On Monday, 18 March 2019, over 500 contract workers and displaced people protested at the gates of Vedanta Alumina Limited’s Lanjigarh refinery in Odisha demanding regularisation of jobs, the promised employment for displaced persons, health care facilities, education for their children and compensation for their land acquired. The Odisha Industrial Security Forces, an armed force created by the state police to protect industrial establishments including private establishments, and company hired goons viciously attacked the peaceful protestors killing two including one identified protestor and grievously injured over 30 others. Some protestors have also been missing since the protest. The district administration has imposed Section 144 in Lanjigarh and surrounding areas to stifle protests while the BJP Union Minster Dharmendra Pradhan has accused the state government of failing to provide sufficient security to the company. Remaining unaddressed is the long-standing demands of displaced people; the adivasis and dalits of Rangopali, Potagada, Bundel, Bandhuguda and other villages in Lanjigarh or the brutal crackdown they suffered on Monday for demanding their rights and fulfilment of promises.
Vedanta’s operations in Lanjigarh are a systematic attack on lives and livelihoods of working people. Acquiring over 3,000 acres of land in 2004, the company is yet to pay full compensation and has ignored the decisions of the Rehabilitation and Peripheral Development Advisory Committee. It has also reneged on promises made to the displaced people. Healthcare facilities and children’s education still remain unprovided to displaced people. The jobs provided are contract jobs and hence low paid and characterised by persistent discrimination against workers who are displaced people. Hiring policies are also biased against displaced people leaving many still unemployed and in 2015 when the refinery laid off 300 workers, most were contract workers and displaced people. The refinery’s effluents are discharged into the Vamsadhara river spreading death, disease and loss of livelihood among the people who are dependent on the river.
Vedanta’s bauxite mining operations in Odisha have become a site for peoples’ struggles against corporate expropriation of land, forests and natural resources and against the resultant destruction of their lives and livelihoods along with environmental degradation. Government has facilitated the land grab and ignored the 2013 decision of the Gram Sabhas. It regularly rushes to the company’s aid to crush workers’ and peoples’ militancy, through police violence as in Monday’s case and by foisting false cases and arresting people under the numerous draconian laws. The long struggle of the people of Lanjigarh against Vedanta has contained many such instances which have intensified over recent months along with the increased deployment of state forces in the region.
It is of no surprise that the state vigorously defends Vedanta. The company, a habitual human rights offender and violator of environmental laws, has a history of corporate corruption. It was created as an off-shore London based front after Sterlite was banned by the Securities and Exchange Board of India from raising funds on Indian financial markets for price manipulations. Vedanta has since de-listed itself from the London Stock Exchange on 1 October 2018 to further escape regulation and financial monitoring. It also generously contributes to the coffers of major parliamentary parties and was one of the largest contributors to the BJP in the run up to the 2014 elections. This has allowed Vedanta to develop a close relationship with government irrespective of the party in power. It is often a beneficiary of many anti-people policies across the country and repeatedly enjoys the support of state forces to brutally ensure continued flow of profits as evidenced in Thoothukudi last year when 11 townspeople were killed by police for protesting systematic poisoning due to lax environmental safeguards and pollution control policies of the Vedanta owned Sterlite Copper.
Similar incidents have played out in Goa through its subsidiary Sesa Goa Limited, in Rajasthan through its subsidiary Hindustan Zinc Limited (HZL) and in Chhattisgarh through its subsidiary Bharat Aluminum Company Limited (BALCO) where it was also responsible for the deaths of 41 workers and maiming of many others due to negligence in plant construction. Both HZL and BALCO were public sector undertakings privatised during the NDA government (1998 – 2004).
Vedanta’s anti-people activities reached their peak in Niyamgiri range whose bauxite reserves were once meant to fuel the Lanjigarh refinery located on its foothills. The proposed mine was a violation of the Forest Rights Act 2006 and a militant struggle by the Dongria Kondh people ended with Vedanta being expelled from the area and being internationally condemned. Vedanta’s offences even transcend the country’s borders. In Zambia, thourgh its subsidiary Konkola Copper Mines Plc, it has caused personal injury and damage to 1,826 Zambian villagers by polluting local waterways. Notably, in the Zambian case the company’s actions were tried in English courts in an attempt hold the UK based holding company Vedanta Resources as responsible. In all these cases, people’s resistance has been attacked by state forces deployed to protect Vedanta’s interests.
The NTUI stands with the displaced people of Lanjigarh in their struggle and condemns the actions of Vedanta Alumina Limited and the complicit Odisha state government and the BJP government for the murder and vicious assault of people protesting on Monday. The NTUI demands that:
- Police lodge an FIR including of criminal conspiracy against Vedanta for the events of 18 March 2019
- An independent judicial enquiry be constituted into the attack, with presentation of report in three months and suspension of all police officials involved in the attack.
- Compensation of lifetime earnings for the kin of two persons who lost their life and to all those injured in the attack.
- That Vedanta complies with all decisions of Rehabilitation and Peripheral Development Advisory Committee.
- That Vedanta fulfills all promises made to displaced persons including secured regular employment alongside commensurate training and technical education, free education, health care and compensation for land acquired.
- Reinstatement of all workers including contract workers dismissed illegally from in 2015 with full back wages.
- Implement provisions of the FRA 2006 including all decisions of all authorities, including the Gram Sabhas under the Act.
- Drop all charges against displaced persons and activists in connection with struggle of the people of Lanjigarh and Niyamgiri against Vedanta.