Angry protests across Zambia and India in run up to Vedanta’s London AGM on Friday
Angry protests will be held in India and Zambia next week in the run up to British mining company Vedanta Resources’ AGM at Ironmongers Hall, Barbican, London at 2pm on Friday 5th August. Inside the AGM dissident shareholders will ask questions submitted by protesting Zambian villagers who are suing Vedanta in the UK for twelve years of polluted water, as well as displaced farmers who were never compensated for their land in Lanjigarh, Odisha, India and accuse Vedanta of murdering and harassing them with state collusion. A loud protest organised by Foil Vedanta will take place outside the meeting, demanding that Vedanta subsidiary Konkola Copper Mines publish its hitherto secret annual accounts in Zambia, and accusing the company of pollution, human rights abuses and financial mismanagement in India and Afrika.
In the Zambian Copperbelt, 600 farmers, fishermen and former miners living downstream of Vedanta’s Konkola Copper Mines (KCM) held historic protests in their villages this week demanding an end to twelve years of pollution by KCM, which has turned the Kafue into a ‘river of acid’1 2 and left them with no access to clean water. They told KCM to de-silt and remediate the contaminated areas so they can return to normal life, and submitted a Memorandum of Complaint signed by Headmen of nine villages to be read at Vedanta’s London AGM. The villagers are also suing KCM and Vedanta to court in the UK for personal injury and loss of livelihood due to gross pollution, having won a precedent London jurisdiction hearing in May. An estimated 40,000 people in total are affected by contaminated water which also affects the municipal piped water system3.
One of the protesters and Fikolongo village headman Simon Mwila, who is also a claimant in the London case suing KCM and Vedanta said:
“Vedanta KCM has polluted our only water source since 2004. We feel weak and sick from drinking contaminated water and eating the fish but we have no choice. Relatives are dying mysteriously and we know it is the pollution. Each day they continue with impunity, cheating the government that they are controlling pollution but they are not. We want to live in peace, harmony and good health. KCM Vedanta must stop polluting us and clean up their mess!”
Justice Coulson’s judgement on the polluted villager’s jurisdiction case indicted KCM for financial secrecy, historic dishonesty and attempts to pervert the course of justice, revealing that KCM have never filed any annual accounts in accordance with the Zambian Companies Act, and referring to a 2014 London arbitration case against KCM in which three judges found KCM to be dishonest, obstructive and willing to cause unnecessary harm. An UNCTAD report published in July 2016 found ‘systematic export underinvoicing’ of copper from Zambia starting in 2005, the year after Vedanta took over KCM (Zambia’s biggest copper producer). $12 billion of underinvoicing is recorded between 1995-2014.7
Following damning audits of KCM in 2014, the Zambian government entity ZCCM-IH which owns 20.6% of KCM has also filed a case against KCM and Vedanta in London for $100 million owed on an April 2013 settlement8.
The UK government has repeatedly promoted KCM via the Department for International Development’s Commonwealth Development Corporation (CDC), most recently in 2012 when KCM were sponsors and speakers at their Jubilee Economic Forum in London alongside then Zambian President Michael Sata.9
In Chingola, Zambia more than 100 residents of Nchanga South will submit a petition to the press and the London AGM decrying the fumes and noise from KCM’s copper smelter, which is less than 50m from houses on East 1st Street, and demanding to be compensated and resettled as the 2006 Environmental Impact Assessment had required10. In Kitwe former KCM miners who have never received their terminal benefits will protest ahead of the next hearing in their ongoing case against KCM in the Zambia High Court on 8th August. 2500 miners were retrenched by KCM in November 2015, and have also been denied proper benefits, leading to riots11. Students at Copperbelt University in Kitwe are also expected to hold a solidarity protest.
Demonstrators in London will again demand that KCM publish its secret annual reports, claiming that Vedanta is hiding its tax evasion and capital flight, as well as shifting its liabilities onto the Zambian state. They will also demand justice for the victims of the 2009 chimney collapse which killed between 40 and 100 people.12The Sandeep Bakshi Judicial Commission report (leaked by activists in 2014) held Vedanta guilty of negligence in the incident but no action has been taken.13Samarendra Das from Foil Vedanta said:
“Vedanta has been found guilty of polluting the Kafue river and damaging communities livelihoods and health in Zambia. In India they are indicted for negligence in the country’s second largest industrial disaster at Korba in 2009, and have lost their iconic Niyamgiri mine due to popular resistance. The ground swelling protests in India and Zambia are demanding justice from the British Government to initiate an inquiry against Vedanta’s practices and delist them from the London Stock Exchange.”
