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Archives for : October2018

Vedanta boss avoids last AGM as protests rage

.Loud protests took place at the company’s last London AGM on OCTOBER 1st, 2018. Company founder and Chairman Anil Agarwal was not present, creating uproar among protesters and shareholders. Vedanta Resources officially de-listed from the London Stock Exchange at 8am this morning. Inside the meeting dissident shareholders asked questions about the police shooting of thirteen protesters against Vedanta’s copper smelter in Tuticorin, Tamil Nadu in May. Another shareholder asked how much Vedanta spent on litigation or bribes, given the number of court cases they are tied up in at their various operations. Meanwhile a large contingent of Tamil people played traditional Parai drums and demanded ‘justice for Tuticorin’ outside the AGM.

See a video of the protest here…and here

Coverage by Reuters here and on Moneycontrol here,and in The Hindu here,and Business Standard here, and on MSN here and Lusaka Times here.

Hours before the meeting a protest was held at Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) headquarters in Canary Wharf, demanding that British regulatory authorities do not let Vedanta flee the London Stock Exchange without being held to account.Representatives for FCA Directors were handed copies of a damning report‘Vedanta’s Billions: Regulatory failure, environment and human rights’, published by Foil Vedanta and a coalition of organisations days before. The report was described by Hywel Williams MP as ‘deeply concerning and disturbing’ and gives a comprehensive account of legal judgments against Vedanta across its global operations, blaming the City of London and FCA for failing to regulate or penalise the company, which is the latest in a long list of London miners linked to ‘corporate massacres’.

Reggae artist and activist Maiko Zulu in Lusaka

On Thursday 27th September popular Zambian reggae artist and public figure –Maiko Zulu – was arrested outside the British High Commission in Lusaka, Zambia, holding a banner stating ‘Hold Anil Agarwal to account for Zambian crimes before de-listing’.Zulu gave this statement to the media, referring to the Vedanta subsidiary KCM’s pollution of the River Kafue, for which the landmark case of 1,826 farmers against Vedanta will be heard in London Supreme Court in January, as well as the Tuticorin ‘massacre’:

Vedanta is being de-listed from the London Stock Exchange following serious crimes against indigenous people of India and the pollution of our own Kafue River which is a source of livelihood for thousands of peasants.The inequality that multinationals are creating can not be left unchecked and we will continue standing up and facing arrests for the good of our people. Our fellow protesters were shot at by police in India.”

Thirteen people, including women and children were killed by police shooting on the 100th day of protest against Vedanta’s copper smelter in Tuticorin in May, as well as 217 injured, and nine disabled for life. Vedanta’s de-listing plans were announced shortly afterwards amidst global protests against the company. Fatima Babu, from the Anti Sterlite People’s Movement, one of the main groups involved in the protestssays:

The people of Thoothukudi are still reeling from the massacre of innocent women, men and children in May, which was carried out in the name of protecting Vedanta’s industry from the people whom it has polluted for so many years. The Tamil Nadu, Indian and British government’s must all take responsibility for the lawlessness and disproportionate power wielded by Vedanta, which led to this tragic event.”

On Sunday 31st October thousands of Adivasis (tribal) people protested against forced land acquisition for Vedanta’s steel plant in Saranda forest, West Singhbhum district, Jharkhand, India.

Samarendra Das from Foil Vedanta, primary author of the Vedanta’s Billions report, says:

We cannot let Vedanta boss Anil Agarwal escape accountability and justice in the UK, under whose jurisdiction he has committed widespread financial, human rights and environmental crimes. The FCA and City of London must now initiate proceedings against Vedanta or remain complicit in enabling and mitigating these abuses.”

The report ‘Vedanta’s Billions’, released several days before the AGM, is a summary of legal judgments against Vedanta across its operations, revealing its abusive modus operandi, with special focus on illegal mining in Goa, pollution and tax evasion in Zambia, as well as illegal expansion and pollution in Thoothukudi, Tamil Nadu, industrial disaster at Korba in Chhattisgarh, land settlement and pollution issues in Punjab, displacement and harassment of activists in Lanjigarh, Odisha, and a mineral allocation scam in Rajasthan.

Inside the AGM, dissident shareholders asked questions based on the catalogue of judgments against the company documented in the report. One question from a woman who has visited the concerned area asked the company to respond to evidence of a pollution and a ‘land grab’ affecting primarily Dalits at the company’s Talwandi Sabo power plant.

