Sun Has Shone On The Communities At The Vibrant Demo Against Vedanta Resources

By Rumana Hashem

Monday, the 14th August, was apparently a bright day for the communities oppressed by a notorious British mining company, called Vedanta Resources. Protests held by communities in Zambia, India and London while activist-shareholders, representing the communities, were interrogating the Vedanta board at their Annual General Meeting at the Lincoln Centre in Lincoln Inn Fields in London. Although residents of Lincoln Inn Fields have seen lousy weather with gusty wind and non-stop rain across London for weeks before Monday, the gorgeous sun has shown up to brighten the colourful and powerful protest of communities against Vedanta Resources last Monday.  Loud and theatrical protest was held outside the AGM of the British mining company, for three hours, accusing the company of major environmental and human rights abuses across its operations. I was one of the late comers though there were numerous protesters with noisy instruments and colourful banners and placards till late afternoon who greeted me in smiling face. They said, as were determined, that: “We wouldn’t leave the venue hitherto the miners are out of the block”.

 

Parallel protests and meetings were held by affected communities and their supporters at several locations in India and Zambia. Inside the AGM, dissident shareholders in London asked questions on behalf of Zambian villagers who are suing Vedanta in the UK for twelve years of polluted water, and tribal inhabitants of the Niyamgiri hills in Odisha, India, who accuse Vedanta of murdering and harassing them with state collusion. Organised by the Foil Vedanta, the protest in London was joined by many grassroots organisations and community activists from the global South.

 

The shareholders, representing communities, poured scorn on Vedanta’s 2017 Annual Report, which claims that the company ‘demonstrate world-class standards of governance, safety, sustainability and social responsibility’. They say it represents a poor attempt to don the “cloak of respectability” of a London listing noting that Vedanta was again excluded from the Norwegian Pension Fund’s investments this year following an investigation which found “numerous reports of Vedanta’s failure to comply with government requirements”1 at four subsidiaries in Odisha, Chhatisgarh, Tamil Nadu and Zambia. The report concludes that: “there continues to be an unacceptable risk that your company will cause or contribute to severe environmental damage and serious or systematic human rights violations.”

 

On Sunday, a day before the AGM, farming communities living downstream of copper mines run by Vedanta subsidiary Konkola Copper Mines (KCM) in Chingola, Zambia, held a meeting in Hippo Pool to renew their resolve in their twelve year struggle against the company for severe water pollution which has caused major health problems, and rendered land uncultivable. Police had refused them permission to hold a protest. Government officials visited their villages in Spring this year asking them to drop their London case against Vedanta and settle out of court with the company. The Headmen of Hippo Pool village submitted a statement to the Vedanta board and shareholders which was asked by Shoda Rackal from Women of Colour in Global Women’s Strike. The statement notes:

 

The people here are sick and tired of pollution which is killing us through illness and loss of our crops and fish. The pollution must end at all costs. Whether we receive compensation or not, we are asking you to stop polluting us now.”

 

Another dissident shareholder asked why Vedanta’s Annual Report makes no mention of its liabilities relating to the landmark legal case in which 1,826 of the farmers have been granted jurisdiction to sue Vedanta in London for gross pollution by KCM. At the July appeal hearing in the case, Vedanta’s lawyers claimed that the company’s sustainability and human rights reports are only produced for show as a requirement of London Stock Exchange rules. Instead they claimed Vedanta Resources has very little actual oversight or involvement with subsidiary operations such as Konkola Copper Mines.2

 

Meanwhile in Zambia debate rages over KCM’s secret finances as the company on Thursday announced it would retrench a further swathe of workers in favour of contract labour at its Nchanga underground mines. KCM have never filed Annual accounts in Zambia according to the recent London judgment.3 Samarendra Das from Foil Vedanta says:

The UK Government and London Stock Exchange are directly responsible for failing to investigate Vedanta’s corporate crimes in India and Zambia since its London listing in 2003. The Zambian State’s threats to polluted farmers demonstrate the ongoing colonial power of this British corporation which acts more powerful than the Zambian State.”

“Britain is profiting from the financial transactions of non-domiciled family-run business houses like Anil Agarwal’s Vedanta, while appearing to provide them a service. The opaqueness of the British financial system is gaining directly from giving Anil Agarwal “a cloak of respectability” and in exchange Britain itself is gaining from appropriating the resources of the third world”, adds Das.

 

Anil Agarwal with polluted water at the Vedanta AGM 14 August 2017. Photo credit: Foil Vedanta

In Chattisgarh the organisation Adivasi Resurgence held a protest at Ambedkar Chowk in Raipur, decrying Vedanta’s suppression of the Bakshi Commission report into the death of between 40 and 100 workers when a chimney collapsed at their Korba power plant.4 The inquiry found Vedanta as guilty of negligence and using sub-standard materials and construction methods which caused the death of the workers.5

 

At the University of Hyderabad the group Odisha Scholars for Social Justice held a protest and meeting today in solidarity with communities affected by Vedanta’s operations worldwide. In Delhi, students from Birsa Ambedkar Phule Students’ Association (BAPSA) held a solidarity demonstration at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) calling for an end to the displacement and repression of Dalit, Bahujan and Adivasi communities across India by Vedanta.

 

While their Annual Report claims to respect the right to ‘Free Prior Informed Consent’, Vedanta has not given up its plans to mine the Niyamgiri hills, despite a unanimous referendum against it by tribal inhabitants in 2013. The Odisha Mining Corporation (OMC) has filed a new plea with the National Green Tribunal to overturn the referendum, claiming it overstepped the provisions of the Forest Rights Act by allowing Palli Sabhas to decide on mining, rather than merely settling their claims.6 In September 2016 a group of Dongria Kond had burned down a CRPF (Central Reserve Police Force) camp, opposing construction of a road connecting Niyamgiri to Kalyansingpur, which they claim is to aid Vedanta’s mine plans, and opposing ongoing harassment by the force.7

 

Last Friday five villages around another Odisha bauxite mountain – Kodingamali – held a palli sabha (village council) opposing the proposed mining of the mountain by OMC to feed Vedanta’s Lanjigarh refinery.8 They passed a resolution “not to give any patta land, forest land and community land to any mining company” under the banner of Ganatantrik Adhikar Suraksha Sangathan.

 

The Dongria Konds also held a protest on Tuesday in Lakhpadar village on Niyamgiri mountain under the banner of Niyamgiri Suraksha Samiti (NSS). They demanded the dismantling the Lanjigarh refinery since Vedanta did not get permission to mine, and an end to its illegal expansion. They also demand an end to the militarisation of Niyamgiri, claiming that the anti-Maoist programs are in fact targeting the tribal activists. Ongoing abductions, false arrests and State sponsored murders of tribal activists against Vedanta’s mine have been highly publicised in recent months.An NSS spokesperson Lingaraj Azad said:

 

Vedanta didn’t get permission to mine so why are they keeping the Lanjigarh refinery? which continues to pollute our communities, affecting our ecology and water resources and making people and animals sick.”