In Bhubaneswar, capital city of the State of Odisha in India, a large group of protesters are expected in the streets on 5th August demanding that Vedanta is kicked out of its two Odisha bauxite operations at Jharsuguda, where ongoing pollution has led to farmers protests, and displaced people have never been compensated, and Lanjigarh (Niyamgiri) where local tribal activists and protesting land losers have been beaten, harassed and killed by police this year, under the pretence that they are Maoists. Fact finding teams led by former Chief Justice of Bombay High Court Justice B G Kolse Patil14, as well as the National Confederation of Human Rights Organisations (NCHRO) found state collusion between the police and Vedanta, who have been thwarted in their attempt to mine Niyamgiri’s bauxite by the people’s movement.
Padmanav Choudhury from Asarpada village, an active member of Niyamgiri Suraksha Samiti (Niyamgiri Protection Coucil) and a land loser yet to receive any compensation from Vedanta said:
“I was tortured for two days, hung upside down and thrashed by police for participating in a demonstration against police atrocities in Niyamgiri. Vedanta and the Odisha government are working together to deny our democratic and legal right to object to their mine. No matter what they do, we will not leave Niyamgiri or give up our fight.”
Despite a May Supreme Court ruling which rejected Vedanta and the Odisha state’s right to challenge the ban on Niyamgiri mining Mines Minister Piyush Goyal stated in July that he would again try to push the Niyamgiri project through.15 Mass demonstrations have again celebrated the Supreme Court victory this June.
Adivasi and Niyamgiri Suraksha Samiti leader Dadhi Pusika echoed the protesters demands that the refinery built to process Niyamgiri’s bauxite should now be decommissioned, saying:
“Lanjigarh must be shut down and stopped from causing pollution, misery, and landlessness in our villages. This a not just a local issue. It is a global struggle of the humanity to protect nature and civilisation.”
In Delhi, students from Birsa Ambedkar Phule Students’ Association (BAPSA) will hold a solidarity demonstration calling for an end to Dalit suppression by Vedanta in Niyamgiri and its other operations.
In London Foil Vedanta will warn shareholder that Vedanta Resources is bluffing them with grand claims of mergers and acquisitions to hide its toxic debt situation – with $8.6 billion of debt and $1.8 billion in intercompany loans16, amounting to debt of 7 times Ebitda17, and $2.9 billion in debt covenants due in 2016. They will point out that Chairman and 69.9% owner Anil Agarwal’s claims to have invested $4 billion in Africa18 have already been disproved by Zambian government audits which revealed the company had in fact failed to invest any CAPEX in the subsidiary since buying it in 2004, only reinvesting internally generated cash.19
In India, Vedanta’s attempts to assure shareholders and media that their attempted merger with oil subsidiary Cairn India is going ahead has been denied by top minority shareholder Life Insurance Corporation of India (LIC), who sent a recent public statement denying their approval20. The merger with Indian arm Vedanta Ltd, would give Vedanta access to Cairn’s $2.6 billion cash reserves. Meanwhile Agarwal has appealed to the Indian government to ‘monetise what is below the ground’, enabling speculation and advocating an oil boom comparable to Shale Gas in the US21, and a third CEO has quit Cairn India over differences with the Vedanta Resources board.22Cairn India is India’s biggest fracker at the Raageshwari deep gas field and has the world’s largest EOR polymer flood field at Mangala in Rajasthan, which injects 400,000 barrels of polymer liquid (water and chemicals) per day to extract oil in a drought ridden area.23
To address their debt crisis subsidiary HZL in March declared a special golden jubilee dividend at 1200% effectively paying parent company Vedanta Ltd $1.2 billion24.
Two Ancient Japanese Philosophies Are the Future of Eco-Living
Our obsession with all things new has blighted the planet. We have a waste crisis, particularly when it comes to plastic. US scientists have calculated the total amount of plastic ever made – 8.3 billion tons! Unfortunately, only 9% of this is estimated to have been recycled. And current global trends point to there being 12 billion tons of plastic waste by 2050.