The report notes that Vedanta is now the latest in a string of London listed mining companies linked to the murder or ‘massacre’ of protesters, including Lonmin, Glencore, Kazakhmys, ENRC, Essar, GCM Resources, Anglo Gold Ashanti, African Barrick Gold and Monterrico Metals. As such, the report names the role of the City of London and the Financial Conduct Authority in ‘minimising the risks associated with Vedanta’s legal violations and human rights and environmental abuses’ and failing to investigate or penalise any London listed mining company on these grounds.

The report concludes that;

Some companies have de-listed due to a legitimate need to pursue long term company strategy, which may not be supported by shareholders’ emphasis on short term profitability. However in this case, Vedanta’s track record of human rights, environmental and financial violations, together with its already complicated financial structure, strongly suggests that de-listing is part of a policy to further limit public scrutiny of its operations.”

The report also includes a detailed diagram of Vedanta’s corporate structure, as it has evolved over the years, revealing the disproportionate number of shell companies registered in various tax havens, reflecting their opaqueness, contrary to their claim of being transparent.

Plaid Cymru MP Hywel Williams, who received a copy of the report, said:

This is a deeply concerning and disturbing report. I will be taking note of its findings and seeking to ensure that MPs, policymakers and the Westminster Government are informed of its findings. The report once again emphasises the need for action by UK authorities to investigate and regulate London-listed corporations that carry out illegal and immoral acts overseas.”

In Goa, where all Vedanta’s operations are shut down due to a lack of appropriate permissions to operate, the State has begun the process of recovering value owed to it as a result of Vedanta’s illegal mining between 2007 and 2012. On 29th August this year Goa’s directorate of mines and geology issued a Rs 97.5 crore ($13.43 million) demand in respect of non payment of royalty for the financial years 2011-13.

In Zambia, where the company was found guilty of a major pollution incident in 2006, and there is evidence of widespread transfer mis-pricing and tax evasion, Vedanta’s subsidiary KCM recently had its power supply partially cut by the Copperbelt Energy Corporation due to its refusal to settle a three month electricity bill. Contractors and suppliers of KCM are also in a long term dispute with the company over non-payment of invoices.

A prominent banner at today’s protest stating ‘Hall of Shame – the faces behind Vedanta’, pointed out the high level support the company has received from British and Indian former politicians and other figures. Vedanta Directors have included former High Commissioner of India – Sir David Gore-Booth, former Finance Minister of India – P. Chidambaram (who also appeared as counsel for Vedanta in a recent case**), former Home Secretary of India and Indian Ambassador to the USA – Naresh Chandra, mining mogul and former BHP Billiton CEO – Brian Gilbertson, former Rio Tinto CEO – Tom Albanese, and former Anglo American CEO – Cynthia Carroll. Former J. P. Morgan banker and one of the most well known dealmakers in London, Ian Hannam, advised on Vedanta’s listing as well as many of the City’s largest mining IPOs including Xstrata, BHP Billiton and Kazakhmys.

Vedanta boss avoids last AGM as protests rage

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India’s Biometric ID System Has Led To Starvation For Some Poor

, Advocates Say

Ashok Kumar (foreground) works at a food ration distribution shop in Jharkhand. He uses a small machine to scan people’s fingerprints and check them against Aadhaar ID numbers.

Lauren Frayer/NPR

India has 1.3 billion people, and no equivalent of the Social Security number. About 4 in 10 births go unregistered. Less than 2 percent of the population pays income tax.

Many more are eligible for welfare benefits but may never have collected them, either because they can’t figure out how or a middleman stole their share.

To try to address these issues, the Indian government rolled out the biggest biometric ID system in the world. It’s voluntary, but in just eight years, India has managed to collect the fingerprints, photos and iris scans of more than 1.2 billion people.

The government says this system, called Aadhaar — “foundation” in Hindi — has helped to distribute welfare to the country’s neediest; streamline the civil service; purge hundreds of thousands of names from voter rolls; and allow for people to move between states without losing benefits.

But privacy advocates are alarmed that the government has collected so much personal data. And advocates for the poor say some technical glitches have actually led to denial of benefits — even costing lives.

Collecting biometrics

Here’s how Aadhaar works: An applicant goes to an Indian post office or ID enrollment center and shows proof of address and identity. (In cases where people don’t have a fixed address, or any ID, another Indian can legally vouch for them.)

An Aadhaar enrollment worker scans applicants’ irises, takes their fingerprints and photos, and assigns them a unique 12-digit number. The biometric data are stored on government servers. Several weeks later, an ID card arrives in the mail.

The rollout was accompanied by a big patriotic PR campaign, with TV ads showing smiling elderly people using Aadhaar to collect state pensions and villagers using it to collect food rations.

It was geared especially to India’s poor.