In August 2016 Vedanta Head, Anil Agarwal, told a press conference that he had asked Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik to deal with the ‘disruptive elements’ holding up bauxite mining in the State, suggesting he follow the Tamil Nadu government’s approach with protesters at Kudankulam, where widespread police brutality was reported.9 In February 2016 Vedanta employed the services of former Iraq war General Sir Richard Shirreff, and Lord Peter Hain, former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, in ‘handling local protest groups’.10

 

Vedanta Resources are again the subject of multiple major scams and several international arbitrations this year. An international arbitration is underway for Vedanta’s withholding of $100 million in dividends from Cairn Energy, owner of 9.8% shares in Vedanta controlled oil company Cairn India.11 In December 2016 London courts ordered Vedanta subsidiary Konkola Copper Mines to pay $103 million in withheld dividends to Zambian State entity ZCCM-IH.12

 

The Rajasthani High Court has uncovered a Rs 600 crore ($96 million) tax evasion scam in which Vedanta subsidiary Hindustan Zinc Ltd (HZL) benefitted from tax fraud at the hands of shamed IAS officer Ashok Singhvi in 2015.13 HZL is the subject of another major scam in which it closed its Visakhapatnam Zinc smelter on false grounds to enable the sale of the land for high value realty. HZL is also accused of major toxic pollution at the site.14

 

In Punjab, Vedanta subsidiary Talwandi Sabo Power Ltd is the subject of a major power purchase scam in which the Akali Dal government bought power at inflated prices from the private company over cheaper State owned companies.15 Former Rio Tinto CEO, Tom Albanese, will step down from Vedanta’s board at this year’s AGM along with executives Euan MacDonald and Aman Mehta. Vedanta’s CEO of Zambian operations Steven Din has recently been accused of offering bribes for the Simandou iron ore mine by the former Guinean mining minister, as part of a major corruption investigation. Din was head of Rio Tinto’s Guinean operation at the time the scandal unfolded, while Tom Albanese was CEO.16 Recent analyst reports highlight Vedanta’s high debt, lack of bauxite at Lanjigarh refinery, and operational issues in Zambia.

Reports have detailed how twelve years of pollution by KCM has turned the river Kafue into a ‘river of acid’19 20 and left the farmers with no access to clean water. As well as suing KCM and Vedanta in the UK for personal injury and loss of livelihood due to gross pollution, the villagers are demanding that KCM de-silt and remediate the contaminated areas so they can return to normal life.

An estimated 40,000 people in total are affected by contaminated water which also affects the municipal piped water system21. A number of scientific papers have documented the extent of contamination, with acid pH and heavy metal content regularly tens and even hundreds of times above legal limits.22 23 24

 

One villager Judith Kapumba appears in a youtube video testifying to how contamination has destroyed their livelihood and their lives, has claimed that many have ‘collapsed and died’ as a result of illnesses caused by drinking contaminated water, and that crops can no longer grow leading to starvation and extreme poverty. 25

 

 

For further details visit Foil Vedanta website:  www.foilvedanta.org

For photos and a short film of London demonstration, visit Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/FoilVedanta/

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LONDON PICKET Of BRITISH MINERS Of DEVASTATIVE PHULBARI COAL PROJECT

               PRESS RELEASE 15 Dec 2016

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Thursday, London: Bangladeshi protesters from Phulbari were joined by transnational climate activists in a picket of directors of Global Coal Management (GCM) Resources Plc, an AIM-listed British mining company who want to build a massive open cast coal mine by forcibly displacing 130,000 people in Phulbari, Bangladesh. During the company’s annual general meeting (AGM) on Thursday 15 December in London a large group of protesters holding colourful banners and placards with powerful messages occupied the entrance of Aeronautical Society , an elite venue near Hyde Park Corner, where the AGM of GCM Resources was held.

 

 

 

Anti-coal protesters outside and inside the AGM called to shut down GCM Resources because the company does not have a valid license for business with Bangladesh but they are selling shares in London and committing abuse and human rights violation of farmers and local businessmen in Phulbari. Protesters outside the AGM chanted “CGM, out out”, “Gary Lye, blood on your hands”, referring to 26 August in 2006, when three people were shot dead and two hundred injured in a demonstration of 80,000 people for opposing plans by the company’s Bangladesh subsidiary, Asia Energy.

 

bangladeshi-postdoc-researcher-rashed-and-business-enterprenure-jahnara-rahman-joined-action-demo-with-ncbduk-president-dr-mukul

Dissident voices before entering the AGM express solidarity with the protesters outside  4 Hamilton Place, London. Photo by Golam Rabbani

A delegation of dissidents went inside the AGM and powerfully interrogated the company directors who failed to show evidence of any valid licence for business. The poorly attended AGM, which had only 10 shareholders including the company PR and excluding the six dissident voices, was quickly closed by the Chairman, Michael Tang, who was unable to answer any question from the floor.

 

This year marked the tenth anniversary of Phulbari outburst. The Phulbari project threatens to destroy the homes, lands, and water sources of as many as 220,000 people, and forcibly evict an estimated 130,000 people. If implemented, it would destroy 14,600 hectares of highly cultivable land and would leave devastative impact on the world’s largest mangrove forests and UNESCO heritage site, the Sunderbans. Earlier this year Phulbari Solidarity Group and Bangladesh National Committee called on London Stock Exchange to de-list GCM from London Stock Exchange.

 

 

Rumana Hashem of Phulbari Solidarity Group and an eye-witness to the killings in 2006 said:

The company’s CEO, Gary Lye, has been systematically abusing local opponents of the project. Earlier this year, Lye has filed multiple arbitrary cases against 26 frontline local opponents, farmers, and small business entrepreneurs against mining in Phulbari and Dinajpur. This is incredible, and human rights abuse facing the innocent people and their families who never had anything to do with violence before this company inflicted violence in Phulbari.  

 

Akhter Sobhan Khan of Committee to Protect Resources of Bangladesh stated:

The Bangladesh government withdrew the mining licence in the wake of GCM’s atrocity but the company continues its dodgy attempts to raise funds for the operation of a perilous project. CGM is selling shares in the name of the Phulbari project in London.

 

Thursday’s picket event was co-organised by Phulbari Solidarity Group and the Committee to Protect Oil, Gas, Mineral Resources, Power and Ports in Bangladesh. Action outside and inside the AGM was joined by transnational activists from Foil Vedanta, London Mining Network, Coal Action Network, UKBioregional, Plane Stupid, Reclaim the Power, Socialist Party of England and Wales, Transition by Design, and many Bangladeshi community protesters from Tower Hamlets and East London in the UK. Protesters say that they will not sleep until the company has closed its office in Dhaka and left Bangladesh.

Read a full report on the GCM Resources AGM by Richard Solly at London Mining Network http://londonminingnetwork.org/2016/12/gcm-resources-at-phulbari-perseverance-or-perversity/
Further news here http://m.socialistparty.org.uk/articles/24116/15-12-2016/picket-against-coal-project-in-bangladesh

 

Action to Shut Down GCM Resources plc.

When? 10:30am to 1pm on Thursday 15 December

Where? 4 Hamilton Place, London W1J 7BQ (Nearest tube station: Hyde Park Corner)

 

Hand-painted banner for victims of Phulbari shooting. Photo credit: Peter Marshall

This year marked the tenth anniversary of Phulbari outburst, where three people were shot dead and two hundred injured in a demonstration of 80,000 people in 2006 for opposing plans by a London-based AIM-listed mining company, Global Coal Management Resources (GCM).  Formerly known as Asia Energy, the company wants to build a massive open cast coal mine in Phulbari, Bangladesh. The project threatens to destroy the homes, lands, and water sources of as many as 220,000 people, and forcibly evict an estimated 130,000 people. If implemented, it would destroy 14,600 hectares of highly cultivable land and would leave devastative impact on the world’s largest mangrove forests and UNESCO heritage site, the Sunderbans.

 

The government has declined to renew GCM’s license. The company does not hold a valid contract with Bangladesh, while they are selling shares in the name of Phulbari project in London. GCM’s CEO, Gary Lye, has been systematically abusing local opponents of the project. Earlier this year, Lye has filed multiple arbitrary cases against 26 frontline local leaders against mining in Phulbari and Dinajpur, making the lives of local farmers and small business entrepreneurs unbearable.

 

We have been telling the company to stop abuse and corruption in Bangladesh for years. We have been going to their annual general meetings every year since 2008 but they cannot hear us. In 2012 Santa Claus has poured a sack of coal on the desk of board of directors as a punishment, and subsequently the ex-chairman of the company has resigned and the company had to change venue from Tower Hamlets to 4 Hamilton Place in Holborn. We have also written to UK’s ex-prime minister, David Cameron , who said that he would have looked into the case but never did. We have submitted three separate complaints to Houses of Parliament in the UK and our friends at International Accountability Project and Global Justice Now have lodged an OECD complaint to UK’s National Contact Point. In 2013 and 2014, Phulbari protesters  have disrupted GCM’s AGM and dumped coal in the door way which the corrupt investors should have found hard to forget. Last year we have given a final notice of closure to the company which a delegation of protesters inside the AGM has read out and handed in to the current chairman, Michael Tang. Yet GCM  continues to push Bangladesh government to approve a dodgy deal that is absurd.

