Having looked briefly at the wider context, the remainder of this article will focus more closely on the case of Vedanta, its corporate profile and the specifics of three interrelated projects. Founded in India in 1976, Vedanta operates aluminium, copper, zinc, lead and iron ore mines in India, Australia and Zambia. From its headquarters in London, Vedanta is run by Indian businessman Anil Agarwal. The company's Indian operations are managed by Sterlite, of which Vedanta owns a 59.9 per cent share. In the 2010 fiscal year, Vedanta reported a 21 per cent annual growth rate with total business at US$ 7.9 billion (Vedanta Resources, 2010). It has been listed on the United Kingdom FTSE 100 Index since 2006, as a metals and mines company, and was cited in the Wall Street Journal in July 2010 as one of the Index's strongest gainers over the previous twelve months (Cobley, 2010).
In contrast to the impressive financial growth of the company, Vedanta's operations have been mired in controversy related to environmental and human rights risks.6 Based on ground-level accounts of environmental and social violations, some funds have disinvested from Vedanta or applied pressure on the corporation. In 2010, the Dutch pension fund PGGM Investments dropped its US$ 7.3 million stake in Vedanta, citing concerns about the company's human rights record (Cobley, 2010). The Church of England and the Norwegian Government Pension Fund have also disinvested from Vedanta to protest human rights concerns in India. During Vedanta's 2010 Annual General Meeting, London blue-chip investment group Aviva voiced concern over Vedanta's disdain for the multinational enterprise guidelines published by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. Aviva, which owns 5 per cent of the company's shares, stressed the need for Vedanta to acknowledge social governance. Although this marks a significant shift in demands from some institutional investors, there are other stock-holders who are not swayed by such concerns.
In 1997, Vedanta established an alumina complex in the Kalahandi district of the eastern Indian state of Orissa, initially comprising an alumina refinery at Lanjigarh. In 2007, the company applied to expand the refinery, and in 2008 it received environmental clearance for the exploitation of a new adjacent mine in the Niyamgiri hills to supply the refinery with bauxite. This spurred affected communities to file a petition with the National Environmental Appellate Authority. The proposed Niyamgiri mine site is located on top of a hill range utilized by tribal communities for their dwellings and for shifting cultivation. Two rivers run through the Niyamgiri hills and the area forms a critical watershed. Located 3.5 km below the proposed mine, the existing Lanjigarh refinery is sited in a flat area, which was formerly agricultural and grazing land.
Vedanta and the EIA Process
Under the MOEF's Impact Assessment Notification of 27 January 1994, all private entities proposing major industrial projects in India, including Vedanta, are required to complete EIAs.7 The findings of the EIAs must be considered at a public hearing within the vicinity of the proposed project. A new EIA notification process was introduced by the MOEF in 2006: this is significantly more detailed than the 1994 version, requiring details of environmental impacts throughout the course of the project (from construction to decommissioning), and the identification of land which is protected under national or local law. The new rules also require the assessment of human impacts from the project including migration, water use, water-borne diseases and risk of accidents (MOEF, 2006). While the 1994 EIA requirements are relevant for the initial mining and refinery applications in this case — the alumina refinery is a ‘primary metallurgical’ industry, which requires environmental clearance (MOEF, 1994) — the 2008 refinery expansion application was considered under the new guidelines.
This analysis is based on the review of a number of EIAs related to the mine, the refinery and the refinery expansion, specifically those conducted by Global Experts (2008), Sterlite Industries (India) Limited (2003), Tata AIG Risk Management Services Ltd. (2002a, 2002b), and Vimta Labs Ltd. (2005a, 2005b). Vedanta is the majority stakeholder in the mining ventures, which also includes the state-owned Orissa Mining Corporation. The EIAs for the Niyamgiri mine and Lanjigarh refinery define the area as an impoverished landscape which requires intervention. The region is portrayed as poverty stricken, and lacking basic infrastructure (Sterlite Industries, 2003: 6; Tata AIG Risk Management, 2002b: 9). The Kalahandi district is described as a ‘wasteland’, where traditionally forest-dependent populations face food shortages. Throughout the documents there is an assumption that industrial development, in the form of a mine and a refinery, will provide solutions to poverty in the area, and that economic growth from these projects will provide benefits to the population. However, in failing to highlight project risks, the EIAs heighten the potential for impoverishment and deny the affected peoples their right to free, prior and informed consent.