Helping the poor

“In India, you’re nothing without Aadhaar,” says Manisha Kamble, 17, who is homeless.

Kamble is from the Dalit community — formerly known as untouchables. She, her widowed mother and about 25 other street children sleep every night on the asphalt in a circle, under a highway overpass in Mumbai.

She had no address and no birth certificate. She was basically invisible to the state, until the charity Save the Children helped her enroll in Aadhaar.

It has helped her get into a decent school. She is looking forward to turning 18, when she can use her Aadhaar to register to vote.

Kamble says she is proud to be counted, to become official, to feel equal to other Indian citizens, regardless of caste.

“I want to study and make sure that there are no more Manishas like me, who have to struggle like I did — and I want to take care of my mom,” she says.

Kamble studies at night under streetlights and got the highest marks in her class last spring.

Uses for Aadhaar

Aadhaar can be used to verify your identity when you do anything involving the government — get married, pay taxes or draw welfare — and also when you open a bank account, sign up for a cellphone contract, or set up an e-wallet online. It’s mandatory for some state health benefits.

The system is designed to cut fraud — after all, it’s hard to counterfeit your irises.

But it requires electricity to scan people’s biometrics, and Internet access to check them against government databases. You’ll find those in India’s big cities. In poorer places, you often don’t.

Technical difficulties

In Jharkhand, one of India’s poorest states, Aadhaar is mandatory for food rations. A long line forms outside a tiny stucco booth, painted lavender, with a corrugated metal roof. It’s a government food ration shop. Inside, the distributor scoops out rice, weighs it and delivers it to customers.

More than half of Indians are eligible for free or subsidized food. In rural Jharkhand, the figure is 86 percent.

The government says Aadhaar has helped eliminate nearly 30 million fake or duplicate food ration cards.

Ashok Kumar distributes government food rations to customer Leela Devi at his shop near Ramgarh, in India’s Jharkhand state.

Furkan Latif Khan/NPR

At this ration shop, Ashok Kumar, 57, scans people’s fingerprints with something that looks like a credit card machine. It runs on batteries and needs a 3G or 4G cellphone signal.

But the network is shaky. Kumar walks across the street, lifting his machine up overhead, until he finally gets a signal. He sets up shop instead on the steps of a Hindu temple.

One by one, he types people’s Aadhaar numbers into the machine and then asks them to place their fingers on a small scanner. The machine checks their numbers against biometric data on government servers and prints out a receipt for food rations — bags of rice.

But one customer isn’t so lucky. Karu Bhuiya, 48, has done manual labor all his life. His fingertips are worn. Kumar tries to scan them five times, but gets an error message.

The machine here is rudimentary, and only scans fingerprints — not irises. So Bhuiya is turned away. He goes home without food.

Pushed to starvation

Technical difficulties like this are blamed for pushing some of India’s poorest into starvation. Jean Dreze, a Belgian-born economist who lives in Jharkhand, says he has counted a dozen such deaths in recent months. He provided NPR with a detailed list of their names and circumstances surrounding their deaths.

Women harvest rice in rural Jharkhand, one of India’s poorest states, where at least a dozen people have died from starvation amid glitches in welfare distribution.

Lauren Frayer/NPR

“I would actually prefer to call these destitution deaths, because they’re all cases of people who went hungry for days, who would have survived if they had had some resources,” Dreze says. “See, this is the unfortunate thing: that the most vulnerable people are those who are also more likely to be excluded by this system.”

When Aadhaar scanners break down, there’s supposed to be a backup system on paper. But at the ration shop NPR visited, near the town of Ramgarh, the paper log was blank — unused.

Aadhaar’s architect

“Nobody should be denied benefits — either for lack of Aadhaar, or for lack of authentication,” says Nandan Nilekani, the key architect of the nation’s Aadhaar system. “There have been some challenges, but that doesn’t take away from the enormous benefit of empowerment, mobility and savings this project has given India.”

Nilekani is the former CEO of Infosys, a big Indian IT and consulting company. He is a tech billionaire who left the private sector to create Aadhaar for the Indian government.

In an interview in May, Nilekani told NPR that the benefits of Aadhaar far outweigh any glitches.

“Our whole goal is to give people control. They should be able to get their digital footprint from their smartphone, from their payments, from whatever,” Nilekani said. “I’m using my own data to make my life better. That’s a fundamental inversion of how you think about data.”

Nilekani is from Bangalore, India’s version of Silicon Valley. His critics questionwhether a private sector “move fast and break things” approach is appropriate for a government program like Aadhaar. They argue the fundamental job of government is different — to protect the most vulnerable citizens, rather than race to be the most high-tech.

