3rd August Seven global locations in India and Africa held angry protests today and over the weekend opposing the activities of British-Indian mining company Vedanta while Vedanta’s AGM at Ironmongers Hall, Barbican, London was mobbed by a loud rally organised by Foil Vedanta, accusing the company of pollution, human rights abuses and financial mismanagement. In London a comical staged boxing match between Vedanta’s 69.6% owner and Chairman Anil Agarwal and new CEO Tom Albanese, revealed the company’s debt problems and internal dynamics while protesters chanted ‘Corporate criminal, shame on you!’ and drummed loudly. Vedanta’s share price has slipped 61% this year to 377p, and continues to dive as Q1 results show increased debt, and Cairn India minority shareholders oppose their attempt to merge with the oil and gas subsidiary to gain access to its $2.6 billion cash reserves for debt servicing.
In the Zambian copperbelt, communities living around the mines and smelters of Vedanta’s copper subsidiary Konkola Copper Mines staged two days of protests in Chingola town over the weekend. They decried KCM’s continued pollution of the River Kafue and local streams, which have left the water devoid of life, and communities with long term health problems. Most of the protesters are also victims of the major pollution of the river Kafue by Vedanta in 2006, which affected up to 40,000 Zambians and was covered by a major expose in the Observer newspaper on Sunday. KCM was finally confirmed as guilty by the Supreme Court of Zambia in April this year, though $2 million compensation earlier awarded to the claimants was retracted under pressure from company lawyers. The claimants have accused Vedanta of corruption and bribery in the case.
“Zambia’s environment has been polluted and destroyed by the so-called foreign investors including Vedanta. People are suffering health problems and the companies don’t even help us with medical expenses. We as Zambians say no to these looters.”
KCM was earlier indicted in Zambia when evidence emerged of major tax evasion and transfer mispricing.
A parallel event also took place in the capital Lusaka, organised by the pressure group Power Zambia, who issued a press statement highlighting the poor working and health conditions of KCM’s workforce, including the impacts of high arsenic-tainted copper concentrate, which was recently being imported by KCM from Chile, but was banned from processing in Zambia by the government in July 2015, as it endangered workers and the environment.
2000 people from indigenous communities (adivasis), dalits and farmers took to the streets in Muniguda, Odisha, today calling for the de-commissioning of Vedanta’s Lanjigarh refinery. The spokesperson of Niyamgiri Surakshya Samiti, Lingaraj Azad reported over phone :
“Protest against Vedanta by about 2000 Dongria people was held today at Muniguda. The refinery pollution is depleting the environment. Fly ash and other harmful gases from the refinery are causing productivity and vegetation loss and burning leaves.Fruit bearing trees and agriculture are adversely affected due to the polluting unit. Leaching chemicals from the ash & tailing ponds are causing serious health hazards to local people. As there is no chance of getting the Niyamgiri mineral reserve, there is no point in keeping the factory here and polluting the environment, harassing the people, flora and fauna of the region.”
A demand letter was submitted with the local BDO, addressed to the Governor of Odisha, demanding the immediate dismantling and removal of the factory, and distribution of Bhudan Land among the landless people of the region.
Protesters at Vedanta’s AGM in London focused on the company’s $9.1 billion net debt crisis and desperate attempt to merge with oil and gas subsidiary Cairn India to gain access to its $2.6 billion cash reserves. Vedanta has ‘insufficient operating cash flow to fund capital spending and dividend payments’ according to analysts. and with $2.4 billion in debt servicing payments are due in FY 16/17 Vedanta is desperate to get hold of cash reserves from it’s wealthier subsidiaries to meet the demands.The targets are Cairn India’s $2.6 billion cash reserves, which it could access by merging newly named conglomerate subsidiary Vedanta Ltd (formerly Sesa Sterlite) with the oil and gas business, and Hindustan Zinc’s $4.6 billion cash reserves, for which it has long been trying to buy the state’s remaining 29.54% share in the subsidiary, mired by opposition by trade unions.
Cairn India’s major minority shareholders Life Insurance Corporation of India (LIC) (9.06% stake) and UK oil and gas firm Cairn Energy (9.82% stake) are opposing the deal claiming their shares are undervalued and cash will be depleted, though this is denied by Vedanta’s Tom Albanese. Minority shareholders are still smarting from the $1.25 billion related party loan to parent company Vedanta Resources in July 2014, which was not agreed by shareholders and is being questioned for corporate governance and cash utilisation issues.