However, two ancient Japanese philosophies are providing an antidote to the excesses of modern life. By emphasizing the elimination of waste and the acceptance of the old and imperfect, the concepts of Mottainai and Wabi-Sabi have positively influenced Japanese life for centuries.
They are now making their way into the consciousness of the Western mainstream, with an increasing influence in the UK and US. By encouraging us to be frugal with our possessions, (i.e. using natural materials for interior design) these concepts can be the future of eco-living.
What is Wabi-Sabi and Mottainai??
Wabi-Sabi emphasizes an acceptance of transience and imperfection. Although Wabi had the original meaning of sad and lonely, it has come to describe those that are simple, unmaterialistic and at one with nature. The term Sabi is defined as the “the bloom of time”, and has evolved into a new meaning: taking pleasure and seeing beauty in things that are old and faded.
Any flaws in objects, like cracks or marks, are cherished because they illustrate the passage of time. Wear and tear is seen as a representation of their loving use. This makes it intrinsically linked to Wabi, due to its emphasis on simplicity and rejection of materialism.
In the West, Wabi-Sabi has infiltrated many elements of daily life, from cuisine to interior design. Specialist Japanese homeware companies, like Sansho, source handmade products that embody the Wabi-Sabi philosophy. Their products, largely made from natural materials, are handcrafted by traditional Japanese artisans – meaning no two pieces are the same and no two pieces are “perfect” in size or shape.
Mottainai is a term expressing a feeling of regret concerning waste, translating roughly in English to either “what a waste!” or “Don’t waste!”. The philosophy emphasizes the intrinsic value of a resource or object, and is linked to hinto animism, the notion that all objects have a spirit, or ‘kami’. The idea that we are part of nature is a key part of Japanese psychology.
Mottainai also has origins in Buddhist philosophy. The Buddhist monastic tradition emphasizes a life of frugality, to allow us to concentrate on attaining enlightenment. It is from this move towards frugality that a link to Mottainai as a concept of waste can be made.
How have Wabi-Sabi and Mottainai promoted eco living?
Wabi-Sabi is still a prominent feature of Japanese life today, and has remained instrumental in the way people design their homes. The ideas of imperfection and frugality are hugely influential.
For example, instead of buying a brand-new kitchen table, many Japanese people instead retain a table that has been passed through the generations. Although its long use can be seen by various marks and scratches, Wabi-Sabi has taught people that they should value it because of its imperfect nature. Those scratches and marks are a story and signify the passage of time. This is a far cry from what we typically associate with the Western World.
Like Wabi Sabi, Mottainai is manifested throughout Japanese life, creating a great respect for Japanese resources. This has had a major impact on home design. For example, the Japanese prefer natural materials in their homes, such as using soil and dried grass as thermal insulation.
Their influence in the UK
The UK appears to be increasingly influenced by thes two concepts. Some new reports indicate that Wabi Sabi has been labelled as ‘the trend of 2018’. For example, Japanese ofuro baths inspired the project that won the New London Architecture’s 2017 Don’t Move, Improve award. Ofuro baths are smaller than typical baths, use less water, and are usually made out of natural materials, like hinoki wood.
Many other UK properties have also been influenced by these philosophies, such as natural Kebony wood being applied to the external cladding of a Victorian property in Hampstead; or a house in Lancaster Gate using rice paper partitions as sub-dividers. These examples embody the spirit of both philosophies. They are representative of Mottainai because of their use of natural resources to discourage waste. And they’re reflective of Wabi-Sabi because they accept imperfect materials that have not been engineered or modified.
In a world that is plagued by mass over-consumption and an incessant need for novelty, the ancient concepts of Mottainai and Wabi-Sabi provide a blueprint for living a more sustainable life. They help us to reduce consumption and put less of a strain on the planet. This refreshing mindset can help us transform the way we go about our day to day lives.
What Should We Make of The Clean Growth Strategy?
It was hardly surprising the Clean Growth Strategy (CGS) was much anticipated by industry and environmentalists. After all, its publication was pushed back a couple of times. But with the document now in the public domain, and the Government having run a consultation on its content, what ultimately should we make of what’s perhaps one of the most important publications to come out of the Department for Business, Energy and the Industrial Strategy (BEIS) in the past 12 months?
