The Indian government is not providing adequate information about the hazards caused by an aluminium refinery of British mining major Vedanta in Orissa although it poses a serious threat to the health of the local communities, an Amnesty International report released here Tuesday said.
An official of Vedanta, however, denied the findings of the report, saying that much of it was based on outdated documents.
The report, ‘Don’t Mine Us out of Existence: Bauxite Mine and Refinery Devastate Lives in India’, documented how the refinery, operated by a subsidiary of Britain-based Vedanta Resources in Orissa, is causing air and water pollution.
Ramesh Gopalakrishnan, Amnesty International’s researcher in South Asia, said: “People are living in the shadow of a massive refinery, breathing polluted air and afraid to drink from and bathe in a river that is one of the main sources of water in the region.
“It is shocking how those who are most affected by the project have been provided with the least information,” he added.
In a press conference here, Gopalakrishnan said that the Orissa state pollution control board has documented air and water pollution from Vedanta Aluminium’s refinery in Lanjigarh in the state.
Quoting one of the local Adivasi woman, the report said: “We used to bathe in the river, but now I am scared of taking my children there. Both my sons have had rashes and blisters.”
Gopalakrishnan said: “Despite the threats, there are plans for a six-fold expansion of the refinery which will compound these problems. Neither the Indian authorities nor Vedanta has shared information on the extent of pollution and its possible effects on local communities.
“The Orissa Mining Corporation and another Vedanta resources subsidiary also plan to mine bauxite in the nearby Niyamgiri Hills. The proposed mine threatens the very existence of the Dongria Kondh, an 8,000 strong protected indigenous community that has lived on the Niyamgiri hills for centuries,” he added.
Quoting a Dongria Kondh tribe member, the report said: “The hill is our god and the earth our goddess. Between the two we have the rains and the water. Those wanting to mine here will slowly take over this. Where will we go then?”
“The people of Orissa are among the poorest in India and their health is being threatened… We, therefore, call upon the Indian government and Vedanta Resources to ensure that there is no expansion of the refinery and mining does not go ahead until existing problems are resolved,” Gopalakrishnan said.
Madhu Malhotra, deputy programme director of Amnesty, told IANS: “We had written to the CEO of Vedanata Resources, expressing our concern on all these matters but got no response.”
Vehemently denying the allegations, an official of Vedanta who had camped outside the press conference venue said: “We believe that several material and relevant facts have been ignored while preparing the report”.
Showing a letter that dated Feb 5 from the CEO of Vedanta Resources to Amnesty, the official said: “We sought time till the end of February 2010 to provide our feedback on the report”.
“The Lanjigarh project, whose many facets are developed with the highest regard for human rights, will deliver significant economic stimulus to the local community,” he said.
“A majority of the Amnesty International report is based on an outdated document which was subjected to intense scrutiny by the Supreme Court over a two-and-a-half year period,” the official added.
On Feb 5, the Church of England sold off its shares, worth 3.75 million pounds, in the Indian-owned Vedanta Resources, saying it was “not satisfied” with the company’s human rights records in Orissa.