The company has announced to hold its annual general meeting on 15 December in 2016. Therefore, we are heading to Aeronautical Society to disrupt and shut down GCM’s annual general meeting. We will charge the corrupt businessmen inside and outside the AGM. They must learn a better lesson than previous years.

JOIN US Inside and Outside the AGM on Thursday 15 December at 4 Hamilton Place, London W1J 7BQ (Nearest tube station: Hyde Park Corner).

Please confirm your participation via Facebook here. Bring your noisy instruments and whistles to disrupt the AGM of corrupt miners. See you there!

Contact for further information:  07714288221, 07956260791, 07861686036, Email: nationalcommittee.uk@gmail.com , phulbarisolidaritygroup@gmail.com

 

Protesters Call To DE-LIST Global Coal Management PLC.From London Stock Exchange

Commemoration and celebration go together at London Stock Exchange 26 August 2016 Photocredit Peter Marshall

Commemoration and celebration go together at London Stock Exchange 26 August 2016 Photo credit Peter Marshall

PHULBARI DAY VIGIL TURNS INTO HEATED DEMO

By Paul Dudman

 

Friday the 26th August, marked a decade of halt to plans by an AIM-listed British company, Global Coal Resources Management (GCM), who want to build a massive open cast coal mine by forcibly displacing 130,000 people in Phulbari, northwest Bangladesh. A four day long Commemoration for victims of Phulbari outburst, where three protesters were shot dead by police in 2006, was held in Dkaka, Dinajpur, Phulbari, London and Germany. On the final day of remembrance, on 30th August, the National Committee to Protect Oil, Gas, Mineral Resources, Power and Ports in Bangladesh has declared a fresh programme in Phulbari to kick GCM out of Bangladesh as the CEO of the company has recently filed multiple arbitrary charges against indigenous farmers, small businessmen and local leaders who opposed the mine.

 

In response to the call by National Committee to Protect Oil, Gas, Mineral Resources, Power and Ports in Bangladesh, community activists under the banner of Phulbari Solidarity Group and Committee to Protect Resources of Bangladesh held a colourful and powerful commemoration rally and protest at London Stock Exchange , calling for the de-listing of the company from London Stock Exchange. Despite heavy securitization and repeated attempts of interruption by British police, angry protesters blocked the pavement of the main entrance of London Stock Exchange for two hours and demanded immediate de-registration of GCM for its unethical business, deceitful marketing of Phullbari project, and for human rights abuse in Dinajpur and Phulbari. Of what was meant to be a Red Vigil for Victims of Phulbari has turned into a commemoration come noise demo as the CEO of London Stock Exchange, Xavier Rolet KBE, failed to respond to the protesters’ call for de-listing of GCM. The Phulbari Solidarity Group has contacted the CEO of London Stock Exchange and submitted evidence of unethical business of the company before the demo.

 

Police objects to PSG Founder Rumana Hashem to remove the banner from the pavement copyright Peter Marshall

Police objects to the blockade of LSE pavement but  PSG Founder Rumana Hashem says:” the banner for the victims will not be removed.” Photo credit: Peter Marshall

A remembrance vigil was held, followed by an angry demo with Santal and Tamil drumming, and ended with tribute by flowers and candles being paid to the three people who were killed by paramilitary force, allegedly paid by the company, in Phulbari on 26 August in 2006. Wearing masks of Gary Lye (CEO of GCM) and Michael Tang (the Chairman of the company), the protesters sang Phulbari jingles against coal mine. The protest observed a three-minute silence for the three victims, Al—Amin, Salekin and Tariqul, who died in the Phulbari shooting. Dressed in red, blue and black, protesters laid down a banner for victims, stating “YOUR DEATH WILL NOT BE IN VAIN”, on the pavement of the London Stock Exchange. Protesters from Bangladesh were joined by international and British environmental campaigners, and advocates for human rights, anti-mining movement and workers rights.

Shameless Gary Lye and Blatant lyer Michael Tang dance with coal over deadbodies Photocredit Peter Marshall

GCM CEO Gary Lye and company Chairman Michael Tang stood as numb and blatant guilty copyright Peter Marhsall

GCM CEO Gary Lye and company Chairman Michael Tang stood as numb and blatant guilty. Photocredit: Peter Marhsall

 

 

Dressed in red, blue and black protesters outside the London Stock Exchange paid a two-hour homage to the victims. A banner, stating “YOUR DEATH WILL NOT BE IN VAIN” was laid on the pavement of the London Stock Exchange Group’s Headquarter for International Trading.

 

Hand-painted banner for victims of Phulbari shooting. Photocredit: Peter Marshall

Hand-painted banner for victims of Phulbari shooting. Photocredit: Peter Marshall

Protesters from Bangladesh were joined by international and British environmental campaigners, and advocates for human rights, anti-mining and workers rights. Among others, Foil Vedanta, European Action for Climate, London Mining Network, Global Justice Campaign, the Socialist Party of England and Wales, Tamil Solidarity and Voice of Freedom have made it explicit that they will stand with Phulbari people in their struggle. The sound of compassion, sadness, empowerment and resistance echoed in the protest, and the firm speeches by passionate activists and outrageous crimes by British multinational companies overseas was heard by the entire Paternoster Square on Friday – although none from London Stock Exchange seemed concerned about these crimes.

 

Simultaneously, tributes were paid to the victims of Phulbari at National Martyrs Monument in Dhaka, and red vigil and cultural events took place in Phulbari under the banner of National Committee to Protect Oil, Gas, Mineral Resources, Power and Port in Bangladesh (NCBD in short). In the four-day commemoration events (26-30 August) and celebration of the halt, they demanded the ban of the company in Bangladesh for its ongoing abuse of activists in Phulbari and increasing corruption in Bangladesh.

 

 

Christine Hague of Global Justice told how partially OECD complaint agaisnt GCM was treated by UK NCP Photocredit Peter Marshall

Christine Hague of Global Justice told how partially OECD complaint against GCM was treated by UK NCP. Photo credit: Peter Marshall

The company has been allegedly involved in various forms of abuse and harassment of local activists and opponents of the proposed Phulbari mine. Media report on the brutal death of Nasrin Huq , the former executive director of Action Aid in Dhaka, revealed that in 2005 Huq was killed brutally in her car park for her opposition to the project. A report to which the company was unable to respond was published in the Observer.[i]  Later in 2006 three people were shot dead and two hundred injured in a demonstration of 80,000 people who marched against plans by the company. Local organisers have reported that the company has bribed the paramilitary personnel and forced them to open fire against the decision of the Police Magistrate on duty who stated that there was no permission for shooting on people. There were over 200 people injured and many abused on the same day. The day has been called Phulbari Day since, and powerful resistance in the aftermath of the shooting against open-cast mine in Phulbari has put a decade long halt to the project. Government has cancelled the company’s license. But the company has been pushing the government to give them a go ahead.

 

Shameless Gary Lye and Michael Tang dance with coal over deadbodies Photocredit Peter MarshallThe company’s CEO, Gary N Lye, has been allegedly harassing opponents of the project and the company has been extremely abusive to indigenous farmers, local organisers of Phulbari outburst, and small business entrepreneurs who demanded the company’s ban in Phulbari. After the shooting and deaths of three people on 26 August in 2006, Gary Lye stated that he is businessman and he understands nothing but coal. In a live interview with Farzana Rupa on ATN Bangla TV, Lye said: “I am a businessman , my business is to extract coal. It is not my business to know who dies and who cries” (ATN Bangla News, 26 August 2006).  Locals have declared that this CEO is unwanted in Phulbari and when he attempted to re-enter Phulbari town he was resisted by locals in November 2014.

