Pressure mounts on UK-based FTSE 100 company Vedanta as rights abuses revealed in new Indian environment ministry report, says Amnesty

Pressure is increasing on UK-based FTSE 100 company Vedanta to stop abusing human rights in their bauxite mining and alumina refinery projects in India, said Amnesty International today, after India's Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) published the findings of an official investigatory team. Amnesty is calling on the Indian authorities to act on the team’s findings and ensure that there is no expansion of the refinery and that mining does not go ahead, until the existing problems are resolved.

The findings of the official three-member team, released on 12 March 2010, document various human rights violations of adivasi (indigenous) communities and violations of forest laws in relation to Vedanta’s refinery and planned mining project in Orissa.

Describing the findings as a “welcome first step”, Amnesty International said these echoed the conclusions of the organisation’s report, Don’t Mine us out of Existence: Bauxite Mine and Refinery Devastate Lives in India, released in New Delhi last month.

The findings of the official team highlight the absence of any studies on the impact of the mining on the Dongria Kondh adivasi community which inhabit the Niyamgiri hills. One of the three reports submitted by the team observes that “(the) disruption of the habitat and the way of life of this PTG [Primitive Tribal Group] cannot be remediated nor compensated, and may lead to the destruction of the Dongria Kondh as a PTG.” It also concludes that the State authorities never established any process to seek the informed consent of the Dongria Kondh for the bauxite mining project nor ensured their rights guaranteed as per India’s forest laws.

Members of the official team, who visited two of the eight villages close to the alumina refinery at nearby Lanjigarh, have also documented abuses suffered by local communities including violations of the rights to water, health and healthy environment and loss of livelihoods.

Amnesty International UK Economic Relations Programme Director Peter Frankental said:

“This study reiterates what Amnesty and others have been saying for some time – that Vedanta is abusing the human rights of local people in Orissa.

“Tribal people who stand to have their sacred mountain turned into a massive open-cast mine have not been consulted at all on Vedanta’s mining proposal.

“Pressure keeps mounting on Vedanta to clean up its act.  Reports from India’s Environment ministry, Amnesty, Survival and the UK government all draw similar conclusions.

“Investors should now think carefully about whether attempts to ‘engage’ with the company are actually having any impact.”

In September 2009, the UK government upheld a complaint against Vedanta by Survival International. The government’s National Contact Point (NCP) for the OECD Guidelines on multinational enterprises concluded that Vedanta had ‘failed to respect the human rights’ of the Dongria Kondh, whose sacred mountain Vedanta wishes to mine. The NCP concluded that a change in the company’s behaviour was ‘essential’. Last week the government released the final review of its investigation. Vedanta refused to accept the NCP’s ruling.

Amnesty International points out that, under international law, Indian authorities are obliged to respect, protect and fulfil the rights of indigenous peoples over the lands and territories they traditionally occupy. The obligation to protect requires measures by states to ensure that other actors, such as companies, do not abuse or infringe human rights.

MoEF Minister Jairam Ramesh has promised follow-up action on the probe findings. Any such follow-up action must also include full consultation with local communities on the refinery expansion and mining proposal, including setting up of a process to seek the free, prior and informed consent of the Dongria Kondh, and respect their decision, Amnesty said.

Amnesty International reiterates its demand that until the existing problems are resolved, the Governments of India and Orissa and Vedanta Resources should ensure that there is no expansion of the refinery and mining does not go ahead.

The mining in Niyamgiri is to be carried out by a subsidiary of Vedanta Resources, a UK-based FTSE 100 company, and the Orissa government-owned Orissa Mining Corporation (OMC). The refinery at Lanjigarh is operated by Vedanta Aluminium Limited, another subsidiary of Vedanta Resources.
Following mounting protests from local communities and allegations of human rights abuses, the MoEF, in December last, constituted the three-member official team – consisting of a forestry official, a former government wildlife official and an independent legal expert – to visit the area. On 12 March 2010, the Ministry’s Forest Advisory Committee deliberated on the three reports submitted by the team and asked the Orissa government to provide an explanation for the violations.
Although Vedanta Resources and the Orissa government have denied claims of violation of human rights, a number of investors including the Church of England have sold their shares in Vedanta's Resources after concluding that Vedanta did not show respect for the human rights of local communities.

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