According to one analyst report viewed by Foil Vedanta, which compared return on equity and assets over the last four years; Vedanta Ltd (formerly Sesa Sterlite) and Vedanta Resources, both have negative return on equity, at – 24.69% for Vedanta Ltd, and -64.08% for Vedanta Resources, compared to Cairn India which has positive return of 7.70%. On assets Vedanta Ltd and Vedanta Resources are also negative on return at – 5.62% for Vedanta Ltd, and -9.20% for Vedanta Resources, compared to Cairn India which has positive return of 6.76%. In other words, the merger with oil and gas subsidiary Cairn India is crucial for Vedanta’s survival.
Vedanta’s Q1 financial results released on 29th July revealed $500 million increased debt and impairments. The share price has now slipped to an historic low of 377p. Dissident shareholders warned Vedanta’s shareholders inside the AGM that the company may follow the pattern of Indian energy corporate, Essar – bleeding subsidiaries of their assets, de-listing them, and incurring huge debt write-downs, if they continue on their current trajectory.
Miriam Rose from Foil Vedanta says:
“Vedanta has been increasingly restructuring its toxic debt into Indian public banks, putting the taxpayer at risk of major losses if the firm goes bust. The high risk, high debt operating style also puts its 82,000 employees in a very insecure position, as jobs that were touted as ‘developing’ their communities are being lost overnight, leaving communities polluted and devastated without livelihoods.”
Vedanta recently announced ‘drastic’ job cuts across its Indian aluminium business, which it claimed was due to cheap imports from China and low aluminium price.
In Rajasthan, India, retrenched miners from Matoon Mines Mazdur Sangh (Matoon Mines workers union) protested alongside local villagers polluted by phosphate dumps on 3rd August in Matoon. Ninety miners were dismissed by Vedanta subsidiary Hindustan Zinc Limited in December 2014 with only 1 month’s advanced pay. Berulal Meghwal, Dalit farmer and Matoon mines trade union activist said:
“Vedanta have flooded this area with money and bribes, and flooded my fields with phosphate mine-waste. They have acquired grazing land for phosphate dumps which is illegal under Rajasthan law as of April 2014. No-one was compensated for loss of grazing land.”
“I have been sitting in & protesting & going to meetings but nothing happens. They tell us to leave and say they’ll close the mine and then within a few hours they start again. They got scared that women are gathering to complain so we took our kids as well. See it with your own eyes and then you’ll know. There are cracks in my house now and our animals can’t graze. Dust is flying in. Every time you have to sweep the house. We can’t afford to build another house. We want compensation for the loss.”
In Korba, Chhatisgarh, India, a rally took place on 2nd August, demanding accountability from Vedanta’s aluminium subsidiary BALCO for constructing a boundary wall and expanding ashponds without permission, as well as several other illegal construction plans which are encroaching on common land and destroying livelihoods.
Ramayan Singh from Rukbahari, Chhattisgarh, said:
“We are protesting on behalf of the ten villages where BALCO is trying to set up an ash pond for its power plant and acquire our 30.68 acre of fertile land. Vedanta officers have tried to allure in the past and taken land by promising jobs. We have not received any fair compensation nor jobs. Now we are hearing that they are cutting jobs for low price of aluminium. Why would we believe them?”
Chamra Singh from Rukbahari, Chhattisgarh said:
” Forest and land is our life. How many days this compensation will last? We have been using this land since generations. It is our source of life and we wont give it at any cost. Company is spreading lies that outsiders are instigating us.”
The protesters also demanded justice for the victims of the 2009 chimney collapse which killed between 40 and 100 people. Last year the Sandeep Bakshi Judicial Commission report which holds Vedanta guilty of negligence in the incident, and was suppressed by Vedanta in India, was released by activists.
In Delhi a ‘funeral of Vedanta’ rally took place on 3rd August outside the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) headquarters, warning the Indian taxpayer and the public banks that they may lose loans and investments in Vedanta due to its high debt and high risk operating style. 22 protesters were arrested and held at Parliament Street Police Station.
A statement from the protesters said:
“We stand in solidarity with affected communities around the world and call upon the Ministry of Finance and the RBI not to extend life support to floundering Vedanta by refusing to approve any public credit or bid to bail out Vedanta. This is in line with RBI Governer Raguram Rajan’s own warnings about the major crisis of bad debt facing India today and his resolute call for punishing defaulting corporations that “freeload”.