The EIAs for the mine justify the project as a way to improve the socio-economic status of local communities and revitalize the region. It is claimed that the mine will bring a ‘major economic boost to the region’, and that it will lead to the ‘elevation of economic status of the local population’ (Sterlite Industries, 2003: 35). Another mine EIA estimates that there will be an improvement to basic infrastructure including roads, water supply, communication facilities, medical facilities and schools (Tata AIG Risk Management, 2002b: 2.7–4). The consultants do not elaborate on who will have access to these facilities, or what the provisions will be like for those displaced by the project.
Similar claims are made in relation to the refinery and refinery expansion. The 2002 EIA for the refinery states that a ‘large project with large investment and large employment potential in Kalahandi districts [is] expected to have major beneficial impact on the socio-economy of the region’ (Tata AIG Risk Management, 2002a: 1). The assumption in the assessments is that this benefit will come both via new labour opportunities and through economic ‘trickledown’ into the communities. Yet the EIAs confirm that the bulk of jobs which could potentially be filled by locals are short-term, related to the projects’ construction or expansion phases. There are no promises that these jobs will be granted to project-affected persons rather than to labourers from outside the region. Further, there are limited long-term labour opportunities. As detailed in other cases, the only labour options for local people may be contract positions, which are poorly paid and indefinite in length and which may lead to further impoverishment or forced migration (Mathur, 2008: 262). The purported labour benefits do not outweigh the ‘risks’ of marginalization, food insecurity, livelihood alteration and social instability resulting from displacement, ‘landlessness’ and the loss of natural resources associated with the project (Cernea, 2004).
In 2008, an EIA was carried out for the proposed refinery expansion. This new EIA concludes that the overall economic condition of the area has improved since the existing plant was built, but does not specifically document the impact on the local economy or labour opportunities (Global Experts, 2008: 123). It does not mention any migration effects or social implications of the existing plant. It does, however, suggest that the potential environmental costs of the refinery are outweighed by the socio-economic benefits to the local community. ‘Although the air quality will have some impact on the environment, … considering the socio-economic importance of the project and for a better interest of the State and locals, the project has sustainable environmental impact attaining the projected growth in economy and social welfare’ (ibid.: 209–10). In rationalizing the project as a means to enhance the socio-economic welfare of the district, the EIA concludes that any environmental damage incurred will be outweighed by the project's social benefits. This is clearly a violation of the affected people's right to a healthy and safe living environment, regardless of any purported gains.
The refinery expansion EIA claims that ‘the local people will be benefited through trickledown effect’ (ibid.: 118). This assumption is not based on factual examples of ‘trickledown’ prosperity for mine-affected persons in India: to the contrary, it is well documented that mining operations exacerbate poverty and vulnerability for Indian communities. The Centre for Science and Environment has shown that ‘mineral-bearing districts continue to be among the most backward districts in the country, in spite of the immense wealth they generate’ (Bhushan and Hazra, 2008: 11). Far from making projections of prosperity, the Centre documents that ‘India's mineral-rich districts are marked by grinding poverty, low literacy and poor human development indicators’ (ibid.: 17). In justifying the mine and refinery as being beneficial for communities, the project promoters attempt to mask the potential negative social impacts beneath purported local gains. The Niyamgiri hills are represented as empty spaces waiting for modernization. In this context, it is necessary to problematize who benefits from efforts to develop or modernize a ‘backward’ area, and how the projects in question affect the ‘target’ population.
In India, EIAs are required to include information on communities within a 10 km radius of the proposed project, but at times this metric misses other affected people or critical natural resources which fall outside the designated area. The EIA process mandates that the proposing entity enumerate who will be impacted by the projects, but the Indian government does not demand any further information regarding the affected populations. Beyond government requirements, however, there is much else that is needed. Project assessments should recognize the identities and socio-economic position of the affected populations as they relate to land use, livelihoods, gender divisions, labour, interactions with the environmental landscape and their varied capacities to adapt to industrialization. This is particularly true when vulnerable populations, including scheduled castes and scheduled tribes, will be affected.
Orissa is home to more than 10 per cent of the tribal population of India, with large differences among the groups (Mahapatra, 1997: 166), making it critical for social analysis to be completed for projects in this state. The majority of tribes in Orissa are dependent on subsistence economies, with hunters and gatherers, agriculturists and landless populations (ibid.: 167). There is a high incidence of poverty among the tribal population of Orissa, with endemic poverty in the region of the Vedanta projects. ‘A person belonging to the ST [scheduled tribe] category living in the southern region [of Orissa] has a more than 90 per cent probability of being in poverty — and women probably even more — compared to about 25 per cent of non-deprived groups in coastal Orissa, or less than 10 per cent in better-off parts of India’ (de Haan and Dubey, 2005: 2328). That women are particularly vulnerable to exploitation or marginalization by the mining industry is also picked up by Parthasarathy (2004: 215), who calls for gender-sensitive approaches to mineral extraction. Parthasarathy describes the gendered ramifications of chromite ore mining in the Sukinda valley of Orissa: after their lands were left uncultivable from mining-related water and land pollution, women were left with only two options — to seek employment at the nearby Talcher mines or to migrate (ibid.: 219).
