22 Mar, 2012,  Ahona Ghosh,ET Bureau

MUMBAI: From destructive mining major to compassionate corporate – when Anil Agarwal, executive chairman of the $11.4-billion Vedanta Resources, had to pick an image doctor to engineer such a change in popular perception, he chose his 22-year-old daughter Priya.

The young Agarwal’s first real assignment – a national advertising campaign ‘Creating Happiness’ in which she has spent Rs 20 crore so far – is already mired in controversy. Vedanta has often been accused of questionable practices, in precisely the kind of tribal areas where this campaign claims it is “creating happiness.” But she is unperturbed. “Everyone is involved in controversy but the good work has to continue. We don’t bother with controversies,” says Priya.

The national campaign airing across 37 channels seems timed with the Cairn acquisition, the Supreme Court appeal next month in the Niyamgiri mining case and lobbying with the government, according to Ashish Bhasin, chairman-India and CEO-South-East Asia, Aegis Media, a media communications firm. “It seems they are attempting to build long-term goodwill and a positive image with the government or certain groups,” says Bhasin.

In August 2010, the environment ministry rejected clearances granted to a joint venture led by the Vedanta Group for mining bauxite from Niyamgiri hills.

The final hearing on the group’s appeal against this is coming up on April 9. Vedanta’s environmental and human rights record has been criticised by investors such as Church of England, Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust, the Marlborough Ethical Fund and Millfield House Foundation, human rights and activist groups like Amnesty International, Survival International, and by the British and Norwegian governments.

Naive or not, Priya has set out on what Vedanta’s many critics would say is a mission impossible – remake Vedanta’s brand.

Tough Task at Hand

The exercise is aimed at branding the group as the mining concern, but as a missionary organisation with a social conscience. “It’s always been on our minds and my father always wanted to do this,” she says. Priya also joined the board of Cairn India as a director three months ago.

Her father doesn’t read too much into her two new assignments. “Right now she is learning and executing. I am sure she would need some more time to choose her field,” he told ET in an email response. “I am just testing the waters and spending two months each in the marketing, human resources and public relations departments of the company, though my interest lies in PR,” adds Priya. But have no doubts, she is the one spearheading the group’s image makeover

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