That debate was underway when suddenly reports of data breaches began.

Data privacy

In January, investigative journalist Rachna Khaira discovered that the laptops of some Aadhaar enrollment workers — those who scan irises and take fingerprints — had been hacked. Khaira managed to buy access to up to 1 billion people’s Aadhaar data — for less than $7.

After her report, the government agency behind Aadhaar, the Unique Identification Authority of India, took legal action against Khaira, accusing her of cybercrime.

“I am not against Aadhaar,” Khaira says. “My only concern was this: that if we implement this project, it should be foolproof. We should not be scared. We should not be feeling jittery about giving out our Aadhaar numbers.”

Keeping people’s Aadhaar data secure is not just a job for the Indian government, though. One of the ways it managed to enroll so many people was by partnering with banks, utilities and cellphone providers, many of which require Aadhaar.

So now people’s data reside with all those companies as well. It’s impossible to know how many data breaches have occurred. In India, the newspapers carry reports of them almost daily.

“When it comes to Aadhaar, it’s the Wild West out there in India. Millions and millions of people have been compromised by the process,” says Nikhil Pahwa, a privacy activist and founder of the digital news site MediaNama. “I see this as a major national security risk.”

Edward Snowden, the NSA leaker, has also criticized Aadhaar, calling it a mass surveillance system that will lead to “civil death” for Indians.

Supreme Court weighs in

Data privacy advocates have taken their concerns all the way to India’s Supreme Court. Last year, the court ruled that privacy is a fundamental right.

Then last week, it ruled that private companies can no longer ask for people’s Aadhaar data. It also said schools can no longer require biometrics for admission.

But the information is already out there, being used by marketing companies — and possibly by political parties.

In August, the Unique Identification Authority of Indiaintroduced new directives to enhance security, including two-factor identification using facial recognition.

A small number of residents of India, including the economist Dreze, have nevertheless refused to enroll in Aadhaar.

In India, though, data privacy is still mostly a concern of the educated, urban class. People in the food ration line may not be as worried about their digital footprint. They have more dire concerns.

Those most vulnerable

Not far from the ration shop NPR visited in rural Jharkhand, migrant workers huddle in sagging thatch huts covered with blue tarps, during the monsoon rains. They are members of India’s tribal Adivasi community, who are among the country’s poorest citizens. They often migrate between states, with no fixed addresses.

In June, one of the men in their community, Chintaman Malhar, died at age 50. Relatives say he hadn’t eaten in days. Based on his field work, Dreze, the economist, concluded that Malhar had lived in a “state of semi-starvation.”

Nisha Devi lives in a rudimentary hut covered with a tarp near Ramgarh, in India’s Jharkhand state. She believes hunger led to her uncle’s recent death before he could get an Aadhaar card. The rest of the family has scrambled to enroll since his death, but Devi has been unable to draw welfare benefits so far.

Lauren Frayer/NPR

Malhar died before he could get an Aadhaar card. After his death, his relatives and neighbors all rushed to try to enroll.

“A local official came and advised us all to enroll in Aadhaar,” says Malhar’s niece, Nisha Devi, cradling her toddler. “He told us it would help us get residency, and finally have an official address, and get benefits.”

She believes hunger killed her uncle, and she wants to avoid a similar fate.

Devi hasn’t yet been able to collect any food rations. She is still mired in bureaucracy.

But she hopes that Aadhaar — perhaps the world’s most sophisticated biometric system — might one day help her.

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Gautam Navlakha: Statement of an Urban Naxal 

