Vedanta Resources lawsuit (re Dongria Kondh in Orissa)

Dongria Kondh Dance

In 2005, NGOs aided the Dongria Tribe in fighting an environmental clearance granted to Vedanta Aluminium to construct a refinery project in the eastern Indian state of Orissa. The NGOs argued that Vedanta did not include the effects the refinery would have on the Dongria tribe whose livelihood comes from the area the refinery would operate in their environmental impact report. In 2013, India's Supreme Court ordered a ban on the refinery and ruled the rights of the Dongria Tribe must be taken into account. The project was not allowed to go forward.


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On 19 March 2003 Vedanta Alumina Limited applied for environmental clearance from the Indian Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) to construct an alumina refinery project in the eastern Indian state of Orissa.  This clearance was granted on 22 September 2004.  The clearance stated that the project did not involve any deforestation.  However, the alumina refinery depended directly on mining the Niyamgiri hills, an area where the Dongria Kondh tribe lives.  The clearance application for the mining portion of the project was made separately.  The Central Empowered Committee (CEC), part of the MOeF, received petitions opposing the construction of Vedanta’s alumina refinery and its related bauxite mining. The CEC’s mandate is to monitor and ensure compliance with orders of the Supreme Court concerning forests and wildlife.  The project’s opponents alleged it would destroy the Dongria Kondh tribe’s way of life (due to their spiritual and cultural attachment to the Niyamgiri hills) and that work on the projects had begun without the requisite clearances.  Further, they alleged that many people had been forcibly removed from their homes, at times violently, and that the mining has already caused extensive environmental damage and will cause more.

The CEC made recommendations to the Supreme Court, on 21 September 2005, for the revocation of the environmental clearance for the alumina refinery.  On 23 November 2007 the Supreme Court of India barred Vedanta and its subsidiary Sterlite from undertaking the project.  (Vedanta had transferred the project to Sterlite.)  However, the court invited Vedanta to resubmit its proposal in line with certain safeguards.  The safeguards included: a special purpose company with the state of Orissa and Vedanta as shareholders owning the project, Vedanta setting aside 5% of its profits before tax for reinvestment into the local community and the submission of a report on the effects of the project and particularly the number of people likely to be employed by the project.  Sterlite re-submitted its proposal encompassing these conditions.  The Supreme Court gave the formal go-ahead to the project on 8 August 2008.  

The MoEF claimed that the Supreme Court's approval of the project did not obligate the MoEF to give automatic clearance for the project, and it asked the Attorney General to opine on the matter.  The Attorney General agreed that the MoEF was not bound to approve the project solely on the basis of the Supreme Court's decision.  The MoEF ordered a panel to investigate the mine's impact on local tribes and wildlife on 30 June 2010.  This panel issued a report on 16 August 2010 saying that the company should not be given permission to mine bauxite in Niyamgiri.  Following the recommendations of the panel's report, the Minister for Environment & Forests announced on 23 August 2010 that the government would take action against Vedanta for alleged violations of forest conservation and environmental protection regulations related to the Niyamgiri project.  Vedanta appealed the government's decision, and in April 2012 the Indian supreme court heard the appeal.  In April 2013 the supreme court ruled the ban on mining in Niyamgiri will be maintained and the rights of the local tribespeople must be considered.

Survival International brought a complaint regarding the project under the OECD Guidelines with the UK’s National Contact Point (NCP).  The NCP found that Vedanta “failed to engage the Dongria Kondh in adequate and timely consultations about the construction of the mine”; recommended that “Vedanta should immediately and adequately engage with the Dongria Kondh” and “should respect the outcome of the consultation process”

In August 2009, following a complaint filed by Survival international, India’s National Human Rights Commission has written to the Government of Orissa demanding a full report into its joint venture mining project with Vedanta.  In April 2013, India’s Supreme Court upheld the ban on mining in the Niyamgiri hill range and ruled that the rights of the Dongria Kondh communities must be taken into account in deciding whether the mining project may go ahead. In August 2013, all 12 tribal villages voted against Vedanta’s project in the Niyamgiri Hills.  In January 2014, the Ministry for Environment and Forests decided not to allow the mining project to go ahead. In April 2016, the Supreme Court blocked the attempt by Odisha’s state government to begin mining in the Niyamgiri hills; the local government arguing that the 2013 referendum was flawed.