The starting point, inevitably, is to decide what the document is and isn’t. It is, certainly, a lengthy and considered direction-setter – not just for the Government, but for business and industry, and indeed for consumers. While much of the content was favourably received in terms of highlighting ways to ensure clean growth, critics – not unjustifiably – suggested it was long on pages but short on detailed and finite policy commitments, accompanied by clear timeframes for action.
A Strategy, Instead of a Plan
But should we really be surprised? The answer, in all honesty, is probably not really. BEIS ministers had made no secret of the fact they would be publishing a ‘strategy’ as opposed to a ‘plan,’ and that gave every indication the CGS would set a direction of travel and be largely aspirational. The Government had consulted on its content, and will likely respond to the consultation during the course of 2018. And that’s when we might see more defined policy commitments and timeframes from action.
The second criticism one might level at the CGS is that indicated the use of ‘flexibilities’ to achieve targets set in the carbon budgets – essentially using past results to offset more recent failings to keep pace with emissions targets. Claire Perry has since appeared in front of the BEIS Select Committee and insisted she would be personally disappointed if the UK used flexibilities to fill the shortfall in meeting the fourth and fifth carbon budgets, but this is difficult ground for the Government. The Committee on Climate Change was critical of the proposed use of efficiencies, which would somewhat undermine ministers’ good intentions and commitment to clean growth – particularly set against November’s Budget, in which the Chancellor maintained the current carbon price floor (potentially giving a reprieve to coal) and introduced tax changes favourable to North Sea oil producers.
A 12 Month Green Energy Initiative with Real Teeth
But, there is much to appreciate and commend about the CGS. It fits into a 12-month narrative for BEIS ministers, in which they have clearly shown a commitment to clean growth, improving energy efficiency and cutting carbon emissions. Those 12 months have seen the launch of the Industrial Strategy – firstly in Green Paper form, which led to the launch of the Faraday Challenge, and then a White Paper in which clean growth was considered a ‘grand challenge’ for government. Throughout these publications – and indeed again with the CGS – the Government has shown itself to be an advocate of smart systems and demand response, including the development of battery technology.
Electrical Storage Development at Center of Broader Green Energy Push
While the Faraday Challenge is primarily focused on the development of batteries to support the proliferation of electric vehicles (which will support cuts to carbon emissions), it will also drive down technology costs, supporting the deployment of small and utility-scale storage that will fully harness the capability of renewables. Solar and wind made record contributions to UK electricity generation in 2017, and the development of storage capacity will help both reduce consumer costs and support decarbonisation.
The other thing the CGS showed us it that the Government is happy to be a disrupter in the energy market. The headline from the publication was the plans for legislation to empower Ofgem to cap the costs of Standard Variable Tariffs. This had been an aspiration of ministers for months, and there’s little doubt that driving down costs for consumers will be a trend within BEIS policy throughout 2018.
But the Government also seems happy to support disruption in the renewables market, as evidenced by the commitment (in the CGS) to more than half a billion pounds of investment in Pot 2 of Contracts for Difference (CfDs) – where the focus will be on emerging rather than established technologies.
This inevitably prompted ire from some within the industry, particularly proponents of solar, which is making an increasing contribution to the UK’s energy mix. But, again, we shouldn’t really be surprised. Since the subsidy cuts of 2015, ministers have given no indication or cause to think there will be public money afforded to solar development. Including solar within the CfD auction would have been a seismic shift in policy. And while ministers’ insistence in subsidy-free solar as the way forward has been shown to be based on a single project, we should expect that as costs continue to be driven down and solar makes record contributions to electricity generation, investment will follow – and there will ultimately be more subsidy-free solar farms, albeit perhaps not in 2018.
Meanwhile, by promoting emerging technologies like remote island wind, the Government appears to be favouring diversification and that it has a range of resources available to meet consumer demand. Perhaps more prescient than the decision to exclude established renewables from the CfD auction is the subsequent confirmation in the budget that Pot 2 of CfDs will be the last commitment of public money to renewable energy before 2025.
In short, we should view the CGS as a step in the right direction, albeit one the Government should be elaborating on in its consultation response. Its publication, coupled with the advancement this year of the Industrial Strategy indicates ministers are committed to the clean growth agenda. The question is now how the aspirations set out in the CGS – including the development of demand response capacity for the grid, and improving the energy efficiency of commercial and residential premises – will be realised.
It’s a step in the right direction. But, inevitably, there’s much more work to do.
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