 

Last month, a day before the International Mangrove Action Day when Bangladeshis was focused on the controversial deal on Rampal power plant, the company has filed multiple cases against 26 key indigenous organiser’s, local leaders, farmers, small scale business entrepreneurs and students who opposed the mine in Phulbari. The arbitrary charges formed on 25 July, 2016, at Dinajpur Magistrate Court appeared as extremely abusive and the next hearing on 7 September will be a crucial day for all those fighting the fraught.

 

The NCBD has declared a fresh programme on Phulbari Day to fight GCM and ban the Phulbari project. This includes rally demanding a ban of the company in Phulbari on 25 October, blockade of the Dinajpur District Commissioner’s Office on 21 November and half-day strike in Phulbari on 21 December. If demands are unfulfilled by December, intense and unending strike would start. Phulbari Solidarity Group believes that that this will not be needed as activists in London will hold the company to account and will ensure a ban of GCM from London Stock Exchange before the end of this year.

Paying tribute to the victms of Phulbari with flowers and by lighting candles on 26 Aug 2006 at London Stock Exchange

Paying tribute to the victms of Phulbari with flowers and by lighting candles on 26 Aug 2006 at London Stock Exchange. Photo credit: Kerima Mohiuddin

 

Although GCM does not have a valid contract with Bangladesh, they are selling shares in the name of Phulbari project. The company has changed its name from Asia Energy to Global Coal Management in 2010, and continued lobbying for Phulbari coal mine in Bangladesh. If the mine is built, 130,000 families of farmers in Phulbari would be forcibly displaced. It would destroy 14,600 hectares of highly cultivable land, would pose threats to clean water resources and would leave devastative impact on one of the world’s largest mangrove forests and UNESCO heritage site, the Sunderbans.  Despite grave concerns at national and international level, and declaration made by seven UN rapporteurs, GCM is pushing the government to give it a go ahead.

 

 

Arguments with Police who prohibited Rumana Hashem to display the banner for the victims on the pavement Copyright Peter Marshall Gary Lye and Michael Tang shamelessly danced with coal over deadbodies Photocredit Peter Marshall

Arguments with Police - a community leader tells Police not to interfere with demonstrators. Photocredit: Peter Marshall

Arguments with Police – a community leader tells Police not to interfere with demonstrators. Photo credit: Peter Marshall

 

Phulbari Solidairty Group Founder and an eye witness to the shooting in 2006 lights a cnadle for the victims of Phulbari on 26 August 2006 at London Stock Exchange. Photocredit : Peter Marshall

Phulbari Solidairty Group’s Founder and an eye witness to the shooting in 2006, Dr Rumana Hashem, lights a candle for the victims of Phulbari at the entrance of London Stock Exchange. Photo credit : Peter Marshall

Contact for further information:  07714288221, 07956260791.

Further news, photos and videos:

Ten years of Resistance to Phulbari Open Cast Mine: Peter Marshall’s Mylondondiary.co.uk

A video of the noise-demo to de-list GCM from London Stock Exchange (by Pete Mason of Socialist Party of England and Wales): https://youtu.be/-_cKiRWt9NI

London Stock Exchange targeted by Bangladeshi activists: Foil Vedanta report

Phulbari Day protest outside London Stock Exchange: Begum24.com by Ansar Ahemd Ullah

[i]  The mystery death of Nasrin Huq –a report to which the company was not able to respond to, was derived from http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2006/sep/03/bangladesh, last cited on 01. 01. 2013

An Eye Witness of the shooting and outburst in Phulbari: Keeping Coal Resources under the Ground with Blood, A Different Revolution

New Programme to Kick GCM out of Bangladesh declared on Phulbari Day: BNP is Not our Friend 

When will Vedanta be ashamed for their misdeeds?

A personal reflection on notorious Vedanta’s Annual General Meeting (AGM) 2016

Rumana Hashem

Last Friday we saw fantastic global actions against a British mining company, called the Vedanta Resources, who attempted to hold their Annual General Meeting in London but ended up being interrogated by dissident shareholders. The British mining company, Vedanta Resources, is known as notorious for abuse and destruction in the name of development overseas. According to Foil Vedanta report (2016), Vedanta is controlled and 69.6% owned by Brit Anil Agarwal and his family through a series of tax havens and holding companies. It was launched on the London Stock Exchange in 2003 with the assistance of the UK’s Department for International Development (DfID) and Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), who continue with their support for the company. I witnessed their misery in the AGM on Friday the 5th August.

A board member - Anil Agarwals family member needed to be escorted by British police as protesters were angry against Agarwal family for destroying communities . Photocredit: Peter Marshall across the south Photo by Peter Marshall

Foil Vedanta demo shows how British Police was caught by the Vedanta monster on Friday at Ironmongers Hall  by Peter Marshall

A Police was caught by the Vedanta monster on Friday at Ironmongers Hall. Photocredit: Peter Marshall

 

Like every year, protests have been held in India, London and Zambia during the AGM of Vedanta Resources’ at Ironmongers Hall, Barbican, London. A loud protest outside the meeting was organised by Foil Vedanta and was joined by many southern grassroots organisations and community activists from India, Indonesia, Namibia, South Afrika and Zambia. Protesters demanded that Vedanta subsidiary Konkola Copper Mines publish its hitherto secret annual accounts in Zambia. Community activists accused the company of pollution, human rights abuses and financial mismanagement in India and Afrika.

At Vedanta’s AGM activists from Foil Vedanta , Phulbari Solidarity Group, London Mining Network and Mines and Communities interrupted the meeting by asking incisive questions to the board. I joined the meeting with dissident shareholders who raised questions on Vedanta’s pollution in Zambia, and human rights abuses and worker’s deaths in India. We asked questions on behalf of the Zambian Copperbelt villagers living downstream of Vedanta’s Konkola Copper Mines (KCM), who have been demanding an end to twelve years of pollution by KCM, which has turned the Kafue into a ‘river of acid‘ and left them with no access to clean water.

 

We asked why KCM has never submitted annual accounts in Zambia in accordance with national laws, and whether Vedanta’s deliberately obstructive approach to compensation cases as revealed in a recent London judgement was company policy. With regard to the serious safety conditions at Bodai Daldali dissident shareholders asked, “whether the mine is one of the certified 48 mines.” Independent and senior researchers who visited the area in India said that seven years ago he had asked about bauxite operations in Chhattisgarh, including the fact that children were working in the mine, which still await answer. Why had researchers and journalists been stopped at the entrance to the site? How can Vedanta make claims in their CSR reports and not even be bothered to share the report with  villagers? Most of our questions received no clear answer from the board. Vedanta board, led by Anil Agarlwal, appeared perniciously barefaced in the AGM, and failed to answer important questions concerning the abuse and destruction that the company has been doing to the communities across the south. Instead of engaging with our questions, Anil Agarwal ended up flattering us as ‘ladies first’, ‘I like girls’, ‘I am fond of Bangladesh’ so on and so forth.

Foil Vedanta demo at AGM  5 August 2016. Photocredit: Peter Marshall

Foil Vedanta demo at AGM 5 August 2016. Photocredit: Peter Marshall

The meeting began by a rather long introduction by Deepak Kumar, who went into immense detail for around ten minutes over the instructions for use of the handset provided for voting. It followed by the company Chairman, Anil Agarwal’s long speech followed by Vedanta CEO, Tom Albanese’s ever bizarre presentations. In their “sustainable development” report both Mr. Agarwal and Tom Albanese stated that “the priority is”, on the one hand, to focus on “zero harm” and “to ensure zero discharge and waste”, on the other hand. Note this is a mining company that is known as notorious for abuse in India and Zambia. Agarwal insists, even if the company has been causing colossal problems which has landed them in the court, ‘there will be incremental technical improvements that will make things alright eventually’. As Andy Whitmore notes correctly, ‘his slumber is assured by the promise of “zero harm” which is the most peculiar fashion distressing large extractive corporations, or those financing them. But question is: how can a company displacing people to rip up the earth on a vast scale do “zero harm”?

