29th July 2016
* Angry protests across Zambia and India in run up to Vedanta’s London AGM on Friday.
* Tribals and Dalit Bahujans protest beating and murder of activists resisting Vedanta’s Niyamgiri mine.
* UK courts hear two cases against Vedanta’s Zambian operations.
* UNCTAD report reveals scale of KCM’s export misinvoicing in Zambia.
Angry protests will be held in India and Zambia next week in the run up to British mining company Vedanta Resources’s(1) AGM at Ironmongers Hall, Barbican, London at 2pm on Friday 5th August. Inside the AGM dissident shareholders will ask questions submitted by protesting Zambian villagers who are suing Vedanta in the UK for twelve years of polluted water, as well as displaced farmers who were never compensated for their land in Lanjigarh, Odisha, India and accuse Vedanta of beating and harassing them with state collusion. A loud protest organised by Foil Vedanta(2) will take place outside the meeting, demanding that Vedanta subsidiary Konkola Copper Mines publish its hitherto secret annual accounts in Zambia, and accusing the company of pollution, human rights abuses and financial mismanagement.
In the Zambian copperbelt, 600 farmers and fishermen living downstream of Vedanta’s Konkola Copper Mines (KCM) held historic protests in their villages this week(3) demanding an end to twelve years of pollution by KCM, which has turned the Kafue into a ‘river of acid’ and left them with no access to clean water. Many of the protesters were former miners. They told KCM to de-silt and remediate the contaminated areas so they can return to normal life, and submitted a Memorandum of complaint signed by Headmen of nine villages to be read at Vedanta’s London AGM. An estimated 40,000 people in total are affected by contaminated water which also affects the municipal piped water system.
One of the protesters and Fikolongo village headman Simon Mwila, who is also a claimant in the London case against KCM said:
“Vedanta KCM has polluted our only water source since 2004. We feel weak and sick from drinking contaminated water and eating the fish but we have no choice. Relatives are dying mysteriously and we know it is the pollution. Each day they continue with impunity, cheating the government that they are controlling pollution but they are not. We want to live in peace, harmony and good health. KCM Vedanta must stop polluting us and clean up their mess!”
A number of scientific papers have documented the extent of contamination, with acid pH and heavy metal content regularly tens and even hundreds of times above legal limits.
In May 1,826 of the most affected villagers won a precedent victory to have their case against KCM and Vedanta, demanding compensation for personal injury and loss of livelihood due to gross pollution, heard in UK courts. Justice Coulson indicted KCM for financial secrecy, historic dishonesty and attempts to pervert the course of justice(4), revealing that KCM have never filed any annual accounts in accordance with the Zambian Companies Act, and referring to a 2014 London arbitration case against KCM in which three judges found KCM to be dishonest, obstructive and willing to cause unnecessary harm.(5) An UNCTAD report published in July 2016 found ‘systematic export underinvoicing’ of copper from Zambia starting in 2005, the year after Vedanta took over KCM (Zambia’s biggest copper producer). $12 billion of underinvoicing is recorded between 1995-2014.
Meanwhile government entity ZCCM-IH which owns 20.6% of KCM has also filed a case against KCM and Vedanta in London for $100 million owed on an April 2013 settlement . The UK government has repeatedly promoted KCM via the Department for International Development’s Commonwealth Development Corporation (CDC), most recently in 2012 when KCM were sponsors and speakers at their Jubilee Economic Forum in London alongside then Zambian President Michael Sata.
Protests in Zambia
In Chingola, Zambia more than 100 residents of Nchanga South will submit a petition to the press and the London AGM(6) decrying the fumes and noise from KCM’s copper smelter, which is less than 50m from houses on East 1st Street, and demanding to be compensated and resettled as the 2006 Environmental Impact Assessment had required . In Kitwe former KCM miners who have never received their terminal benefits will protest ahead of the next hearing in their ongoing case against KCM in the Zambia High Court on 8th August. 2500 miners were retrenched by KCM in November 2015, and have also been denied proper benefits, leading to riots . Students at Copperbelt University in Kitwe are also expected to hold a solidarity protest.