At Hyderabad University on 3rd August around 60 students attended a rally in solidarity with Adivasis, Dalits and Bahujans who lost land for the refinery at Lanjigarh. Students from Odisha Scholars for Social Justice released this statement:
“The demands of the Land Looser Association for compensation for their agricultural lands taken away by Vedanta in 2002 have yet to be fulfilled. They were promised Rs 3 lakh compensation, but given only 25k to 1 lakh rupees. They have petitioned to the Chief Minister, the Governor, and Prime Ministers Manmohan Singh and Modi. Their lives are destroyed and not one villager has been given a job in the refinery.”
Indigenous groups stopped bauxite mining at the Niyamgiri hills behind the refinery in 2013, and are now campaigning to decommission the refinery, which Vedanta still plans to expand sixfold according to their 2015 Annual Report, despite lack of raw materials. Lingaraj Azad, General Secretary, Samjawadi Janparishad and Niyamgiri Surakshya Samiti says:
“Pollution from the plant has affected both the size and quality of fruits growing in these hills. They have shrunken in size and don’t taste the same anymore. Sound and air pollution and the glow of halogen lights have driven out birds and animals from these hills and leaves are covered with a thin film of ash and other pollutants released into the air by the refinery. Since it hasn’t got mines, the factory here should be shut down. We are mobilising this August 9 for a “Quit Vedanta” rally.”
Sammi Sikoka, a Dongria woman member of Niyamgiri Surakshya Samiti (Niyamgiri Protection Council) says:
“The factory should go. Niyamgiri is our heart. We wont allow him (Vedanta) to take it. Why do not you understand what we said before? Refinery amoro dorkar nahin. (We do not want your refinery)”
Vedanta have thus far failed to get bauxite from other sources, but were awarded a prospecting license at Malimunda-Kanhai hill, where adivasis (indigenous people) and farmers recently demonstrated against the company issuing this collective message from the villagers of Masipur, who have formed Malimunda-Kanhai Hill Surakshya Samiti (MKHSS):
“No company can take a handful of soil from this mountain while we are alive. If government creates rift amongst the villagers, then the consequences would be detrimental and the government would be responsible for it. The government should have taken the opinion of the villagers before awarding the mining lease to the company. But, nobody has come to us till date. The government is trying to sell our Danga Deulo hill without consulting us. We would starve if our Danga Deulo hill would be sold. Where would our cattle graze and drink water?”
Meanwhile, Vedanta boss Anil Agarwal has re-launched his contentious plans for a Vedanta University in Puri, Odisha, which were stopped in November 2010 due to illegal land acquisition. In another publicity stunt Agarwal told The Times he wants to give away £1.4 billion of his personal wealth to charity, though the Sunday Times Rich List 2015 assesses he is only worth £1.1 billion, and another industry estimate suggests he may have lost his billionaire status altogether as Vedanta’s share prices have fallen more than 61% in the last year.
In Goa, India Vedanta is hoping subsidiary Sesa Goa (now part of Vedanta Ltd) will be able re-start iron ore operations under the rules of India’s new Mining Ordinance after a four year ban due to revelations of large scale illegal mining. But activists and local residents claim the companies are yet to pay their due for environmental, social and financial losses to the state by illegal mining during the iron ore boom years and note that no-one has been tried or arrested for the Rs35,000 crore ($5.5 billion) scam in which Sesa Goa (Vedanta) is one of the main culprits. Ramesh Gauns, Advisor to Bicholim Mines Affected people, who have issued a list of demands for the AGM, notes that Rs14,000 crore ($2.2 billion) is owed to the state by Vedanta. He said:
“Vedanta was found by the Supreme Court to have been mining illegally in Goa from 2007 to 2012, thereby destroying people’s livelihood and environment. Instead of retrospectively regularising its mines, the Government should ask the company to pay compensation for loss to the people of Goa and India, and Anil Agarwal should personally be brought to trial for breaching the laws of a foreign country.”
Surendra Velip, a farmer from Caurem, Goa, claims mine waste dumps, are still being looted by companies as they are auctioned off:
“They are auctioning 1 lakh and taking 2 lakh. All the dumps and ore have now been proven to be illegal but the companies continue to claim it as their property. Mine dumps should be reclaimed using some of the money mining companies looted and owe to us.”
In Tuticorin in Tamil Nadu, trade union leader M.Esakkimuthu (Diver Coordinator for Anna Sea Divers Association), claims Vedanta subsidiary Sterlite Copper (now Vedanta Ltd) have been toxic waste into the sea near their plant.
“Sterlite is dumping waste into the sea. When you dive near the coast you see a yellow layer covering the coral reefs. Up to 10km away from the coast the fish are contaminated. People are eating that fish and I suspect a lot of birth deformities we see in this area are caused by this.”