After Tom Albanese presentation, Chairman Agarwal then invited questions from the floor – and there were lots of them. A dissident shareholder from Afrikan communities raised the first question. As he waved his hand to Anil Agarwal and stood up to ask a question, which he drafted on his notebook and intended to read out for the board, Anil Agarlwal interfered, impatiently, and said: ‘you can speak for yourself, we want to hear your voice’. The dissident shareholder, Cecil Gutzmore,  replied, with mild smile: ‘my voice is here. My voice is on the microphone. Do you hear?’

He continued: The 27th May judgement by Justice Coulson in the case Domonic Liswaniso Lungowe verses Vedanta Resources and Konkola Copper Mines gave 1800 Zambian villagers the right to sue Vedanta and KCM in London for loss to their livelihood and health due to KCM’s pollution since 2004. In the judgement Justice Coulson indicted KCM for financial secrecy, historic dishonesty and attempts to pervert the course of justice, and on p.5, paragraph 18, quoted a 2014 London judgement against KCM for failing to pay a contractor – U&M mining. In that case Judges Eder, Cooke and Teare JJ called KCM (and I quote):

 

‘…an entity which has employees willing to give untrue evidence, to cause unnecessary harm, to be obstructive of the arbitration process and to take untenable points with a view to delaying enforcement…a party willing to do all it can to prevent the other party from enforcing its legal rights.’

Cecil continued and said that in paragraph 19 Justice Coulson further stated:

‘there was a revealing statement in those proceedings by the executive director of the mine who said that, although KCM acknowledged that they had failed to pay sums that were due to the claimants in that case, they “would hold on to the money to the end of the dispute, which it would fight bitterly, no matter how long it took, including in Zambia where proceedings would take many years.’

 

He noted further: this attitude is not limited to KCM alone and claimants who have been granted compensation in Talwindi Sabo, Tuticorin and Jharsuguda are also still awaiting payment. Can the board confirm whether obstructing legal procedures and delaying payments is a company policy?

 

An affected community member holds placard and say why he wants to stop Vedanta. Photocredit: Peter Marshall

An affected community member holds placard and say why he wants to stop Vedanta. Photocredit: Peter Marshall

Anil Agarwal and Tom Albanese hardly answered the question. Tom Albanese replied that he had a lot of respect for legal processes (just as well!) so he took Cecil’s comments seriously. He said that the 2014 case referred to was a commercial case which was settled amicably last year. In the process of the resolution of any commercial litigation tensions develop which have to be worked through, and it is the job of management and the board to solve problems and Vedanta satisfied the other party. In Zambia, the case was currently being heard in the UK and Zambia. The company had to recognise that the court will go through its own process but the case will be appealed and heard next year. Vedanta’s position is that the Zambian courts are fully capable of hearing a case like this.

Albanese said that Cecil had referred to a judgement against KCM, which was related to a 2006 spill, a case which Vedanta recognises went against it. He said that ‘not many people have come forward on this’ (it was not clear to me quite what he meant by that) and it ‘shows that the Zambian courts work’. He said that Vedanta should be respecting the courts in the countries where it operates. Vedanta reports transparently and if people want to know KCM’s financial details, they are in the newspaper. KCM has not been making money recently and has been requiring investment from Vedanta to ensure it is still in a position to hire Zambian employees and contractors. The government has conducted forensic audits and nothing has come out. Albanese said he was confident that the company is fully disclosing its Zambian accounts. From time to time there are commercial disputes. Sometimes they can resolve these things and sometimes they cannot, but they respect court proceedings in Zambia.

Cecil drew the CEO’s attention once more to the 1800 Zambian villagers who had recently been given the right to sue the company in London. There was a conversation between Cecil and Albanese about the extent to which Albanese had, or had not, answered Cecil’s questions. Cecil was not convinced that he was being told the truth. That is a suspicion fairly widely held among activists attending Vedanta AGMs.

Anil Agarawal concluded the matter by stating, ‘We will follow all the procedures. The matter is sub judice. We are absolutely transparent and whatever judgement comes in we will follow it.’ That would certainly be welcome. As our friend Simon noted later in the AGM, there are questions over the extent to which Vedanta has respected previous court judgements.

 

So the shareholder commented, twice, that he was not convinced that they were telling him the truth. He said that the answers to his questions were partial and that Agarwal did not engage with his questions to the extent that he should have. I did wave my hands at that time but was not given the microphone, probably because they did not consider me as important as male shareholders. The board was, however, populated by male heads. Except one woman (Katya) who never spoke and appeared as a token representative of female members, all 10 heads out of 11 board members were male. Indeed, we had to put up with a gendered corporate board for nearly three hours. Microphone therefore went to someone else. The speaker, representing campaigning organisation ShareAction, asked how the company reports on risks from waste management. But he was frustrated by the answer of the CEO, Tom Albanese, with no surprise.

 

This is when I spoke up and said that I am working closely with community activists and groups from India, Zambia and South Africa who have gathered outside Ironmongers Hall and told me a different version of what Vedanta’s annual report was claiming. I then asked, by thanking the board for trying to present a report and for producing an annual report even if it was a partial one, that:

 

Mr Chairman, both you and your CEO have said that you are committed to ‘zero harm’ and ‘zero damage’ to people, but these people and communities are saying that they are at great loss by the harms and damages that you and your company have done to them. Your company has been destroying many communities. When I was entering the building for this AGM, I have seen community representatives from Orissa, Zambia, South Africa, Indonesia, Namibia and all India were crying outside the AGM that their people have been abused and faced with great loss by the undertakings of your company.  I am sure you have seen people’s outcry outside the AGM, too, when you entered the building. What is your response to these people that are protesting outside the AGM?

Foil Vedanta demo on 5 August 2016.  A Protester from affected community holds a placard. Photocredit: Peter Marshall

Foil Vedanta demo on 5 August 2016. A Protester from affected community holds a placard. Photocredit: Peter Marshall

I asked, again to Tom Albanese that I am glad that you have taken the effort to produce a report for the shareholders but I have to say that I am appalled at your presentation because of the level of fraught and misinformation this report involved. I am shocked by the way you have totally overlooked the issues that the May 27th judgement in the case of Dominic Liswaniso Lungowe versus Vedanta Resources  and KCM in London which Cecil has just mentioned. This May 27th judgement by Justice Coulson has been a major challenge against Vedanta’s ongoing abuse and misconducts across Zambia, and a big news for the company which the shareholders should be made aware of . I have been reading about this judgement for the last two months as this became important news in London. How was it possible for you to overlook the matter in your whole 30 minutes long presentation?

Is this how you can prevent from doing harm and abuse to communities? I would appreciate to have your straightforward and a clear answer to this question. Now I have a second question to both of you (Anil Agarwal and Tom Albanese) in relation to the judgement and the question that my dissident shareholder, Cecil has asked before. May I continue?

 

The board kept silent and Anil Agarwal, Tom Albanese, Katya and Deepak Kumar looked at me in their eyes, with clear discomfort. Anil Agarwal seemed most uncomfortable (or perhaps angry inside) but did not stop me from continuing. So I continued and said that:

 

Justice Coulson’s recent UK judgement on the right of Zambian villagers to sue KCM and Vedanta in London for loss of livelihood and health, revealed that KCM has never filed annual accounts in accordance with the Zambian Companies Act. Meanwhile an UNCTAD report published in July 2016 found ‘systematic export under-invoicing’ of copper from Zambia starting in 2005, the year after Vedanta took over KCM (which is Zambia’s biggest copper exporter). Why have you been keeping your finances secret? What exactly are you hiding from the Zambian government?