Demonstrators in London will again demand that KCM publish its secret annual reports, claiming that Vedanta is hiding its tax evasion and capital flight, as well as shifting its liabilities onto the Zambian state. They will also demand justice for the victims of the 2009 chimney collapse which killed between 40 and 100 people. The Sandeep Bakshi Judicial Commission report (leaked by activists in 2014) held Vedanta guilty of negligence in the incident but no action has been taken. Samarendra Das from Foil Vedanta said:
“Vedanta has been found guilty of polluting the Kafue river and damaging communities livelihoods and health in Zambia. In India they are indicted for negligence in the country’s second largest industrial disaster at Korba in 2009, and have lost their iconic Niyamgiri mine due to popular resistance. The ground swelling protests in India and Zambia are demanding justice from the British Government to initiate an inquiry against Vedanta’s practices, and delist them from the London Stock Exchange.”
In Bhubaneswar, capital city of the State of Odisha in India, a large group of protesters are expected in the streets on 5th August demanding that Vedanta is kicked out of its two Odisha bauxite operations at Jharsuguda, where ongoing pollution has led to farmers protests, and displaced people have never been compensated, and Lanjigarh (Niyamgiri) where local tribal activists and protesting land losers have been beaten, harassed and killed by police this year, under the pretence that they are Maoists.(7) Fact finding teams led by former Chief Justice of Bombay High Court Justice B G Kolse Patil , as well as the National Confederation of Human Rights Organisations (NCHRO) found state collusion between the police and Vedanta, who have been thwarted in their attempt to mine Niyamgiri’s bauxite.
Padmanav Choudhury from Asarpada village, an active member of Niyamgiri Suraksha Samiti (Niyamgiri Protection Coucil) and a land loser yet to receive any compensation from Vedanta said:
“I was tortured for two days, hung upside down and thrashed by police for participating in a demonstration against police atrocities in Niyamgiri. Vedanta and the Odisha government are working together to deny our democratic and legal right to object to their mine. No matter what they do, we will not leave Niyamgiri or give up our fight.”
On May 6th the Supreme Court of India turned down Vedanta’s application to overrule the previous precedent judgement against them in which referendums in the tribal villages unanimously rejected mining . In June a seven day padyatra (march) across Niyamgiri involving occupants of up to 112 remote villages celebrated the victory, and protested ongoing harassment and killing by police in their communities as well as breaking down a boundary wall built by Vedanta which had blocked their road . Despite this Mines Minister Piyush Goyal stated in July that he would again try to push the Niyamgiri project through.
Adivasi and Niyamgiri Suraksha Samiti leader Dadhi Pusika echoed the protesters demands that the refinery built to process Niyamgiri’s bauxite should now be decommissioned, saying:
“Lanjigarh must be shut down and stopped from causing pollution, misery, and landlessness in our villages. This a not just a local issue. It is a global struggle of the humanity to protect nature and civilisation.”
In Delhi, students from Birsa Ambedkar Phule Students’ Association (BAPSA) will hold a solidarity demonstration calling for an end to Dalit suppression by Vedanta in Niyamgiri and its other operations.
Vedanta remain saddled with an enormous debt. Vedanta Ltd was India’s second most indebted company in June 2015 with $12 billion of debt while parent company Vedanta Resources has a net debt of $8.6 billion (Jan 2016) and intercompany loans of $1.8 billion . Vedanta Resources debt is officially 5.7 times Ebitda but in June the Wall Street journal claimed it was in reality more like 7 times Ebitda when considering the parent’s actual claims on cash at its subsidiaries calling this ‘a dire picture . To address this HZL in March declared a special golden jubilee dividend at 1200% effectively paying parent company Vedanta Ltd $1.2 billion .
With $2.9 billion in debt covenants due in 2016 they are desperate to grab cash from subsidiaries and have been making inflated forward looking statements to increase investor confidence. For example Vedanta’s Chairman and 69.9% owner Anil Agarwal and his CEO Tom Albanese have been making multiple media appearances recently outlining their ambitious plans to expand into Africa . On July 9th they were reported claiming a $1 billion investment in the Gamsberg zinc mine in South Africa to create ‘a new HZL in Africa’, and on July 10th claimed that Vedanta had already invested $4 billion in Africa – $3 billion of which was ploughed into KCM. In fact a July 18th report by Investor Intel revealed that Vedanta had in fact originally planned to invest $630m into Gamsberg but this was later cut to $400m with only $20m actually invested so far . In Zambia government audits of Vedanta subsidiary Konkola Copper Mines in July 2014 revealed that Vedanta had in fact failed to invest any CAPEX in the subsidiary since buying it in 2004, only reinvesting internally generated cash. Vedanta also hold mining leases in Liberia, and is 13% shareholder of Azumah Resources, with a 2,800km2 concession for gold mining.
