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Tribals kept out of public hearing: Vedanta showed its anti-people face once again


Picture source: Survival International

Posted on 02 Aug 2014

Last updated 06 Jul 2016 01:02 IST

  Vedanta, Lanjigarh, Tribal, Industry, Odisha, India
Vedanta’s insistence for expansion of the plant six-fold without disclosing the source of mineral also raises doubt over its operational transparency. Such an attitude by corporate entities creates strong suspicion among people and widens the gap that, more often, leads to a negative atmosphere for industrialisation and development.
Basudev Mahapatra

While India pushes the idea of industrialisation as vital for country’s socio-economic development, the widening gap between corporate entities and people has been the principal deterrent on the way towards its smooth realisation.

The recently conducted public hearing of July 30, 2014, in Odisha’s Lanjigarh on the six-fold expansion of the alumina refinery operated by a subsidiary of the UK-based Vedanta Resources not only attempted to get things done while keeping affected tribal people in dark but it also “breached national and international standards,” said Amnesty International.

“Local communities, who have the most to lose from the expansion, did not receive adequate information on the project’s potential impacts.

Observers have reported that people who opposed the project were excluded or not given time to speak,” said Aruna Chandrasekhar, Business and Human Rights Researcher at Amnesty International India.

Even, “the summary of the proceedings reflecting all views expressed was not read out, breaching requirements under Indian law,” she added.

Since the hearing was held as part of the project’s environmental clearance process, the authorities were required to consult local people and address their concerns. But it didn’t happen, as alleged.


Vedanta’s insistence for expansion of the plant six-fold without disclosing the source of mineral also raises doubt over its operational transparency.

Priyabrata Satapathy, an environmental lawyer who attended the hearing, said, “The discussion on the project impacts was limited to less than five minutes. A large part of the hearing was dominated by supporters of Vedanta who were specially summoned to speak in favour of the company.”

Under Indian environmental laws, specifically Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) notifications issued by the Ministry of Environment and Forests, authorities are required to widely publicize draft EIA reports and make them available for inspection to the public. In areas where communities do not have access to newspapers, authorities are required to use other appropriate means to ensure that people are informed about the hearing.

“There was no public announcement about the hearing, except a loudspeaker announcement on the morning of the day it was held. There was no discussion of the impacts affecting our villages. If people who are living in the vicinity of the refinery did not get to know, imagine the situation in other villages,” said Kumti Majhi, the Majhi Kondh Adivasi (Indigenous) community leader.

Affected tribal people were neither given an opportunity to raise their concerns nor was a full summarization of proceedings read out to the public.

“Only a small fraction of us were allowed to speak. Those who were opposed were being abruptly cut off or told to wind down. The organizers did not even read out the official record or minutes at the end of the hearing. How do we know if our objections were even recorded or not?” – said Lingaraj Azad, a local activist and leader of Niyamgiri Suraksha Samiti.

Between 4,000 and 5,000 people, comprising Majhi Kondh Adivasi, Dalit and other marginalized communities, who live in the 12 villages that surround the Lanjigarh refinery, get affected by the refinery’s operations and its impact on water and air. The refinery has, to a large extent, restricted their access to water for drinking and domestic use and placed their health and livelihoods at risk.

Vedanta’s plans to expand its 700-hectare refinery involve the acquisition of an additional 888 hectares of land that, at present, belong to these communities.

Local communities have also raised concerns over the risk posed by the refinery’s red mud ponds, which contain hazardous waste materials. The ponds are situated only a kilometre away from the streams that feed into the Vansadhara River – the primary source of water for drinking and household uses of the communities.

The EIA, in its current form, fails to address breaches of international human rights law and Indian laws by the existing refinery operations. It doesn’t contain information on impacts on health, data on health monitoring and doesn’t have sufficient scope for remediation.

An expert committee set up by the Indian Ministry of Environment and Forests in 2010 found that the company “is in illegal occupation of 26.123 ha of village forest lands enclosed within the factory premises” and was in violation of the Forest Conservation Act and the Environment Protection Act. Here also, the EIA fails to explain how this is to be remediated.

“The Supreme Court of India, the former Minister for Environment and Forests and a range of national and international experts have highlighted the need for the refinery to rectify violations,” said Aruna Chandrasekhar.

“The governments of India and Odisha have to ensure that there is no expansion until all existing problems are addressed and a full, impartial and adequate assessment of the human rights impact of the project is carried out in genuine consultation with affected communities,” she added.

It’s to be noted that Vedanta’s plans to expand its 700-hectare refinery were put on hold in 2010, when the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) rejected the plans, finding that the project violated India's environmental laws. The company subsequently submitted a new application for environmental clearance to which the MoEF, in August 2011, detailed 70 conditions that Vedanta would have to fulfil. In April 2012, the Ministry once again put Vedanta’s plans to conduct a public hearing on hold, since it had not fulfilled the conditions put forth and had continued to deny community access to 26 hectares of village forest land within the refinery area.

Source of bauxite for the expanded plant is another issue.

Initially, the alumina refinery was linked to plans for bauxite mining in the nearby Niyamgiri hills by another Vedanta subsidiary. But the mining plans were unanimously rejected by all 12 Adivasi villages in the mine lease area where official consultations were held in July-August 2013 following a Supreme Court directive issues in an April 2013 ruling.

It’s because of the rejection of the mine plans and absence of a definite source of mineral that “the plant runs less than 50% of its present capacity of one million tonne per annum (mtpa). Wherefrom the company plans to source bauxite of 15.5million ton per annum for the expanded 6 mpta project?” – asked social activist Prafulla Samantara in a letter to Odisha State Pollution Control Board, which plays a major role in recommending for environmental clearances to industrial projects.

Vedanta’s insistence for expansion of the plant six-fold without disclosing the source of mineral also raises doubt over its operational transparency. Such attitude by corporate entities creates strong suspicion among people and widens the gap that, more often, leads to a negative atmosphere for industrialisation and development.

By attempting to hold the public hearing without involving the affected tribals, Vedanta has shown its anti-people face once again.

The case of Vedanta’s Lanjigarh Plant is just a tip of the iceberg. Forcing the idea of industrialisation without taking people into confidence and consulting them has become the norm in India. That is probably the primary reason why anti-industrialisation movements have come up in different parts of India.

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