PRESS RELEASE by
LONDON MINING NETWORK
15.00 hrs, Thursday 24 September 2009: NO EMBARGO
Thirty one workers have so far been confirmed dead, following a major disaster on Wednesday afternoon at the operations of UK-listed Vedanta Resources plc, in the north eastern Indian of Chhattisgarh. Others were injured, and the final death toll may reach fifty or more. They had been working on construction of a chimney, linked to a thermal power plant that will supply electricity for expansion of Vedanta’s Korba aluminium complex – one of the biggest of its kind in South East Asia.
A large part of the 100 metre chimney collapsed during heavy rains, burying the victims in a sea of rubble. There is still some confusion as to how many workers were actually on-site at the time of the disaster. But a central government official, the Korba District Collector, is reported as saying that around three hundred workers were present at the time. A senior Chhattisgarh state minister also announced earlier this morning that dozens were still missing and might still be trapped.
Case registered against Vedanta
Vedanta Resources is an FTSE-100, London-listed mining giant, and the largest mining company operating in India. A case has been registered against the company’s Chhattisgarh subsidiary, Balco (Bharat Aluminium Company), which had commissioned Mumbai-based construction company, Gannon Dunkerley and Company Ltd (GDCL), to build the power plant. Many relatives and workers are said to have “gone on the rampage” shortly after the Tragedy occurred, venting their grief and rage at Balco management and GDCL. Most of the victims are believed to have been from the neighbouring states of Jharkhand and Bihar.
A tragedy foretold?
Vedanta is an FTSE-100 company which listed on the London Stock Exchange in late 2003. Along with its majority-owned Indian subsidiary, Sterlite, it is controlled by one of Britain’s richest industrialists, Indian billionaire Anil Agarwal through a family trust.
Over the last six years, Vedanta has become notorious for its recruitment of casual (contract) labour, and has been accused of numerous violations of health and safety regulations at its Tuticorin copper smelter in Tamil Nadu, and its Lanjigarh alumina refinery in Orissa. In 2006, the highly-respected V V Giri National Labour Institute in Delhi castigated Balco for failing to guarantee virtually all the rights and safeguards that its employees enjoyed before the publicly-owned company was taken over by Vedanta in 2001.
Many unionised were arbitrarily dismissed, as the company aggressively set about expanding its Korba operations three-fold, employing contract labour.
Only a day before the tragedy, on September 22nd, a high-profile meeting of a dozen representative of international bank, several lawyers, and around fifteen NGOs was held in London and hosted at Amnesty International UK’s offices.Participants at the meeting watched a short video which graphically portrayed prevailing labour conditions at Bodai-Daldali – a Balco mine which supplies bauxite (aluminium oxide) to the Korba aluminium complex.
They saw first-hand evidence that tribal women, men – and even children – were labouring for Balco at only two dollars a day, without the benefit of any protective gear, and no on-site medical facilities available in the event of a serious accident. Blasting operations were carried out just a few metres from local homesteads.Graphic evidence of these unacceptable conditions had twice (in 2007 and 2008) been presented directly to Vedanta’s executive chairperson, Anil Agarwal, at the company’s annual general meetings in London.
Although twice promising to investigate the allegations and remediate conditions at the mine, Vedanta failed to do so. In June this year, the Expert Appraisal committee (EAC) of India’s Ministry of Environment and Forests condemned the lack of basic provision for villagers forced out of their homes so that the mine could be expanded. The EAC determined that Vedanta must not be entrusted to expand the mine, citing “the past records of the company” as sufficient reason for refusing a permit. Comments mining researcher Roger Moody, who has investigated many of the company’s operations since 2004, including its mines and aluminium facilities in Chhattisgarh: “Only last month, Anil Agarwal told Forbes India that he intended Vedanta to become the world’s fifth largest metals and mining by 2012. “But this can only be achieved through further aggressive cost-cutting, dubious acquisitions and major expansion of existing operations, many of which have already breached environmental standards, some of which are currently the subject of litigation within India. “Mr Agarwal’s intentions can only be fulfilled through increased flouting of basic labour and environmental standards.” Tragic evidence of this has now been writ appallingly large on the killing field of Korba.”
Email Roger Moody, Nostromo Research, at: email@example.com
Telephone: + 44-20 7700 6189