The EIAs associated with the Niyamgiri mine and Lanjigarh refinery fail to properly detail who the local populations are and how they will be impacted by the projects. Population figures given in the EIAs are identical, and are drawn from the 1991 Government of India census data.8 While meeting the basic government requirements for the EIA process, the documents depersonalize the identity of communities through the use of broad categories, such as scheduled tribes, which obscures important differences among tribal communities. Although these terms are officially recognized by the government, they fail to indicate the intricacies and diversities within the communities in relation to land use, labour relations, gender issues and environmental dependence.
The Dongria Kondh appear to be the population most impacted by the proposed mine. This is a tribal community, with an estimated population of 8,000 living in and around the proposed Vedanta operations. Community members tend to live in isolated areas and have low literacy rates and a pre-agriculture economy, which has led some to define them as a ‘primitive tribe’ (Mahapatra, 1997: 167). The Niyamgiri Hills are sacred to the Dongria Kondh, and house a male deity who embodies the vitality of water, plants and human life in the area (Amnesty International, 2010: 43). Some Dongria Kondh in the plains area are settled agriculturists, while the majority gather forest products and engage in hillside shifting cultivation (Chaudhury, 2004: 101; Mahapatra, 1997: 96). A 2005 report written by a government committee defines them as ‘a highly endangered primitive tribe … the Dongaria Kandha [sic] whose population is less than 6000 reside in the Niyamgiri hills. They are dependent on farming/agro-forestry and have no other source of livelihood’ (Central Empowered Committee, 2005: 8). A later panel, appointed by the MOEF, concluded, ‘If the economic and social life of one-fifth of Dongaria Kondh [sic] population is directly affected by the mining, it will threaten the survival of the entire community — mining would destroy their economic, social and cultural life’ (Saxena et al., 2010: 3).
The populations affected by the Lanjigarh refinery on the plain include Dalits, Majhi Kondh, Paroja tribals and other communities. Again, there are significant differences among land ownership, work and other practices. Dalit families own less land than their tribal counterparts; they are predominantly wage labourers or itinerant traders (PUDR, 2005: 10). Some Dalits living in the plain and refinery areas serve as middlemen for marketing forest produce gathered by Dongria Kondhs, and therefore would be similarly impacted by project-related forest clearing. The MOEF panel determined that ‘mining is also likely to adversely affect an almost equal number of Dalits living in the Kondh villages who are landless and earn their living by providing various services including trading in the horticultural produce grown by the Dongaria Kondh’ (Saxena et al., 2010: 84). The Majhi Kondh are predominantly agriculturists or landless labourers, although some in the community do have legal landholdings for the fields they cultivate. While the labour needs, land use, gender divisions and cultural needs of these communities are quite distinct, the EIAs do not explore the differences among the affected communities.
Displacement and Land Acquisition
Large-scale projects, including mines, have devastating social and livelihood impacts on populations, particularly when they cause displacement or loss of land. It has been noted that the ‘expropriation of land removes the main foundation upon which people's productive systems, commercial activities, and livelihoods are constructed’ (Cernea, 2000: 23). The erosion of the foundation of home and associated relations leads to social strife, gender inequities and socio-economic vulnerability. Within the Indian context, project-related displacement has a disproportionate impact on tribal communities. Since 1990, it has been estimated that tribal people account for 55.19 per cent of the internally displaced in India (Swain and Kiro, 2006: 199), despite accounting for only 8 per cent of the total Indian population.
Until 2006 Orissa lacked a binding resettlement and rehabilitation (R&R) policy, and the state government has a reputation for not properly resettling displaced communities (Reddy, 2006: 7). According to the Orissa state policy, those displaced should be able to receive resettlement benefits.9 For those with legal land titles, fiscal remuneration will be neither adequate nor appropriate to compensate for their land and livelihood loss (Goodland, 2007; Iyer, 2007; Reddy, 2006). Those who only lose part of their landholding or people who lack legal land titles are not eligible for benefits.