Foil Vedabta demo against Vedanta AGM at Barbican Aug 5th 2016. Photocredit: Peter MarshallFoil Vedabta demo London Barbican Aug 5th 2016

Tom Albanese replied that when he made a public statement he was making a statement on behalf of the board and is personally liable for it under the law in both the UK and Zambia. He continued, ‘What I say, I say with assurance: we produce and provide transparent financial reports for our operations in Zambia and submit them to the Ministry of Mines and publish a summary in the newspaper, and if you want to see them you can apply to the government and they will send them.’ He said that the other shareholder in KCM’s operations is government-owned ZCCM, so on the board of KCM there are people who represent ZCCM and the government of Zambia. Everything is disclosed. He said he is under a requirement to comply with the law and tell truth about what the company is doing.

I asked again whether he really thought the company was doing zero harm.

This time Anil Agarwal replied, by saying that: ‘What we say we believe, and we do it. You can believe what you want to believe. KCM involves the government and public as well as us. KCM has its own legal team and what we do, we do with proper governance and transparency. There is strong law and nobody is allowed to do anything that is not right.’

Tom Albanese added that he believed in his heart that KCM is a better company and a better employer than it was when it was controlled by the government, which had under-invested since Zambian independence as it did not have the money. Vedanta’s chairman himself had funded improvements. There had been no water pollution control at the time Vedanta took over. The company had put in the most modern sulphur capture equipment at the smelter. ‘We have not arrived at zero harm,’ he said, ‘but we are going in that direction.’

Both Tom Alabanese and Anil Agarwal claimed that they had no wish to hide anything and that there was no hidden finance that they have avoided to report. Tom Albanese said that he knows of nothing more than what he has already presented in his report. Anil Agarwal supported him and said that they did their best to keep everything transparent and open to shareholders. He then added:

‘Yes, I have seen people were playing music and making noise outside the AGM. I don’t know why they are doing so. If you don’t believe me, I can only advise you, you need to visit the areas yourself and then tell me what you have found there. You cannot know what is happening there without paying a visit to the communities. If you do not believe my words, I cannot do anything about this. I can only say what I know about. It is upto you whom you will believe.  There is nothing that I can do if you say that I am wrong. It is your liberty to believe whom you like to believe. If you want to believe the other version of the story, you can do. I can only say that we are committed to do no harm. We are working on the issues and some damages that have happened. I am confident that we can reach to our ‘zero harm’ promise in five to ten years time.’

 

I picked up the point and answered without microphone: ‘Mr Chariman I appreciate your wish to do no harm but you are aware that you have already done harms to people. You are saying that you want to reach zero harm after doing so much damage and abuse to people. You are saying that you want to stay for another five years but people don’t want you for another year, they don’t even want you for a day there. You have seen the outcry of people outside the AGM. They are saying that they want to kick Vedanta out today. They don’t want you there because of the harms that you have already done to them.’

 

Anil Agarwal replied, as fantasised, that ‘we are committed to do zero harm and damage to people but we are not saying that no harm has been done. Despite our continuous effort to avoid damage, we have received reports of some damages which could not be helped. You know that any development projects and technological development involve some risks which could not be totally avoided. But I am committed that our company will work on this and we will overcome these damages in future.’

Tom Albanese added, ‘I see fifty years of efforts to come, and we are keeping the largest employer in Zambia afloat.’

I gave in and wanted to take a break so microphone went to someone else.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA via Miriam Rose

Anger over Vedanta at their AGM in London. Photocredit: Peter Marshall

Several other shareholders raised the issue of ongoing abuse of communities by the company. Some have expressed their concerns to the company reputation as situation is not improving for years. One has expressed his frustration over the answers to his questions from the board for several years which, in his views, discouraged him to ask a question. One (company agent) has accused some of us are causing trouble in the AGM.

This shareholder addressed the board as “Sirs” and said that he had been listening to the ‘dialogues’ at the AGM and that these were not really questions and answers. For him, ‘shareholders could have dialogues with the board elsewhere, in “private”‘. People were at the AGM to ask questions on the annual report, and if people were not happy, they should present their views elsewhere, not at the AGM.’ He continued, saying that he had got a fright when the share price went down below £2. He then asked a question about bonuses. During his speech two women shareholders behind me had left the meeting room, and a peer sitting in front of me has smiled while the other peer two rows behind me had nodded off.

There were irritations, frustrations and heated discussions that I do not aim to note word by word here to void killing reader’s time. One community member from Niyamgiri said the the board is doing utter lies to the shareholders. Two of our friends raised questioned in relation to the Buxi. One had asked a long question which in short was as below:

The Buxi Commission report on the Korba Chimney disaster, which found BALCO guilty of negligence causing at least 40 workers deaths, has now been leaked to the public. Why are you still trying to suppress this report? Anil Agarwal and his CEO had totally misinterpreted the question or deliberately denied to pretend that they did answer his question to their level best. At this point two shareholders who had visited mine sites in India and Zambia had illustrated the differences between the reality and the fantasy of the annual report. They have come back to report on what they had seen. They asked, when will you close down Lanjigarh refinery which has now been operating at a loss for too long due to lack of raw material? At one point a questioner noted he ‘had shown the company’s shiny new “sustainable development” [sic] report to villagers who were shocked by its contents, noting that one person quoted in it – fulsomely praising the company – did not exist in the village to which he was attributed.

The board’s primary response was that they would investigate. But this caused more frustration in heated discussions rather than hope, because this was what had been promised before. One shareholder, raising the issue of the appalling lack of health and safety at the Bodai-Daldali mine in the central Indian state of Chhattisgarh noted the issues had been reported before, with promises of investigation, but little seemed to change. Vedanta’s CEO, Tom Albanese, said he was shocked by what he had seen (although the Chair Anil Agarwal seemed to suggest the footage may not be genuine). As was pointed out by the shareholder, it seems head office booked inspection visits in advance; maybe if they really wanted to see what was going on perhaps they should pop along unannounced?

 

After two hours of heated discussions by dissident shareholders and the failure of the  board to address the issues in relation to Niyamgiri and Zambia, I got the microphone again and followed from an unresolved question. The microphone was given to me after I waited, patiently, for nearly 30 mins. It was finally Anil Agarwal who asked the person with the roving microphone to give the microphone to me. At this stage he was not only fantasising but also attempted to flatter and flirt with us.  Anil Agarwal said to the microphone holder: ‘give it to the girl, this young girl here’!

I said: Thank you for giving me the microphone again!

Anil Agarwal smiled at me and said: ‘you are welcome. I like girls. Girls are good.’

I said: I am not a girl anymore!

Anil Agarwal said: oh, I know. You are not a girl. You are a lady.

I said: Actually, I am a woman. I am quite old!

Anil Agarwal, Tom Albanese and Deepak Kumar laughed. Anil Agarwal said: oh, you are old?

I did not tell him what’s my correct age but I pointed out that if he wished to flirt, he would have to flirt with an old woman.

He changed the topic and said: you are an academic. I like academics’.

I said: I am a researcher and a community activist.

Anil Agarwal said: yes, yes, researcher. Research is good profession.

He was clearly judging my work or me, nevertheless, we let it go. As I wanted to move on to my point, Agarwal interrupted me again and said: You are from Bangladesh, right?

I said: yes, that’s correct.

He said: I love Bangladesh. I am very fond of Bangladesh. Bangladesh is a nice country. It is rich in natural resources. It has gas, oil, coal and other mineral resources.

I said: indeed, yes. But you are not welcome to Bangladesh. I am not inviting you to visit Bangladesh. We don’t want your company to go there to extract our natural resources in Bangladesh. We are rich in natural resources but we don’t want to disturb the soil and the nature by smuggling coals and gas. We don’t want any multinational corporation to exploit us and destroy our natural resources. We have been fighting multinational corporations for years and we have put a decade long halt to a massive open cast coal mine in Bangladesh that you might have heard about. I coordinate a community activist group, called the Phulbari Solidarity Group, which is working to prevent further aggression of multinational companies in Bangladesh. We will be celebrating ten years of resistance in Phulbari and in London on 26th August this year. You can come to our London protest to be held on 26 August, if you like. You can also come to visit my home in the UK, and I can cook for you if you wish to have a Bengali dinner. But you are not welcome to Bangladesh.

