Six global locations in India and Zambia held angry protests opposing the activities of British-Indian mining company Vedanta over the 1st and 2nd of August. 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.
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 on 1st and 2nd August. 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 and without clean water. 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. KCM was finally confirmed as guilty by the Supreme Court of Zambia in April this year, though $2 million compensation earlier awarded to the victims was retracted under pressure from company lawyers. The claimants have accused Vedanta of corruption and bribery in the case.
$2 million compensation earlier awarded to the victims was retracted under pressure from company lawyers
Joseph Sibezulu, one of the protesters says:
“Zambia’s environment has been polluted and destroyed by the so-called foriegn 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 will also take place in the capital Lusaka, organised by the pressure group Power Zambia, who will issue 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.
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’s Q1 financial results released on 29th July revealed $500 million increased debt and impairments. The share price has now slipped to a historic low of 377p. Dissident shareholders were expected to warn 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 said:
“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.6 7
In Rajasthan, India, retrenched miners from Matoon Mines Mazdur Sangh (Matoon Mines workers union) protested alongside local villagers polluted by phosphate dumps. 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.”
Kumari Bai, a local resident living beside the phosphate dumps in Matoon said:
“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, 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 Dehli 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”.