Let’s take a cursory look at the relevant provisions of Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and the Indian constitution. Article 25 (1) of UDHR states, "Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control." This is contextualized through Article 21 of the Constitution of India, "No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law." As a global entity, Vedanta has clearly violated the provisions of human rights and constitutional rights and needs to be accountable for the travails of people in the Indian subcontinent and towards the law of the land.
A 1993 report in the Down To Earth magazine states the role of the Ratnagiri Bachao Sangharsh Samiti in Maharashtra protested the Zadgaon plant of Sterlite Industries India Ltd. campaigning against the toxic sulphur dioxide gas that was being released and an Environment Impact Analysis (EIA) was ordered by the then Chief Minister of Maharashtra, Sharad Pawar. However the report was hidden from the public eye. The concerted effort of the citizens and farmers in the area made the closure of the copper plant possible.
Fast forward 25 years from 1993, thirteen people were shot dead by the Tamil Nadu police on May 22 2018 in Thoothukudi so that the profits of Anil Agarwal, the Founder and Chairman of Vedanta and his conglomerate remained undisturbed, at every human cost, possible. In 2017, Anil Agarwal was the 44th richest Indian according to the Forbes India Rich List, ahead of Anil Ambani and Reddy Family among others with a net worth of 3.2 Billion USD. The revenue of Vedanta Resources PLC as of May 25 2018 is 9.99bn (Great Britain Pound) or 910,573,420,095.00 INR
The setting up of copper smelting factory in Tamil Nadu in the year 1994 was only made possible after their proposals to set up large-scale copper smelter production was rejected by Gujarat, Goa and Maharashtra. In 2014, the Supreme Court set aside the April 2010 judgment of the Madras High Court but with a fine of 18.4 million USD, thus cancelling the High Court's order to close the copper plant which was producing around 400,000 tonnes annually. Yet, it is pertinent to note that the Supreme court let Tamil Nadu government take punitive action against the Vedanta subsidiary but the TN government did not take a tough stand against this global conglomerate which continued to flout the environmental guidelines putting Thoothukudi people's lives in peril, more so after the reopening of the plant, post-SC judgment.
Sterlite Copper, the Business Unit of Vedanta Limited has created havoc in the lives of Thoothukudi people, a sweet poison that was bound to become sour with each passing moment. Sterlite Copper plays the corporate responsibility card very well to cover up their capitalist sins. In the Financial year 2018 alone, Vedanta spent Rs 285 crores in Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) activities. The question here is that how will Sterlite account for the fact that the second largest Cancer facility after the one available at Madras is in Thoothukudi?
Importantly the violation of fundamental human rights issues that adversely impacts the long-term livelihood of the citizens of Tuticorin must disturb every informed and citizen whose life embodies the betterment of people groups undergoing multiple marginalizations in the era of global capital mixed with political indifference for immoral kickbacks, making this a perfect case for political capitalism. Here in the case of Vedanta, politics and capital go hand in hand together as twins, not letting go of each other in order to profit together at the expense of invaluable human lives. This shall be clear from the legal scenario outlined below.
Vedanta has supported both BJP and Congress, in the form of donations for political purposes and this issue was contested in a litigation represented by ‘Association for Democratic Reforms’ and another versus Union of India. This case was regarding “the blatant violation of the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act, 1976 (“FCRA”) by political parties thereby making a clear connection about the use of foreign contributions for political purposes. The above judgment delivered on March 28, 2014 places the blame on Vedanta Resources plc. The Judgment states that "the said company has also made donations to political parties. The petitioner brings home with reference to the annual report of Vedanta Resources that it owns 55.1% of the issued share capital of Sterlite. The petitioner would concede that Sh. Anil Aggarwal, an Indian National and a citizen of India holds more than 50% issued share capital of Vedanta Resources plc.” The Sterlite giant stand indicted on all counts and is in an inescapable position to assume moral responsibility for its human rights abuses in the case of Tuticorin, Tamil Nadu.
Taking a look at Sterlite through the popular culture helps, as this captures the mood and sentiments of the people and Tamil youngsters who are increasingly becoming aware of the issues that require attention. In the opening scenes of the Tamil political satire titled Sterlite Paavangal by the Tamil YouTube channel Parithaabangal, the person who represents Sterlite requests Maharashtra, Jharkhand, Gujarat and Goa about accepting his offer which they reject. The Sterlite man responds, "will I not get a coward?” and comments looking at Tamil Nadu as the one tailor-made place for his conniving agenda. He says “let's make copper and make India richer." Tamil Nadu is not perturbed but when the person playing Sterlite mentions money, the person representing TN becomes curious about the deal and allows Sterlite to do whatever it wishes. This is a scathing indictment of the political climate in Tamil Nadu that is selling its people, the land, water and air for corporate expansion. No wonder the tactics used during ‘Emergency’ are being unleashed against the citizens of Tamil Nadu to prove they are non-human, non-citizens and cowards. Jai Hind
About the Author: Trevor J. Raj finished his M. Phil (English) from University of Delhi and was the Coordinator of Ambedkar Reading Group [Delhi University]. He has previously contributed to The Companion, Round Table India and Raiot.