PRESS RELEASE: 14 May 2012
ROYAL SOCIETY FOR THE PREVENTION OF ACCIDENTS (UK) SUSPENDS SAFETY AWARD TO VEDANTA ALUMINIUM LIMITED, PENDING INVESTIGATION.
BRITISH SAFETY COUNCIL URGED TO FOLLOW RoSPA’s LEAD
On 12 May the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) said it would withhold its prestigious 2012 Silver award for safety to Vedanta Aluminium Limited ( VAL), due to be made in Birmingham on Tuesday 15 May.
The step has been taken, pending further investigation by RoSPA into safety standards at VAL’s Lanjigarh bauxite refinery in the state of Orissa, India.
This follows allegations, made by several environmental and human rights advocates in India and the UK against VAL, which is a subsidiary of London-listed Vedanta Resources plc.
The critics claim that VAL omitted to mention two serious safety breaches during 2011, when the red mud waste pond at the refinery burst its banks, spilling caustic residues into the adjacent soil and waterways.
According to leading Orissa environmentalist, Prafulla Samantara: “While these incidents are denied by president of VAL, Dr Mukesh Kumar, they are documented on local peoples’ mobile phones and can be watched on YouTube. The company received notification from the Orissa Pollution Control Board as early as 2009 that the retaining walls of its red mud pond had not been built according to the approved design criteria.
Says Mr Samantara: “We are deeply concerned that RoSPA could make any award to a company which admits in its latest shareholder report for the year 2010-2011 [p22], that 2 employees and 24 contractors died across the company’s operations”.
As recently as 30 April 2012, according to a report in India’s Business Standard [30 April 2012]: “At least one person was killed and four others got minor injuries during a fire accident in Vedanta Alumina’s refinery at Lanjigarh” on 28 April 2012.
VAL’s president, Mukesh Kumar, himself issued a statement confirming “the project manager of our red mud refining agency, S Ganeshan, died during the fire accident” , which Mr Kumar blamed “on a possible electrical fault and heavy rains” (sic).
“We feel it would be extremely insensitive to the family of the dead man if VAL were now honoured with any kind of safety award” said Prafulla Samantra.
In announcing suspension of the award, RoSPA’s Awards Manager, David Rawlins on 10 May wrote:
“I can confirm that in accordance with our scheme rules, the Silver Award previously notified has been suspended pending further investigation.
“The entrant [VAL] has been informed that the award will not now be presented on Tuesday 15th May and we have also strongly advised them against travelling to attend the ceremony in Birmingham.”:
Welcoming RoSPA’s decision, Simon Chambers, representing a group of minority shareholders in Vedanta Resources, pointed out that the British Safety Council (BSC) is also due to make an award to VAL, this Friday, 17 May at a banquet in London.
“We hope and expect that the BSC will follow RoSPA’s lead”, said Mr Chambers.
In August 2010 the British Safety Council withdrew two international safety awards already made to BALCO – another Indian subsidiary of the London listed Vedanta Resources mining company which owns VAL.
The move was made in response to information provided by The Observer newspaper, revealing that BALCO had failed to mention the deaths of 43 employees after a 2009 chimney collapse, when it applied for the award.
The BSC’s delayed withdrawal of these awards created embarassing publicity for the Council, demonstrating its organisational failure to adequately assess information supplied by Vedanta.
According to Mamata Das of the Delhi-based All India Forum of Forest Movements:
“At the Lanjigarh refinery, VAL has also acted in contravention of environmental and planning laws, by continuing to expand the Lanjigarh refinery, despite an order to stop by the government’s Ministry of Environment and Forests (1).
“We believe that the Vedanta Resources group has been attempting to abuse the self-assessment application process of awards from reputable organisations like RoSPA and the British Safety Council to try and validate operations which have already been deemed illegal by the Indian government
“The refinery was built at the foot of a mountain in anticipation of permission for mining being granted. So far, vociferous opposition from the Dongria Khond tribe and other locals have managed to prevent the company from mining the bauxite-rich Niyamgiri mountain”.
For further information
Contact in UK: Simon Chambers 0207 729 7970
Contact in Delhi: Mamata Das 98682 59836
Contact in Orissa: Prafulla Samantra 94372 59005
Footnote 1: See “HC dashes Vedanta hopes to expand refinery”, Times of India, 19 January 2012