- "Environment Ministry rejects Vedanta's mining proposal in Niyamgiri", Urmi A Goswami & Meera Mohanty, Economic Times, 11 Jan 2014
- "India court says locals to have say on Vedanta mine", BBC News, 18 Apr 2013 
- "India tribe's Avatar-like battle against mining firm reaches supreme court", Jason Burke, Guardian [UK] 8 Apr 2012
- "Vedanta mine plan halted by Indian government", Richard Wray, Guardian [UK], 24 Aug 2010
- "Vedanta should not be given mining approval: govt panel", Reuters, 16 Aug 2010
- "Orissa Government, Sterlite form Lanjigarh Area Development Foundation", Orissa Diary, 15 Oct 2009
- "India court okays mining projects", BBC, 8 Aug 2008
- "Indian court reserves judgement on Vedanta mining", Reuters, 25 Jul 2008
- "Tribe takes on global mining firm", Damian Grammaticas, BBC, 17 Jul 2008 
- "Vedanta rejects claim that new mine will destroy Indian tribe's way of life", David Litterick, Telegraph [UK], 6 May 2008
- "Vedanta puts its case for bauxite mine to India’s highest court", Ashling O’Connor, Times [UK], 29 Oct 2007
- "Vedanta Undermines Indian Communities", Nityanand Jayaraman, CorpWatch, 15 Nov 2005

- Vedanta: Sustainable Development
- Survival International: The Dongria Kondh 
- Action Aid: [PDF] Vedanta Cares?

Supreme Court of India
T.N. Godavaraman Thirumulpad v. Union of India in the matter of Sterlite Industries (India) Ltd., 8 Aug 2008 [judgment granting Sterlite permission to mine Niyamgiri]
- [DOC] Interim Order on the basis of the CEC Report, 3 Feb 2008
T.N. Godavaraman Thirumulpad v. Union of India, 23 Nov 2007
T.N. Godavarman Thirumulpad Vs. Union of India (UOI) and Ors: 2006, 17 Oct 2006

- [PDF] Report of the Four Member Committee for Investigation into the Proposal Submitted by the Orissa Mining Company for Bauxite Mining in Niyamgiri [submitted to Ministry of Environment & Forests], N.C. Saxena, S. Parasuraman, Promode Kant, Amita Baviskar, 16 Aug 2010
Central Empowered Committee: Report in IA No. 1324 Regarding the Alumina Refinery Plant being set up by M/S Vedanta Alumina Limited at Lanjigarh in Kalahandi District, Orissa, 21 Sep 2005

OECD Guidelines complaint (in UK):

Vedanta condemns UK agency's findings [India], Business Standard [India], 14 Oct 2009
UK reprimands Vedanta over Orissa mining project, Business Standard [India], 13 Oct 2009
‘Guilty’:  UK government blasts Vedanta in unprecedented attack, Survival Intl., 12 Oct 2009

- [DOC] Final Statement by UK National Contact Point for OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises: Complaint from Survival International against Vedanta Resources plc, 25 Sep 2009
- [PDF] Initial Assessment by UK National Contact Point for OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises: Survival International and Vedanta Resources plc, 27 Mar 2009

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27 November 2017

Commentary: UK: Court ruling expands scope of parent company liability for human rights impacts of foreign subsidiaries

Author: Peter Hood & Julianne Hughes-Jennett, Business and Human Rights Journal

"How Should English Domiciled Multinationals Manage their Human Rights Risk in Light of the Judgment in Lungowe v Vedanta?", 26 Nov 2017

...[T]he doctrines of separate corporate personality and forum non conveniens insulated English domiciled parent companies from liability for the actions of their foreign subsidiaries.  However, developments in English and European law have progressively undermined the foundations of these doctrines...Last week, the Court of Appeal handed down its judgment in Lungowe and Ors. v Vedanta Resources Plc and Konkola Copper Mines Plc. This will come to be seen as a landmark case in relation to parent company liability and jurisdiction and has deep significance for how English domiciled multinationals manage their human rights risk.

...The Court confirmed that a parent company does not automatically owe a duty of care to someone affected by the actions of its subsidiary. The Claimant must do more to prove that a duty of care arises... The Court expressly confirmed that the law has developed so that a parent company’s duty of care can extend to non-employees affected by the operations of the subsidiary. Together, this expands the scope of parent company liability and will likely encourage more claims of this kind. 