File photo of Gautam Navlakha. PTI
 I wish to thank the majority and dissenting Justices of the Supreme Court for their judgment, which allowed us four weeks to seek relief in this matter, and the public-spirited citizens & lawyers of India for putting up  a spirited fight on our behalf, whose memory I will cherish. I am humbled by the solidarity, which crossed borders, rallying in our support.
From Delhi High Court I have won my freedom. It thrills me no end.
My dearest friends and lawyers led by Nitya Ramakrishnan, Warisha Farasat, Ashwath, along with others in the legal & logistics team, literally,  ‘moved heaven and earth’ to win me my freedom. I don’t know if I can ever repay this debt.  Nor to the senior lawyers who argued in our favour in the apex court. The period of house arrest, despite the restrictions imposed was put to good use, so I hold no grudge.
However, I cannot forget my co-accused and tens of thousands of other political prisoners in India who remain incarcerated for their ideological convictions, or on account of false charges filed against them, and/or wrongful conviction under Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act – UAPA. Fellow accused in the same matter have gone on hunger strike against the maltreatment inside the jails and demanded that they be recognised as political prisoners/prisoners of conscience. Other political prisoners too have time and again sat on hunger strike and demanded the same. Their freedom and their rights are precious to Civil Liberties & Democratic Rights movement.
But, there is reason to celebrate.
I salute the LGBTQ comrades for their monumental victory recently after a relentless and stubborn struggle, which has opened the door for as significant a social reform movement as the one fired by Babasaheb Ambedkar for the annihilation of caste, exhorting us all to ‘educate, organise and agitate’. Our solidarity was slow in coming, but your perseverance forced us to change. You brought a smile back on our faces and rainbow colours in our lives.
Also, freedom won by Bhim Army’s Chandrashekhar Ravan and his comrades Sonu and Shivkumar from preventive detention is particularly reassuring because it shows the power of indomitable resistance against a socially entrenched casteist tyranny, from ground below.
My Salaam to friends in JNUSU for the historic victory of the United Left panel which proves yet again that united resistance is the need of the hour – only thus can we face persecution and struggle so that it gathers critical mass support.
Friends, sacchai aur imandari se lade shabd goli aur gaali se zyada takatvar hote hain, aaj yeh saabit ho raha hai. Hamare geet aur kavitayon mein josh hai, aur hamare kaam aur lekhni ka aadhar reason aur facts hain.
To all my nearest and dearest, let us continue to speak up for the enforcement of our constitutional freedoms and against oppression & exploitation in all forms.
Let’s recall Pash ke yeh anmol bol:
‘Hum Ladenge Saathi
Ki ladne ke baghair kuch bhi nahi milta
Hum ladenge
Ki abhi tak lade kyon nahi
Hum ladenge
Apni saza kabulne ke liye
Ladte huey mar jaane walon ki
 yaad zinda rakhne ke liye
 Lal Salaam!
Monday, October 1, 2018

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My ‘choroonu’ was in Sabarimala on my mother’s lap: TKA Nair

Jisha Surya

TKA NairTKA Nair
THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: Ban on entry of women aged between 10 and 50 is cited as an age-old practice by those who advocate for it. However, documents say that a strict ban on entry of women came into force only after a high court order issued in 1991.
Former advisor to the then prime minister Manmohan SinghT K A Nair said that his chooronu, the first rice-feeding ceremony of a child, took place at Sabarimala and he was on his mother lap, facing lord Ayyappan. Nair was born in 1939. “My parents father Krishna Pillai and mother Bharati Amma lost three kids, all boys, within days of their birth. My parents were strong devotees of Ayyappa. The Panthalam Raja had consoled my father stating that a boy child will be born for him and he must give him the name Ayyappan Kutty, which means son of Ayyappa. When I asked about my name, they told me how they prayed to Lord Ayyappa and did my choroonu in front of the deity as an offering. I was sitting on my mother’s lap facing Lord Ayyappa, they said,” he said. Asked about his mother’s age at that time, Nair said that he was not sure, but, could tell that he had two sisters and a brother after him.

While wholeheartedly welcoming the SC order, Nair said that he did not expect majority of women to avail the rights. “It will be a gradual process. Women who were brought up with the belief that menstruation is impure would take time to get rid of the deep notion that is imprinted in their minds,” he said.

Not just Nair, several children had their ‘chooroonu’ performed at Sabarimala, with their close relatives, including young women, attending the function before HC imposed a ban on 1991. Before that women were allowed except during Mandalam, Makaravilakku and Vishu seasons where the devotees entered after observing abstinence of 41 days.

The HC order noted, “the religious practices and customs followed earlier had changed during the last 40 years particularly from 1950, the year in which the renovation of the temple took place after the “fire disaster”. Even while the old customs prevailed, women used to visit the temple though very rarely. The Maharaja of Travancoreaccompanied by the Maharani and the Divan had visited the temple in 1115 M.E. There was thus no prohibition for women to enter the Sabarimala temple in olden days, but women in large number were not visiting the temple. That was not because of any prohibition imposed by Hindu religion but because of other non-religious factors. In recent years, many worshippers had gone to the temple with lady worshippers within the age group 10 to 50 for the first rice-feeding ceremony of their children (Chottoonu). A change in the old custom and practice was brought about by installing a flag staff (Dhwajam) in 1969.”

Observing the points in the HC order, SC said, “The high court thus noted multiple instances wherein women were allowed to pray at the Sabarimala temple. These observations demonstrate that the practice of excluding women from Sabarimala temple was not uniform. This militates against a claim that such a practice is of an obligatory nature.”

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