Pamapur: An environmental management award proposed to be given to Vedanta Alumina has stirred a raging controversy as more than 100 organisations sent a letter to people listed as jurors for the award asking them to dissociate themselves from the â€œtaintedâ€ company and the awards granting UK charity World Environment Foundation. Vedanta Aluminaâ€œhas been at the heart of a massive controversy involving violation of rights of indigenous peoples, desecration of a highly biodiverse forest and watershed, and the highly irregular lenience shown by courts and the Government to blatant violations of the law in setting up and operating the smelter,â€ according to the letter. The company operates an alumina refinery in Lanjigarh, and proposes to mine the bio diverse Niyamgiri hills that are sacred to the primitive Dongria Kondh tribespeople.
The website for the Awards (www.goldenpeacockawards.com/judges.htm) lists 37 eminent people as jurors, including three former Supreme Court judges, and several former and current bureaucrats. Given WEF’s past track record of listing eminent people as jurors without their consent, the letter addressed to the jurors intimated them of their status as jurors of the award and presented them with evidence about Vedanta and its subsidiaries’ dubious track record with regard to environmental management, respect for the rule of law, financial integrity and sensitivity to the rights of indigenous peoples.
The letter is accompanied by a dossier documenting the wrong-doings of the company and its sister and parent concerns. In 2007, the Norwegian Government withdrew investments of public funds from Vedanta stocks
after its Council of Ethics concluded that Vedanta and subsidiary Vedanta Alumina were involved in environmental and human rights violations. Photographic evidence included in the dossier documented Vedanta Alumina’s discharge of fly ash into the Vamsadhara River from the Lanjigarh facility. Vedanta Alumina was awarded for implementing
zero discharge at this facility. â€œThere is zero truth in Vedanta’s claim of zero discharge,â€ the letter recorded. An expansion proposal by Vedanta for its Lanjigarh unit ran into severe opposition at a public hearing conducted in April 2009. The hearing had to be officially adjourned due to protests by local communities.
Vedanta subsidiary Sterlite Industries was also pulled up for setting up an unlicensed factory complex in Tuticorin. This facility functions to this day without a Consent to Establish under Air and Water Acts from the Tamilnadu Pollution Control Board, the letter said. Another subsidiary Malco Ltd was forced by the Madras High Court to shut down its illegal bauxite mines in the biodiverse Kolli Hills of Tamilnadu after a Salem-based public interest group exposed the fact that the company had been mining without licenses for nearly 10 years.
The Golden Peacock Awards 2009 is to be held in Palampur, Himachal Pradesh, on 13 June, 2009, in the midst of a global convention on climate security. In a glaring conflict of interest, Vedanta is listed as a sponsor to many of the events orchestrated by organisers of the award in the past.
In January 2009, WEF withdrew the Golden Peacock Award given to Satyam Computers last September, literally days before the company submitted its fraudulent balance sheet to shareholders. â€œWe do not expect any integrity from the organisers of the Golden Peacock Awards. However, many of the jury members are persons of good reputation and integrity. We are concerned that your decision may have been arrived at in the absence of full information. We would also like to give you an opportunity to review some disturbing information regarding the conduct of Vedanta and its subsidiaries, and to dissociate yourselves from the award to Vedanta to avoid a Satyam-style embarrassment,â€ endorsers to the letter to jurors wrote.