...In order to fulfil their responsibilities under [...] the UN Guiding Principles, they [English domiciled multinationals] are required to take responsibility for human rights risks throughout their group and supply chain... [Pushing] responsibility for human rights due diligence down to the operating subsidiary level [...] will likely be more effective in reducing the risk of an adverse human rights impact in the first place.

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15 April 2016

Indian Supreme Court orders state govt. to re-submit petition requesting mining exploration in Dongria ancestral lands

Author: Survival International

"Dongria tribe's views to be heard in Indian Supreme Court", 14 Apr 2016

India’s Supreme Court has blocked the opening moves in an attempt by Odisha’s state government to begin mining in the Niyamgiri hills, home to the Dongria Kondh tribe. The Supreme Court judges directed the state to re-submit their application to allow for the Dongria’s views to be also heard in court. In 2013 the tribe unanimously rejected Vedanta’s plans to mine their hills during a historic referendum in which all twelve villages that were consulted voted against the mine. The Odisha state is now trying to re-open the issue arguing that the 2013 referendum was flawed. Given that the Odisha state government oversaw the 2013 referendum and apparently accepted the tribe’s verdict, some are questioning why they are only now contesting its decision. Vedanta recently announced that it might have to close its loss-making refinery, at the foot of the Niyamgiri hills, if more bauxite cannot be supplied...

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4 April 2016

India: Orissa state govt. petitions to grant Vedanta mining access to ancestral land of Dongria Kondh

Author: Andrew Marszal, Telegraph (UK)

"Indian tribe in new court fight to save sacred mountain", 26 Mar 2016

One of India’s most ancient tribes [Dongria Kondh] is facing a renewed threat of destruction after a fresh legal bid was launched​ by the State Government ​ ​to open its ancestral lands to exploitatio​​n by a British-based mining giant...[T]he Orissa state government launched a yet another request to dig up the tribe’s sacred Niyamgiri mountain and turn it into a bauxite mine...The tribe’s fight to save their hills appeared to be nearing a permanent solution last year when Vedanta said it was drawing up plans to close the plant, along with nearby hospital and school built by the corporation...The Orissa government’s petition calls for a rerun on the grounds that new, young tribal members have come of age since the last vote, and others who voted in 2013 have passed away...Vedanta denies any connection to such activity, adding: “Vedanta is a law abiding company and we always adhere to the correct procedures.”​


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12 May 2014

Social conflict incurs financial cost for extractive industry - study

Author: Megan Rowling, Thomson Reuters Foundation

The financial cost of social conflict is an important reason why companies in the mining, oil and gas industries should make more effort to ensure their projects do not provoke tensions with local communities, researchers said…A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that delays caused by these conflicts can incur costs of around $20 million per week for mining projects valued at between $3 and $5 billion. It noted "growing appreciation" among sustainability experts of the potential financial damage unmitigated environmental and social risks can inflict on large-scale extractive ventures…That is why leading companies are implementing the U.N. Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, allowing them to manage their rights risks more effectively, according to study author Rachel Davis…[Also refers to Vedanta Resources & Barrick Gold]

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12 May 2014

[PDF] Costs of Company-Community Conflict in the Extractive Sector

Author: Rachel Davis & Daniel Franks; Harvard Kennedy School; Shift; Univ. of Queensland (Australia)

This study...explores the full range of costs to extractive companies from failing to prevent or mitigate conflict with local communities around their operations. Through 45 in-depth confidential interviews, an analysis of 50 publicly available cases and fieldwork in Peru, the report investigates the most frequent, greatest, and most often overlooked costs of conflict. Co-Authored by Shift's Rachel Davis, and Daniel Franks from the Centre for Social Responsibility in Mining, University of Queensland, the research shows that extractive companies generally do not identify, understand and aggregate these costs in a way that could help them attract the attention of senior management or the Board. The research also shows that while environmental impacts such as pollution often trigger conflict, there are typically underlying economic and social issues that relate to the quality of the relationship between the company and local communities, which if left unaddressed, may make conflict more likely.