Rew et al. (2006: 45) conclude that equitable and just resettlement in Orissa has failed due to persistent economic and social marginalization of particular communities and due to the power bestowed on low- and middle-level government bureaucrats and private sector workers. By disbursing or withholding project funds or vouchers, individual bureaucrats make critical decisions regarding the capacity of displaced persons to engage in new livelihoods (ibid.: 51). Asher and Kothari (2005) give the example of families who were moved from land surrounding a Wildlife Sanctuary, to the village of Krishnanagar. The Orissa state promised a range of land and facilities, which villagers have still not received, ten years after displacement. They have no legal recourse as ‘there was no written contract for the rehabilitation — everything was done in good faith’ (ibid.). Such historical injustices related to resettlement in Orissa suggest that the risk of human rights violations among oustees is high.
While the MOEF stipulates that EIAs should include the ‘number of villages and population to be displaced’ (MOEF, 1994: 6), the issues of displacement and land loss are mostly absent from the Vedanta assessments. The EIAs remain silent on who the affected people are, how many will be displaced, where they will be relocated to, and how displacement will impact them. Although officially required, the assessments do not detail rehabilitation master plans. Instead, the EIAs propose that the company follow policies and plans developed by the Orissa government. Despite these omissions, the EIAs are accepted, as the MOEF has the discretion to determine if the EIAs meet the government's requirements.
The fact that the number of villages and populations to be displaced by the projects were not enumerated is a violation of the right of oustees to free, prior and informed consent, as well as a violation of government EIA requirements. The 2002 mine assessment projected that the mine would fully or partially displace an unknown and unspecified number of people, yet the same assessment claimed that the project would have a ‘minor negative impact on the displaced population’ provided that the state government's R&R plan is followed (Tata AIG Risk Management, 2002b: 2.7–3). This is echoed in later claims that the company will be able to ‘ensure minimum adverse impacts’ (Sterlite Industries, 2003: 22–23) by following the state plan for resettlement.
By the time of the 2005 EIA, the land requirements for the mine had changed, increasing ‘from 720 hectares to 922.12 due to minor changes in the layout of Ash Pond, Red Mud and Railway Route. In addition, a certain quantity of revenue land, which became an uneconomical holding for the displaced families of villages Kinari and Bhorbhata, were also acquired, even if it was not required for the plant’ (Vimta Labs, 2005a: E-4). In a continuation of the logic that the project will yield positive outcomes for the communities, this EIA assumes that land is being acquired for the benefit of local people, rather than for the financial gain of the mining company. Beyond this, the assessment fails to mention any project impact on human settlements. The consultants conclude that, ‘there is no habitation in the lease area on plateau top hence no displacement is envisaged’ (Vimta Labs, 2005b: C4–23).
For the refinery, the 2002 EIA estimates that 720 hectares of land will need to be acquired, and claims that the corporation intends to select land which will minimize population displacement and the transfer of agricultural land (Tata AIG Risk Management, 2002a: 3). It mentions that 300 people are expected to lose land, fully or in part, but there is no elaboration of the location or identity of the affected peoples, or of how there are expected to adjust to new livelihoods or to changed land access in their existing locations. As with the mine EIAs, the refinery assessment suggests that the corporation follow the compensation guidelines of the Orissa government (Tata AIG Risk Management, 2002a: 15), despite the state's mixed record with equitable displacement compensation (Rew et al., 2006). The refinery EIA claims that there will be ‘no major impact on demography’ in the region as some populations are displaced and new workers settle into the area (Tata AIG Risk Management, 2002a: 10).
The 2005 EIA for the refinery expansion names some of the villages which would be affected by the proposed refinery,10 but does not include details of all villages to be displaced or specify whether they will lose some or all of their land (Vimta Labs, 2005a: C7–2). It does, however, substantially increase the number of people expected to partially or fully lose their land — from 300 to 700 people (ibid.: C4–3). Overall, the assessments mask specifics of those who have legal rights to displacement packages, while generating uncertainty among potentially affected communities. In addition to violating the EIA requirements, this practice denies the right to information of potential oustees.
Other Populations Affected by Displacement and Land Acquisition
Other groups who will be impacted greatly by displacement and land acquisition are not considered in the EIAs, including landless labourers, cultivators of communal land, animal grazers and non-timber forest product collectors. Women who lack legal land titles face significant losses, and yet will not be compensated. Padel and Das (2008: 104) estimate that ‘though the number of villagers directly displaced by the refinery construction, now living in Vedantanagar colony, may be only a few hundred, the project covers a huge area and has negatively impacted thousands’. The vulnerability of people alienated from the land should not be underestimated. Without access to comparable land resources ‘landlessness sets in and the affected families become impoverished’ (Cernea, 2000: 23).
