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INDIA: Tribal activists carry Indian mining protest to London

by Marianne BarriauxThe Guardian
August 3rd, 2006

Vedanta Resources faced a wave of protest at yesterday's annual meeting as activists travelled to London from the Orissa region of India to challenge the mining group's chairman Anil Agarwal on his company's human and environmental rights record in the country.

In a meeting described as "cooly cordial", Mr Agarwal and his chief executive Kuldip Kaura faced a barrage of questions from aggrieved shareholders and activists. Reporters were banned from attending.

The FTSE-100 company has faced criticism about its £400m project in the Lanjigarh area of Orissa, where it is developing an aluminium refinery and where it plans to build a bauxite mine.

Activists such as Bratindi Jena, who represents the Dongria Kond in Lanjigarh, one of India's most traditional tribes, say the local communities are being displaced as a result of the project - a move that will destroy their way of life. The project has been disrupted by clashes between local tribal people and security forces.

Vedanta has established a big relocation programme, housing the tribes and giving them schooling and jobs. But Ms Jena said: "These communities are indigenous and if all of a sudden they are put in something we think is modern they cannot take it because it is not their way of life."

At the annual meeting, she asked Mr Agarwal why the tribal protests at Lanjigarh were not mentioned in the group's annual report, but she says he did not answer the question.

A spokesman for the company said: "As with all large developments, there are controversies, but the company has experienced a limited amount of protests which are not disrupting the operational environment of the company."

When challenged with the fact that tribal people were denied employment because of their lack of qualifications, Mr Agarwal said the company would try to lower qualifications required if it could.

"They were not able to give any answers," Ms Jena said. "I don't think they're going to do anything about it. I'm going to go back to India and share this experience with the local community. The questions were from them, not from me."

The Indian supreme court has condemned the Vedanta project. There is a decision pending about whether the state government and Vedanta have broken environmental laws through their activities in the area.

Mr Agarwal said the company had followed all rules and regulations. He added that Vedanta would accept any decision made by the court. 



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