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Author: Amnesty International

Amnesty International a publié…Injustice Incorporated: Corporate Abuses and the Human Right to Remedy afin de faire progresser le droit à un recours pour les victimes de violations des droits humains commises par des entreprises…Les victimes de violations des droits humains se heurtent souvent à des obstacles lorsqu’elles cherchent à obtenir un recours. Ces difficultés sont d’autant plus importantes lorsque ces violations ont été commises par des entreprises transnationales…Injustice Incorporated décrit le combat pour la justice de communautés pauvres confrontées à de puissantes entreprises transnationales…[C]ette publication démontre comment…les entreprises parviennent à échapper à leurs responsabilités et à bafouer, ou saper considérablement, le droit des victimes à un recours…Les quatre cas développés sont les suivants : Bhopal…Omaï…Ok Tedi…Trafigura…Injustice Incorporated avance des propositions pour le changement dans trois domaines clés : les freins juridiques aux procédures extraterritoriales, le manque d’informations et les relations entre entreprises et États…

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28 February 2014

[PDF] Injustice Incorporated: Corporate Abuses and the Human Right to Remedy

Author: Amnesty International

This book seeks to ground the debate on the human right to remedy in cases of corporate-related abuse in the lived experiences of victims…[It]… focuses on four emblematic cases and exposes how corporate political and financial power intertwined with specific legal obstacles to allow companies to evade accountability and deny, or severely curtail, remedy…The cases are…[the] 1984 Bhopal gas leak in India…[the] case of Omai gold in Guyana...[the] Ok Tedi mine in Papua New Guinea…[and the] dumping of toxic waste in Abidjan in Côte d’Ivoire…[Trafigura responded that] it is simply wrong to suggest that the issues have not had the right judicial scrutiny...[Union Carbide responded that] [a]ll of the victims’ claims…were resolved a quarter-century ago by a comprehensive settlement…[Includes full responses from Arcelor Mittal, Dow Chemical, Tata Group, Trafigura Beheer, Union Carbide (part of Dow)] [Also refers to BHP Billiton, BP, Shell, Vedanta Resources]

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21 January 2014

1. Lessons from the Vedanta case: what next?

Author: Gordon Bennett, Lincoln's Inn, in Lawyers for Better Business blog

The Dongria Kondh victory in a decade long battle to prevent mining in their sacred hills should alert company directors to their responsibilities towards communities…In early January India’s minister of Forests and Environment vetoed a $1.7 billion mining project in the Nyamgiri Hills, Odisha…What next? In India, proceedings may now be brought against Vedanta’s subsidiary for violations of the Forest Rights Act…It might also be possible to launch proceedings in England…Section 172 of the UK Companies Act requires directors to “have regard to” the impact of their decisions on the reputation of their company and on the communities affected by its operations. The UK government has insisted that…[it] means “thinking about”; it is absolutely not about just ticking boxes…[W]e believe it will in many cases, [mean] that the proper course is to act positively to achieve the objectives in the clause, that will be the directors’ duty…

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15 January 2014

Victory: India saves ‘Avatar tribe’ from Vedanta mine [India]

Author: Survival International

In a sensational victory in the stand-off between India’s ‘real Avatar tribe’ and British mining giant Vedanta Resources, India’s authorities have quashed the company’s plans to mine the Dongria Kondh tribe’s sacred hills, it has been widely reported. The decision follows unprecedented consultations with Dongria Kondh villages surrounding the mine site, which were ordered by India’s Supreme Court and dubbed the country’s first ever ‘environmental referendum’. All twelve Dongria Kondh villages involved in the consultation courageously rejected Vedanta’s project in the face of intimidation and harassment, but the final decision lay with the Ministry for Environment and Forests. The crushing defeat will have global repercussions for companies intent on working on tribal peoples’ lands and should serve as a lesson that tribal communities’ prior consent must always be sought.

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11 January 2014

Environment Ministry rejects Vedanta's mining proposal in Niyamgiri [India]

Author: Urmi A Goswami & Meera Mohanty, Economic Times

Environment Minister Veerappa Moily has decided not to allow the Vedanta Group to mine the Niyamgiri Hills for bauxite…The minister's decision comes on the back of the overwhelming rejection by 12 state-government designated villages of the proposal to mine the Niyamgiri Hills. In April, the Supreme Court had ruled that villages in the two districts of Rayagada and Kalahandi were to decide if mining should be allowed in the Niyamgiri Hills.

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