Vedanta has refuted a host of allegations made in an open letter issued by a group of academics, activists and writers a fortnight ago, urging their peers not to attend the Jaipur Literary Festival's London event on May 21 sponsored by the metals and mining company. The letter claimed that Vedanta was involved in violating environmental norms and human rights around the world.
The letter highlighted accidents at the London-headquartered company's facilities and alleged that there had been irregularities in the manner in which environmental clearances had been obtained. "Vedanta's activities are destroying the lives of thousands of people in Odisha, Chhattisgarh, Goa, Tamil Nadu, Rajasthan, Karnataka and Punjab and also in Zambia, South Africa and Australia," Vedanta claimed.
On Saturday, activists disrupting proceedings at the Vedanta Jaipur Literature Festival London 2016 with placards and speeches and even occupied one of the foyer venues for a short while.
Vedanta said the letter had presented a one-sided view. In a detailed rebuttal, the company said it maintained world-class standards of governance, safety, sustainability and social responsibility, adding that it was fully committed to protecting human rights and the environment.
Here is the full text of the statement:
Regarding the environmental performance of Konkola Copper Mines
KCM has spent over $ 700 million improving the environmental performance of its operations, as a clear demonstration of its commitment to social and environmental sustainability of its operations.
When Vedanta took over the operation at KCM we inherited mines and processing plants that had been in operation for many decades. Along with taking over the operations at KCM, Vedanta has also inherited environmental legacy issues which the company has addressed over time. A spillage occurred on 6th November 2006 at KCM’s tailings leach plant, which resulted in leakage into the Mushishima stream of Chingola. KCM acted to address the leakage as fast as possible, in order to prevent effluent discharge into the stream.
In April 2015, the Supreme Court of Zambia upheld a judgment by the High Court stating that KCM had been responsible for pollution. Out of 2,000 claimants the Supreme Court allowed the claim for 12 claimants, provided they are able to prove that the damage to their health has been caused by the incident. So far we have not received any claim.
Over the past decade, almost $3 billion has been invested to upgrade machinery, buy new equipment and reduce the legacy environmental footprint, as well as to increase production capacity. About $700 million of this investment has gone into improvements of KCM’s environmental footprint. Today, KCM’s operations conform to the global environmental sustainability standards in the industry.
Our environmental team is trained to reinforce environmental standards companywide. Furthermore, line mangers ensure that their teams are fully compliant through daily monitoring and training on an emergency preparedness system. Finally, we have pollution control dam and strategic storage of lime for neutralizing acids.
Along with our substantial investment in Zambia, to which we remain committed, Vedanta has transformed the water footprint in the region. Through a programme of underground rehabilitation for water handling and pumping facilities, Vedanta has, since 2007, significantly improved the quality of water, with total suspended solids dropping year on year, to well below the statutory limit.
KCM’s Konkola mine is one of the wettest in the world, so the primary focus has been on water: improving quality, reducing discharges and increasing recycling. Over US$5 million has been invested in underground water rehabilitation with new pumps to handle slurry and desilting, decreasing the total suspended solids (‘TSS’) in discharged water by an impressive 75% in four years.
The Pollution Control dam has been desilted and effluent from the Nkana refinery is being treated with the recycled effluent reused to wash copper cathodes and water vegetation around the mine site, reducing monthly domestic water consumption significantly by over 50%.
As a result of the company’s efforts, the Kafue River upstream and downstream is a reliable water resource for irrigation, fishing and transportation for the communities that live along its banks. KCM is committed to improve the existing conditions further, targeting best-in-class global environmental sustainability standards.
We have a long-term commitment to Africa and remain fully committed to maintaining the highest quality of operations at KCM, thereby realizing the potential of this high quality asset, and helping Zambia develop as well as grow its natural resources.
Significant levels of earnings from KCM have been reinvested back into the company, thereby expanding the mine life, increasing employment in the region, raising real salaries, significantly reducing the number of expatriates and providing technical and management training for thousands of Zambians.
Current status of legal proceedings: In July 2015, proceedings were issued against Vedanta at the High Court in London by a group of Zambians regarding the water contamination at KCM on behalf of 1,826 Zambian villagers. On 12th April 2016, a three-day hearing in the High Court in London was held. The case is currently under consideration by a judge so Vedanta cannot comment any further.
Regarding the conduct of KCM’s business
Over nine years of ownership by Vedanta Resources, KCM has made $2.9 billion of capital investment and made just $73 million in dividend payments – a fifth of which have been paid is to [ZCCM-IH, KCM’s minority shareholder, which is controlled by] the Zambian government.
With regards to Vedanta’s plant in Korba, Chhattisgarh
With regards to the unfortunate incident at BALCO, in Korba, Chhattisgarh, we would like to clarify that the company hasco-operated in every regard with the investigations by the public authorities. There were 4 other independent findings (by 3 IITs and 1 Florida professor) which contradicted the findings of the Bakshi Commission. An appeal was filed in the High Court at Chhattisgarh and they have guaranteed a stay on this Commission. The matter is still pending before the High Court and is to be listed for hearing in due course.