 

Anil Agarwal and his board members looked terribly Foil Vedanta demo by pic by Peter Marshalluncomfortable. Agarwal lost words as being embarrassed. He only nodded head by indicating that he got the message.

Then I continued, and said: my question is related to my dissident shareholder Samarendra Das who has given us some extremely important information which I found immensely useful. Unlike you, I was not bored. I am rather grateful to him for providing us those useful information that enriched my knowledge on the subject. You said to Mr Das that you don’t have anything to do with Niyamgiri. My question is: will you do a fresh press statement by clarifying that Vedanta will never go back to Niyamgiri in future? Can you put on an official statement on your website by stating what you have just said to Samarendra Das?  Can you confirm that it is not in your interest and there will be no future interference from Vedanta in Niyamagiri?

 

I continued and said that my second question is also in relation to Niyamgiri: You have claimed that you will respect the decision of the people who rejected the mine, yet new Mines Minister Piyush Goyal has been making statements about pushing the project through. What are your intentions regarding the Niyamgiri mine? Are you still lobbying the Odisha government to overrule the democratic decision and force the mine through?

 

I continued and said that these two were my main questions though I would love to respond to a shareholder who appeared to have been advocating for an ill process to be practised in the annual general meeting of the company.  The shareholder behind me had asked the board to prohibit people to raise open questions. He asked people to stop spending time by raising issues around how the company made its money, and only to talk about the returns to investors and financial issues. Yet he then proceeded to do at great length. In his opinion, we should only raise questions based on the annual report produced and distributed by the company executives. He suggested that we should not comment on anything else, and that any discussion beyond the annual report should be discussed outside the AGM and in private. He thought that we were having a dialogue with the board which he suggested to do in private. He also claimed that dissident shareholders were bored by many questions that some of us have been raising in the AGM today.

We entered the AGM  to represent communities inside the AGM during loud protest outside. Photocredit: Peter Marshall

We entered the AGM to represent communities inside the AGM during loud protest outside. Photocredit: Peter Marshall

 

I objected to his suggestions and said that ‘we should develop appropriate ethos that enables an environment to discuss complicated issues and complex truth openly. Multinational corporations must practice transparency and the Vedanta board should be accountable to all shareholders rather than only producing an annual report distributed to us. The company should follow “good” corporate “ethics” which would allow space for any discussion related to the company to take place in the same room where the AGM is taking place so that all shareholders and people involved in the company can be aware of what is happening in reality.’

 

‘The shareholder who found our questions and comments are “dialogues” between you (the board) and us (as community representatives) is wrong. We are not here for a dialogue with you. We are here to report the abuse that your company has done to people in various countries. We are here to place oral complaints on behalf of the communities. We are here to question you about why you are overlooking these important issues. There is nothing to get bored about. The shareholder who complained that other shareholders have left the room because they were bored by our allegations against the company did not notice that two people behind me left the meeting during his speech. I have an eye witness here [indicating the security guard/peer who sat in front of me] who noticed this and exchanged a smile with me as the shareholder appeared mistaken.

‘People can leave a meeting room for many reasons. Sometimes they might be busy and may have other commitments and appointments that make them leave the room. Other times they might be bored. It is possible that people were bored by the senior shareholder’s speech. It is also possible that some people did not like what we are discussing here. But we have to continue raising all of these issues right here.’

 

The shareholder who complained about our interrogation and addressed the board members as ‘Sirs’ appeared as an academic at LSE, got furious to me at this point and attempted to interfere during my objection to his deliberate allegation against us. He stood up in the midst of my speech and shouted, despite request of the board to wait, pointing at me disapprovingly. He was asked by board members to allow me to finish my remarks. He raised his two pointing fingers to me and swore by words that I couldn’t hear as I was on the microphone. I continued with my speech and told him that I hardly bothered his unexpected ill-manner and threats. I said that I was there to represent large number of effected communities who cannot be silenced by his masculinity and ill manner. I said that I would continue to speak with all of the shareholders in the room, and not only to the board.

I told: ‘Put your fingers down now. I have the right to speak about everything that is related to the company.  We ought to do the interrogation right in the AGM, not outside the room. I do not want to have a private meeting about these general issues which all other shareholders have the right to know. I am here to not only speak to the board members but also to share information with shareholders present in the room. I will speak to all shareholders on behalf of the communities in Odisha and Zambia, and I will speak with permission of the board.’

The entire meeting room was silent during my speech, and some nodded heads in support of what I said to the misbehaving shareholder from LSE. The board looked truly anxious as they feared further disruption. After my last comments, Tom Albanese and Anil Agarwal told that they want to continue the practice of discussing things openly in the AGM. Albanese said: ‘we encourage people to speak openly and ask questions about anything that the shareholders are concerned about.’ Anil Agarwal repeated the words that People have the freedom to discuss all matters that they like to discuss in the AGM. ‘We believe in democracy and freedom of speech. Everybody has the liberty to talk about any aspect of the company. We believe in liberty’, he said.

 

The meeting had quickly wrapped up by Anil Agarwal’s call for votes.  Outside the AGM protesters chanted and drummed for four hours accosting executives of the company as they entered and left the AGM. When Agarwal and other board members had come out of the venue, the protesters surrounded them. But Anil Agarwarl smiled shamelessly, and his gangs left blatant.  We don’t know if they will ever feel ashamed for their continuous misdeeds and abuse to communities.

The above is my personal account on what happened at the Vedanta AGM on 5 August in 2016. For further details, feel free to have a look at the detailed accounts of other dissident shareholders here .

This is how the Vednata board members enter amidst protest and under the shadow of a monster on Friday Phto Peter Marshall This is how the Vedanta investors enter the AGM amidst loud protest and under UK Police protection at Barbican London on 5 August 2016

 

 

 

 

Copyright of all of the images used in this report remains to Peter Marshall. No commercial use o the photos without permission is expected. Thank you!

Further details of protests and actions inside and outside the Vedanta AGM can be accessed from the following url links:

India, Zambia, London protest Vedanta’s AGM

A tale of two worlds – Vedanta AGM 2016

Further coverage in The Mining Journal,  the New International, and Reuters.

 

 

GCM IS COMING DOWN!

Action Demo in London to Save PHULBARI & Green-Farm Land

Friday, 18 December at 10:30am, 4 Hamilton Place,  London W1J 7BQ (nearest tube station Hyde Park Corner)

In the month of the climate summit #COP21, when climate protests erupted across the globe seeking climate justice, a London-based AIM-listed multinational company, Global Coal Management Resources Plc. , announced its AGM to discuss a noxious deal to implement a massive open-pit coal mine by forcibly displacing 130,000 families of farmers in Phulbari. If the mine is built, it would destroy 14,600 hectares of highly cultivable land in northwest Bangladesh. It would also pose threats to clean water resources and would leave devastating impact on one of the world’s largest mangrove forests and UNESCO heritage site, the Sundarbans.

Phulbari outburst on 26 August 2006

The mothers and wives of murdered villagers in Phulbari calling the investors of Asia Energy (now GCM) after the shooting on 27 August in 2006.

The company, previously known as Asia Energy, has been hotly resisted by locals for its fatal business policy. Three people were shot dead and two hundred injured in a demonstration of 80,000 people that took place in opposition to plans by GCM in 2006. Bangladesh government has cancelled all contracts with the company nine years ago. The government has recently reassured protestors by a statement that it does not want to build an open pit mine in Phulbari. The project has generated grave concern at national and international levels including the United Nations. This year the UK government has published a statement highlighting the fierce opposition to GCM in Phulbari. But the company has so far ignored every message. It has been pushing the government of Bangladesh for a fatal deal. We advise GCM to close business NOW!

JOIN US inside and outside the AGM! We will warn them to close AGM forever!

