REPUBLIC OF INDIA: Vedanta refinery expansion should not be approved without remediation, genuine consultation

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8 Aug 2014
[International Secretariat]
Topic: Business and Human Rights

A public hearing held on 30 July in Lanjigarh, Odisha on the six-fold expansion of an alumina refinery operated by a subsidiary of the UK-based Vedanta Resources breached national and international standards.

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 cut off or not given time to speak. The summary of the proceedings reflecting all views expressed was not read out, breaching requirements under Indian law.

The hearing was held as part of the project’s environmental clearance process, and was intended for authorities to consult local people and address their concerns.

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

Lingaraj Azad, a local activist, told Amnesty International India, “Only a small fraction of us were allowed to speak. 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?”

Priyabrata Satapathy, an environmental lawyer said, “The discussion on the project impacts was limited to less than five minutes. A large part of the hearing was dominated by members of the ruling political party. They continued to maintain that there is no pollution and that the plant has zero-discharge norms.”

Between 4,000 and 5,000 people who live in the 12 villages that surround the Lanjigarh refinery remain affected by the refinery’s operations, including its impact on water and air 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 belonging 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 streams that feed into the Vamsadhara river, which communities depend on for drinking water, personal use and for their livestock.

The EIA, in its current form, fails to address breaches of international human rights law and Indian laws by the existing refinery operations and how these will be remediated. The EIA contains no information on impacts on health, data on health monitoring, or how damage from past pollution and poor waste management will 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. 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.”

1 August 2014

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