War Profiteer of the Month: Vedanta
Vedanta Resources plc is a global diversified and integrated metals and mining group headquartered in London, England. Headed by Indian billionaire Anil Agarwal, most of Vedanta's operations are located in India. Several of Vedanta's projects are mired in controversy and local unrest due to allegations that they will have a damaging impact on the environment, and on the livelihoods of local people.
The business was founded by Anil Agarwal in 1976 as Sterlite Industries operating in the industrial sector.Vedanta Resources was established in 1986 to bring together a variety of businesses owned by the Agarwal family including Sterlite Industries. Vedanta Resources was first listed on the Bombay Stock Exchange in 1988 and on the London Stock Exchange in 2003. In 2004 it acquired a 51% stake in Konkola Copper Mines in Zambia.
The Company's principal operations are located in India, with a major market share in the metals: aluminium, copper, zinc and lead. There are also substantial copper operations in Zambia and Tasmania, Australia. Vedanta's subsidiary Sterlite Industries is one of India's largest mining companies while Konkola Copper Mines is the largest mining company in Zambia.
Other subsidiary companies owned by Vedanta Resources include Hindustan Zinc Limited, Bharat Aluminium Company and Madras Aluminium Company. Vedanta Resources also has a major stake in iron ore exporter, Sesa Goa.
Vedanta has come under attack from human rights and activist groups due to their operations in Niyamgiri Hills in Orissa, India that are said to threaten the lives of the Dongria Kondh that populate this region. Many villagers have been displaced in order to accommodate Vedanta’s bauxite refinery and as a result have lost their livelihoods and the ability to live self-sufficiently.
India's Supreme Court has banned the company from mining operations in the mountains but accepted an application from Vedanta’s Indian subsidiary, Sterlite to carry out such activities. The proposed mine will deforest over 670 hectares of Niyamgiri mountain, which is home to the Dongria Kondh tribes. The Dongria Kondha peoples vehemently oppose the mine, which they believe will destroy their way of life and desecrate their most sacred site. The Dongria Kondh are animists and the Niyamgiri mountain is a temple to Niyam Raja, their supreme god. There are only 7,950 Dongria Kondh people left today. The tribe's plight has become the subject of a Survival International short film narrated by actress Joanna Lumley.
In the light of the Niyamgiri case, the Norwegian government has excluded Vedanta from its national pension fund investments, "due to an unacceptable risk of complicity in present and future severe environmental damage and systematic human rights violations."
It should be noted that P.Chidambaram represented the company in the Bombay High Court until 2003 when he became the finance minister of India. He was also a member of the board of directors of the company.
In respect of bauxite mines at Lanjigarh, Orissa, public interest litigations were filed in 2004 by Indian non-government organisations led by the Peoples Union for Civil Liberties to the Supreme Court sub-committee regarding the potential environmental impact of the mines. The Ministry of Environment and Forests received reports from expert organisations and has submitted its recommendations to the Supreme Court.
The sub-committee has found "blatant violations" of environmental regulations and grave concerns about the impact of the Niyamgiri mine on both the environment and the local tribal population. The committee recommended to the Court that mining in such an ecologically sensitive area should not be permitted.