In India Vedanta have been giving assurances about the attempted merger of oil subsidiary Cairn India with Indian arm Vedanta Ltd by which they hope to get hold of Cairn’s $2.6 billion cash reserves to service their debt. In July Vedanta claimed the approval of top minority shareholder Life Insurance Corporation of India (LIC), who sent a public statement denying this . In May Cairn India CEO Mayank Asher quit the company over alleged differences with the Vedanta Resources board, making him the third CEO to quit Cairn for similar reasons since Vedanta’s takeover in 2011 . On 27th July Agarwal appealed to the Indian government to ‘monetise what is below the ground’, enabling speculation and advocating an oil boom comparable to Shale Gas in the US . Cairn India is India’s biggest fracker at the Raageshwari deep gas field and has the world’s largest EOR polymer flood field at Mangala in Rajasthan, which injects 400,000 barrels of polymer liquid (water and chemicals) per day to extract oil in a drought ridden area.
Please join us at the demonstration at 2 pm on Friday 5th August at Ironmongers Hall, Barbican, London, EC2Y 8AA.
Contact Foil Vedanta www.foilvedanta.org
(1) Vedanta is a FTSE 250 diversified oil and mining company, who have been named the ‘world’s most hated company’ by the Independent newspaper for their long list of environmental and human rights crimes for which they are being opposed all over the world.
(2) Foil Vedanta are a London based international solidarity group focusing on the activities of British mining company Vedanta. We link up global communities affected by Vedanta, and hold them to account in London. We are currently aiming to make the case for Vedanta to be de-listed from the London Stock Exchange for their human rights and corporate governance abuses.
(3) 600 villagers demonstrated in Luano and Hellen on 19th and 20th July holding placards demanding an end to pollution and remediation of the riverbanks and groundwater. Their protest was broadcast on Zambian channel ZNBC’s Copperbelt Focus on Thursday 28th July. Pictures and film footage are available.
(4) Please refer to Justice Coulson’s May 27th precedent judgement.
(5) In the case of Konkola Copper Mines Plc v U & M Mining Zambia Ltd heard in the London Court of Arbitration in 2014 judges Eder, Cooke and Teare JJ called KCM:
“…an entity which has employees willing to give untrue evidence, to cause unnecessary harm, to be obstructive of the arbitration process and to take untenable points with a view to delaying enforcement…a party willing to do all it can to prevent the other party from enforcing its legal rights.”
The judgement found evidence of multiple tax evasion and capital flight devices used by Vedanta-KCM along with asset stripping and failure to invest any CAPEX as claimed.
In the 2011 High Court of Zambia case of Nyasulu and 2000 others verses KCM (the precursor to this UK pollution case) Justice Musonda found that KCM “was shielded from criminal prosecution by political connections and financial influence” and awarded $2 million in damages to the villagers, which was never paid by KCM due to their appeal and delay of the case.
Jay Majhi, Jaya Shankar Naik and Sukru Majhi from Nisanguda village (Bhawanipatna Block, Kalahandi) were killed by anti-Maoist combat force Special Operation Group (SOG) on November 15th 2015.
In late November Drika Kadraka, an Adivasi (tribal) activist from Ambadhuni village (Rayagada district) was picked up and beaten by the anti Maoist squad. He committed suicide when he returned.
On 27th February Dongria Kondh youth Manda Kadraka (20) was killed by police in a fake encounter leading to protests and uproar.
On 7th April Dasru Kadraka, the 25-year-old Adivasi youth leader and activist of Niyamgiri Suraksha Samiti (Niyamgiri Protection Council) was arrested from Muniguda market claiming that he was in hiding from police over Maoist activities.
On 10th May Adivasi movement leader Baka Majhi was taken away by police and has not returned.
The NCHRO claim that these incidents are linked to Vedanta’s ongoing attempt to mine Niyamgiri and document evidence that the victims were not Maoists.