Some villages in the Niyamgiri hills have been excluded from the mine EIAs despite being located in the project vicinity. Many of the settlements in the area are hamlets, not government-recognized revenue villages or recorded in any way by the government. According to the People's Union for Democratic Rights, ‘There are nearly a hundred villages in Niyamgiri Hills, which have no place in revenue records’ (PUDR, 2005: 44). Although these villages are absent from official statistics, they could have been counted via a baseline study of affected populations. Ownership titles in the area tend to cover only plains land and not hillside agricultural tracts with an incline of 10 degrees or more, which have never been surveyed (ibid.: 11). The absence of land titles precludes these impacted communities from receiving compensation.
It has been documented that risks from mining projects make women more vulnerable, overworked and stigmatized by social taboos (Bhanumathi, 2002: 21). Women will be further marginalized through a resettlement policy, as few women within India are owners of land, and frequently become ‘invisible’ in an R& R system that is based on formal land ownership (Dewan, 2008: 129). This will have social repercussions as women have to migrate to new areas or engage in professions not of their choosing. A report on Indian women in mining concludes that ‘due to lack of literacy and skills, thousands of migrant young women become exposed to labour exploitation and trafficking’ (Swain and Kiro, 2006: 199).
Natural Resource Change: Water and Forest Products
The introduction of major industrial projects within the area has and will continue to have lasting impacts on the residents’ capacity to hunt, gather forest resources, collect water, cultivate land and graze animals. To date the refinery has polluted local water sources, as documented by the Orissa State Pollution Control Board (Amnesty International, 2010), and future risks include soil, air and land pollution. Pollution could further reduce the availability of natural resources and expose the populations and ecosystems to environmental toxins. Despite these major threats, the EIAs are devoid of information detailing how the reduction or loss of forest, water and agricultural and grazing lands will impact community livelihoods and health. The forests of the Niyamgiri hills have been partially cleared for a mining conveyor belt and access roads. As the forests are depleted and fragmented, critical habitat for local wildlife is lost and non-timber forest products become scarce. Afforestation plans have been promoted by the company, but it is not clear how this effort will compensate for the immediate losses faced by forest-dependent communities.
The Dongria Kondh of the Niyamgiri hills depend upon resources gathered from the forest both for subsistence and for trading, including timber, fruits, mushrooms, leaves, grass and flowers (Chaudhury, 2004: 109–110). If local forests are reduced, the economic and cultural impact on the Dongria Kondh is likely to be severe. ‘For poor people, particularly for the landless and assetless, loss of access to the common property assets that belonged to relocated communities (pastures, forested lands, water bodies, burial grounds, quarries, and so on) results in significant deterioration in income and livelihood levels’ (Cernea, 2000: 29). The natural resource change associated with the refinery and the mine could thus exacerbate impoverishment. Women will be especially adversely impacted by reduced access to forest resources; a World Bank study notes that extractive industries ‘can change access to clean water, food, and firewood, which women and girls are often primarily responsible for gathering, by making these further away or polluting resources’ (Eftimie et al., 2009: 19).
Water pollution and the reduction of water resources are major challenges associated with mining projects. Although one of the EIAs indicates that during the construction phase an unspecified number of bore wells will be dug for public consumption, it does not mention the potential for drinking and agricultural water to become polluted as a result of mining operations (Tata AIG Risk Management, 2002a: 12). During field visits to the refinery area in 2009, Amnesty International documented water pollution in the local Vamsadhara River and associated skin and health problems. Villagers informed Amnesty researchers that they had previously drawn drinking water from the river, but now they have to rely on bore wells, which are frequently empty during the dry season (Amnesty International, 2010: 34). This change particularly affects local women, who shoulder the responsibility of water gathering. Where once they collected water from the river, they must now either accept polluted river water or endure the extra labour of collecting and transporting unpolluted water from the Niyamgiri hills.
The influx of refinery workers has also changed social dynamics and spaces for women in relation to water. As one local woman reported to Amnesty International, ‘Vamsadhara [river] is our life line. We used it for drinking, bathing, washing, but also it was a place for socializing with other women in the community. We have lost some sense of privacy, as there are workers from outside working in the factory who are often passing by or sometimes using water’ (ibid.: 35). Activists tell how women in the area have reported an increase in the incidence of sexual harassment and have described how they have been insulted by refinery security personnel.