanwhile David Cameron is again visiting India, and exactly like his first Prime Ministerial visit to India in 2010 he will again be pressuring Indian PM Manmohan Singh to relax laws which are impacting on British companies Vedanta and Vodafone. Vodafone has been caught up in a battle over massive unpaid taxes to the Indian Exchequer while Cameron will push Singh to allow Vedanta’s Niyamgiri mine.
Last time Cameron visited he followed instructions from Cairn Energy CEO Bill Gammell to push the Cairn-Vedanta deal through. This was successful and the Cairn-Vedanta oil business is now the only significantly money making part of the Vedanta empire while much of the mining industries are losing money due to court proceedings, scandals and low demand – as reported by the Financial Times when third quarter figures came in recently.
In London, a series of recent demonstrations by Foil Vedanta have called on the Indian Government to stop the controversial mine in Odisha, India and also added their voice to recent high profile pressure for Vedanta to be de-listed from the London Stock Exchange for its poor corporate governance, illegal operations and major human rights violations(1).
On 21st January Foil Vedanta protesters met with a representative of the FSA (FCA) to deliver key documentation about Vedanta’s chequered ethical record and request a formal investigation into the company. The FSA have now passed this information on to the UK Listing Authority who are currently investigating human rights and corporate governance violations which could affect the company’s London listing.
Recent news has revealed how the Niyamgiri case is being closely watched by other major mining companies with an interest in forest areas in India. Posco, Arcelor Mittal and others will have difficulty getting mining permission if the rights of forest dwellers is given priority in this important case1.
The stakes on the court case were further raised when Rural Development minister of India Jairam Ramesh recently visited tribal communities at the Niyamgiri mountain who are opposing the mine, against the strong protests of the Odisha State government. Ramesh was the Environment and Forest minister when the environment clearance to mine Niyamgiri was originally cancelled in 2010.
At the 11th January lawyers for Vedanta dwelled on the ongoing demonstrations in London, asking why people are protesting there, and claiming that India is suffering because of this. Judges noted that this is not relevant to the case and pointed out that people have a right to protest. Foil Vedanta’s spokesperson reacted:
“Vedanta is a London listed company and profits from this affiliation. It is typical of Vedanta to assume they are above the law and above public accountability. We will continue to draw attention to their corporate crimes here in London”.
If Vedanta lose the Supreme Court case to allow state owned company Orissa Mining Corporation to mine the mountain on their behalf they may have to close the dependent Lanjigarh refinery costing them billions. Under enormous pressure from Vedanta the Odisha government has suggested alternative bauxite supplies from a deposit located in a major wildlife sanctuary and tribal area at Karlapat arousing anger and opposition from grassroots groups.
Speaking about the verdict Dongria Kond activist Lado Sikaka states:
“We will continue our fight even if Vedanta gets permission. Are these Judges above the Law? In effect, they act as if they are. Niyamgiri belongs to us. We are fighting because We are part of it. Our women are harassed and we are called by the police and threatened not to go to rallies. Last months they have been working like Vedanta’s servants.2”
Foil Vedanta’s Samarendra Das says:
“Vedanta is not the only mining company that should be de-listed for their corporate crimes. Infamous London listed offenders Lonmin in South Africa, Monterrico in Peru, GCM in Phulbari and Bumi in Indonesia should also be investigated for extensive human rights atrocities.”
(1) In a parliamentary debate on 28th Nov 2012, MP John McDonnell made the case for Vedanta and other ethically contentious mining companies to be strongly regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority, including possibly de-listed ‘because of their behaviour in the developing world.’4
Vedanta was described in Parliament by Labour MP Lisa Nandy as ‘one of the companies that have been found guilty of gross violations of human rights’ . Ms Nandy in her speech quoted Richard Lambert the former Director General of the CBI: ‘It never occurred to those of us who helped to launch the FTSE 100 index 27 years ago that one day it would be providing a cloak of respectability and lots of passive investors for companies that challenge the canons of corporate governance such as Vedanta…’.5.
Similarly City of London researchers from ‘Trusted Sources’ have noted Vedanta’s
reasons for registering in London:
‘A London listing allows access to an enormous pool of capital. If you are in the FTSE Index, tracker funds have got to own you and others will follow. Both Vedanta Resources and Essar Energy are members of the FTSE 100. London’s reputation as a market with high standards of transparency and corporate governance is another draw for Indian companies. Both Vedanta and Essar have faced criticism on corporate governance grounds in India, and a foreign listing is seen as one way to signal to investors that the company does maintain high standards.