Internal investigations concluded that heavy lightning and thunderstorms on 23rdSeptember 2009 struck the high standing structure and triggered the collapse of the chimney of the under construction power plant in Korba, Chhattisgarh.
Regarding the Niyamgiri Hill in Odisha
The bauxite mining project at Lanjigarh, Odisha belongs to the Odisha Mining Corporation (OMC) and to date neither OMC nor Vedanta has acquired any land in the Niyamgiri Hill ranges. As clarified and recorded in various Supreme Court judgments, there is no habitation on the proposed Bauxite Mining area. The Niyamgiri sacred peak of the hill is located at a distance of 10 KM from the Bauxite Mining area. Vedanta has not carried out any illegal land grabbing, or displaced anyone in any region.
Vedanta publicly stated in 2014 and continues to reiterate it is not seeking to source bauxite from Niyamgiri bauxite deposits for its alumina refinery operations, and will not do so unless we have the consent of the local communities. We continue to pursue alternative options for our long term bauxite supply. Vedanta is a law-abiding company and all of our operations comply with the applicable regulations. We continue to consult with local communities and engage with them on a continuous basis. We have not and will not do anything without local consent.
In response to the allegation that Vedanta has attempted to secure the Niyamgiri hill through a recent Supreme Court plea in April-May 2016, is completely untrue. Vedanta is not party to the recent petition filed by OMC in the Supreme Court to conduct the Gram Sabha again. This is a matter for the Government of Odisha. We noted the Supreme Court rejecting OMC’s plea and respect the decision taken by the authority.
Vedanta has committed to refrain from mining without the consent of the local people. We have not moved anyone from their homes; we have not even cut a single blade of grass in the area. On the contrary, we have invested over Rs. 60,000 crore on various projects in Odisha. The refinery has also offered direct and indirect employment to over 7,000 people.
The IPO of Vedanta Resources plc on the London Stock Exchange in 2003 was conducted in full compliance with all the financial markets regulations and represented a fair value of the company, objectively taking into account all company risks and prospects for growth. Vedanta’s IPO prospectus has clearly outlined that prospective mining on the Niyamgiri hill was subject to approval by the State of Orissa and the Ministry of Environment and Forest of the Government of India.
On allegations of illegal mining in Goa
With regards to iron ore operations in Goa, activity ceased in the state in September 2012 as a result of the state government order dated 10.09.12. Subsequently, MoEFCC suspended the Environmental Clearance issued to the mines vide its order dated 14.09.12 and then the Supreme Court imposed a ban on mining vide its order dated 05.10.12.
Even though the initial relief came in April 2014 by way of the Supreme Court judgement dated 21.04.14 that lifted the ban on mining, MoEFCC revoked the suspension imposed on Environment Clearances for some of the mines recently in March 2015. The process of obtaining consent to operate under Air (P&CP) Act, 1981 and Water (P&CP) Act, 1974 from the State Pollution Control Board and approval of the Mining Plan from IBM for individual mines is in process.
During the ban period, the iron ore produced and stockpiled at different places like mines, jetties, transit plots etc. was considered illegal by the SC in its order and was confiscated by the state government. Due to the appeal by the mining industry to the SC, the process of hearing to permit shipment / sale of ore lying in their premise, SC vide its order dated 11.11.13 had constituted a committee and allowed the e-auctioning of the ore by the state government under the supervision of the committee. The company restarted mining at its Codli and Bicholim mines in Goa in August 2015 after receiving all required approvals.
With Regards To The Working Conditions at HZL
As of 31 March 2016, Hindustan Zinc Ltd had an operating workforce of over 17,000 including contract workforce. Safety is a top priority for Vedanta. We are working hard to improve safety levels and working conditions across the business. We are working towards a zero harm environment across all of our operations and have developed a new mining plan to improve safety and working conditions across the Group.
As a clarification to the complaint, dated 10.12.2013 to the District Collector, that the company is destroying crops and houses around its phosphate mines, there was a site inspection by the Regional Officer (RO) and Rajasthan Pollution Control Board (RSPCB) on 14.02.14 that found no evidence to support the complaint. The inspection was also carried out by Indian Bureau of Mines (IBM) officials and they too found that the complaint was unfounded. We did not receive a report from IBM but we managed to get the report from RSPCB.
There are agricultural fields belonging to farmers in proximity to the lease area. There have been no complaints and no damage to these farmers’ land. Thus it is not possible that his land has been damaged and not that of the zone in between. Photographs of the area show that there was a good crop in all the fields around the Maton Mine. The complaints were concluded to be false, by the Regional Officer with responsibility for investigating the matter.