This open letter has been put out by G. ANANTHAPADMANABHAN of Amnesty International (India)

Dear Mr Deepak Parekh, Mr Kumara Mangalam Birla, Mr K V Kamath, Mr Kris Gopalakrishnan, Mr A M Naik, Ms Chanda Kocchar and Mr Cyril Shroff,

We at Amnesty International India are deeply disappointed by your decision to give the Economic Times Business Leader of the Year 2012 award to Mr Anil Agarwal, Chairman of Vedanta plc.

The Business Leader award is given to individuals who have demonstrated “a strategic direction for success, and pursued a vision”. But Vedanta, in its efforts to have a bauxite mine opened at the Niyamgiri hills in Orissa and expand an aluminium refinery near Lanjigarh, has demonstrated an utter lack of both leadership and vision. What it has shown instead is a brazen disregard for Indian law and an utter lack of respect for the rights of local communities.

In August 2010, the Ministry of Environment and Forests rejected the Niyamgiri bauxite mine project after finding that it extensively violated forest and environmental laws and would abuse the rights of local communities, including the Dongria Kondh adivasi community. The Ministry also suspended the clearance for the expansion of Vedanta’s Lanjigarh refinery after an expert committee found it to be illegal. The Economic Times has itself gone on record to oppose the Niyamgiri bauxite mining plan.

Vedanta has since developed a human rights and sustainability policy framework which it claims is aligned to international standards and best practices. The ET awards jury has said that the perception of misgovernance in Mr Agarwal’s companies is worse than the reality. But new research by Amnesty International reveals that Vedanta’s violations are extreme and ongoing. A vast gap exists between Vedanta’s stated policy framework and its practices in Orissa.

Vedanta continues to ignore the views of the Dongria Kondh. Its claim that it has consulted local communities is not supported by evidence gathered by Amnesty International, including testimonies from the Dongria Kondh and the minutes of official meetings. Nor are these claims supported by the findings of two official expert panels appointed by the MoEF in 2010.

Vedanta’s claims that its processes and planning are in line with Indian laws are belied by testimonies from communities affected by the Lanjigarh refinery on the impact of pollution on their health and water sources, the acquisition of their farmlands without adequate compensation, and the loss of their livelihoods due to pollution and reduced access to common land.

Amnesty International has uncovered Vedanta’s failure to adequately address risks posed by the Lanjigarh refinery’s red mud ponds, and to disclose relevant information on the impact of actual pollution. This is compounded by the company’s failure to take appropriate remedial action.

An ongoing inquiry by the National Human Rights Commission has found that the local police were involved in framing false charges and suppressing dissent against those critical of Vedanta. The NHRC inquiry says that the police booked the project-affected villagers in false or exaggerated cases on several occasions, apparently at the behest of Vedanta.

All these facts call into question Vedanta’s stated commitment to address human rights concerns. Mr Agarwal has told the Economic Times: “We have to use our resources in a sustainable manner for our development.” But Vedanta has shown consistently that it is unwilling to do so.

Several supporters of Vedanta have revised their opinions after being alerted to its environmental and human rights abuses.

Since 2007, several institutional investors in Vedanta, including the Norwegian Pension Fund and the Church of England Pensions Board, have sold their stakes after expressing concern about the adverse impacts of the company’s work in Orissa.

Earlier this year, the UK’s Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents and the British Safety Council suspended their awards to Vedanta after reports emerged of safety standards violations at the Lanjigarh refinery. Four months ago, the Oslo-based Business for Peace Foundation withdrew an award it was slated to give Mr Agarwal for ‘ethical business practices’ after it was informed about the details of Vedanta’s violations and human rights abuses.

We urge you to reconsider your decision to give the ET Business Leader of the Year award to Mr Anil Agarwal. To felicitate Vedanta through this award is to reward a history of human rights abuses, to ignore local communities’ campaigns for justice for rights abuses, and to betray the goals of the ET Corporate Excellence awards.

Yours sincerely,

G. Ananthapadmanabhan

Chief Executive, Amnesty International (India)