Vedanta got a Golden Peacock, almost

By Sugandh Juneja
Published: Wednesday 15 July 2009

MANSHI ASHERON JUNE 13, Vedanta, one of the world’s biggest mining companies, was to receive the Golden Peacock award for excellence in environmental management of its alumina refinery in Lanjigarh, Orissa. The award was to be given away by UK-based non-profit, World Environment Foundation (WEF), at Palampur, Himachal Pradesh. About 20 activists who gate-crashed the function venue, made sure the trophy was held back. They shouted slogans and waved banners accusing the organizers of “green washing the corporate crimes” of Vedanta. The organizers then hurriedly announced the award is being withdrawn. “We are in the process of reviewing the award and will announce the decision shortly,” said Manoj Raut, head of Institute of Directors (IOD) that works for WEF. The activists distributed papers on Vedanta, snatched the microphone and questioned the selection of the mining company for the award. Chief Mini ster, Prem Kumar Dhumal, who was to be the chief guest, gave the function a miss. Another prominent invitee, prime minister of the Tibetan government in-exile, Samdhong Rinpoche, left the venue soon after the activists took over the dais. “Vedanta has been indicted globally for violation of human rights and environmental norms. Awards will give them legitimacy to continue such crimes,” said Surya Shankar Dash, an activist and filmmaker. Vedanta got the Supreme Court nod last December to mine the Niyamgiri hills for its bauxite deposits to feed the Lanjigarh refinery. In April 2009, the refinery got the clearance to expand capacity from one million tonnes to six million tonnes. The Dongria Kondh tribals who worship the Niyamgiri hills and activists have been opposing the project for the past four years (see ‘Tribals block Vedanta earthmovers’, Down To Earth, February 15, 2009). The Orissa state pollution control board has found the refinery violating environmental laws on several occasions. This includes boiler emissions and discharge of alkaline water into the Vamsdhara river. Vedanta spokesperson, Pavan Kaushik, said the company is at a loss to comprehend why the refinery is being mixed with mining operations that have not started yet. He said the refinery employed tribals and gave them medical assistance. He claimed his company has achieved zero waste discharge and had planted thousands of tree saplings.

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