RSVP to join us via https://www.facebook.com/events/180360322310156/

Please Bring along your banner, placards, festoons, whistles, drums, masks and messages against dirty coal miners. We will declare a notice of closure to GCM and we’ll celebrate the news that Bangladesh government has reassured there is no plan to open pit mine.

Contact for further information: Dr Akhter S Khan: nationalcommittee.uk@googlemail.com, Dr Mokhlesur Rahman qmr111@hotmail.com, Rumana Hashem: phulbarisolidaritygroup@gmail.com

Bangladesh National Committee, UK branch| Phulbari Solidarity Group, UK| 

Homage paid to Brave Protesters in Phulbari

By Raaj Manik

It was Phulbari Day on Thursday. It was the day to commemorate mass protests that prevented a UK-based mining company, Global Coal Management PLC, from building a large-scale open-pit coal mine in Phulbari in north-west Bangladesh. Nine years ago, on 26th August in 2006, three brave protesters were shot dead in the mass protest that took place in opposition to plans by GCM, a London based AIM-listed corporation, who wanted to forcefully displace 130,000 people from their homes by grabbing 14,600 hectares of highly cultivable land in Bangladesh. The powerful demonstration in 2006 ended in tragedy when paramilitary force opened fire on a rally of 80,000, people, leaving three people killed and two hundred injured.

The 26th August has been marked as a day for commemorating the protesters in Phulbari since then. On the ninth anniversary on 26 August 2015, the day was remembered with respect, as ever, and people’s resistance was celebrated by diverse groups and rights-activists across Bangladesh and in London. In Bangladesh, campaigners of National Committee at Phulbari, Dhaka, Narayanganj, and several other regions were joined by many other human rights and art groups who paid homage to Phulbari protesters.

Rally in Phulbari on 26 August 2015 . Photo credit: Anonymous

Rally in Phulbari on 26 August 2015 . Photo credit: Anonymous

In Phulbari, nearly ten thousands of people have paid tribute to Al-Amin, Salekin and Tariqul – the three innocent civilians killed by GCM-provoked shooting in 2006. People have started to gather in the town as early as seven o’clock in the morning to pay homage to those who died that day and to celebrate the people-powered resistance that has prevented the massive mine being built for almost a decade. Schools, colleges, shops and business enterprises were shut for all day in tribute to those brave protesters who forced the British coal miners to leave Bangladesh. The procession of homage, initiated by the Phulbari branch of National Committee, was joined by farmers, agricultural workers, rickshaw-drivers, van-store employees, school teachers, doctors, medical students, professionals, art-activists, business entrepreneurs, and of course local leaders of political parties. Parents of the dead, Al-Amin and Salekin, and the injured men including Bablu Roy and Pradip attended the rally in the town centre.

Families of the victims and women protesters march towards Shahid Minar in Phulbari to pay tribute. 26 August 2015. Photo: Anonymous

Families of the victims and women protesters march towards Shahid Minar in Phulbari to pay tribute. 26 August 2015. Photo: Anonymous

Locals in Phulbari called upon the government to remove fabricated cases against leaders of the Phulbari movement. They demanded for an immediate implementation of the Phulbari deal and called upon a permanent expulsion of Asia Energy, the Bangladesh subsidiary of GCM , from Bangladesh. Activists have also asked government to compensate the affected people in Borapukuria mine. Leaders of National Committee announced fresh programme to be held later this year against government’s destructive policy of coal-powered plant in other parts of the country. The rally called upon the government to implement the 7-point demands of the National Committee and to prevent Rampal coal-fired power project from happening which would destroy the countries only mangrove forest and a UNESCO heritage, the Sundarbans. They demanded that Orion coal-fired plant must be resisted and suspended immediately.

The same demands were projected in the tribute to Phulbari resistance in other parts of the country, and in East London. In London, members of the UK branch of the Bangladesh National Committee to Protect Oil, Gas, Mineral Resources, Power and Ports, and activists of Phulbari Solidarity Group were joined by transnational campaigners and environmentalists from Global Justice Now, UNISON, and the Socialist Party of England and Wales. Messages of support and solidarity were delivered by representatives from Tamil Solidarity, National Trade Union and London Mining Network, also.

In the meeting at the Montefiore Centre in East London transnational activists have taken a pledge to resist all sorts of conspiracy for coal-fired power in Bangladesh. The member secretary of the committee in the UK, Dr Akhter Sobhan Khan, has updated the forum about development in Bangladesh. That Bangladeshi government has eventually recognised that due to the high population density and the fact that much of the local economy is based on agriculture and other land-based livelihoods, open cast mining is not a viable project for Bangladesh. The forum welcomed this news of a recent statement by Bangladesh’s state minister for power, energy and mineral resources, Nasrul Hamid that the government does not want to use open pit mining in the region.

Tribute to Phulbari protesters paid in London by following silence. Photo credit: Rumana Hashem

Tribute to Phulbari protesters paid in London by following silence. 26 August 2015. Photo credit: Rumana Hashem

The meeting, presided by Dr Mukhlesur Rahman, has started by following one minute silence in the honour of Al-Amin, Salekin and Tariqul. Participants have discussed recent developments in the campaign against the mine. The Chair of the meeting has updated the forum about the invalid contract between the government and the company.

The founder of Phulbari Solidarity Group and an eye witness to the shooting in Phulbari, Dr Rumana Hashem, gave her eye witness to the tragic event and the deadly shootings. She described how local women and men had made the company to leave the area. She noted that locals are still vocal against the mine as they recognised that the mine, if built, would cause mass evictions and destroy thousands of hecters of farmland in an area that forms part of the country’s breadbasket. Rumana’s statement was followed by speeches by comrades such as Dr Jinnah, comrade Moktar, Mostofa Kamal, Ishak Kajol and several others.

Christine Hague, who joined the meeting to represent Global Justice UK, then delivered a message of solidarity from Global Justice Now, in which she said that Global Justice Now has been supporting the campaign against the mine since 2008. They have been putting pressure on investors, which saw Barclays and RBS withdraw their support, exposing the UK government’s support for GCM and joining protests at the company’s AGM each year. They have also supported US-based International Accountability Project to submit a complaint to the UK National Contact Point for the OECD Guidelines on Multinational Enterprises, in the hope of using this mechanism to hold GCM to account.

Although the complaint was accepted for investigation, the UK NCP failed shamefully to consider the impacts of the project should it go ahead, focusing only on the company’s actions in the planning stage to date. GCM was still found to have failed to “foster confidence and trust” in the local community though it was otherwise let off the hook with a recommendation that it update its plans and carry out a human rights impact assessment. This is, as colleagues in Bangladesh noted, likely to lead further unrest. In fact, within four days of the publication of the final statement on the complaint, a visit by GCM’s CEO, Gary Lye, to the area triggered three days of protests and strikes, including an occupation of GCM’s offices in Phulbari.

Part of the London gathering on 26 August 2015. Photo credit Zahanara Rahman

Part of the London gathering on 26 August 2015. Photo credit Zahanara Rahman

But the failure of high level international mechanisms like this made Thursday’s gatherings in recognition of the mass resistance to the project of Phulbari ever more important. A representative from UNISON, Hugo Piere, told the forum that UNISON would be proud to be part of any campaign or action that the community takes against GCM in future. A full-solidarity has been expressed by both UNISON and the Socialist Party of England and Wales.

Likewise, Isai Pryia from National Trade Union and Tamili Solidarity has sent message of solidarity. The message which Helen Pattison of Socialist Party delivered to the gathering states: ‘Although, unfortunately, Tamil Solidarity couldn’t make the meeting today we stand in solidarity with you. We remember the dead and fight for the living. We hope that we will be able to work more closely together in the future’.

Activists take pledge to stand with Phulbari people. 26 August 2015. Photo credit: Rumana Hashem

Activists take pledge to stand with Phulbari people. 26 August 2015. Photo credit: Rumana Hashem

The meeting has ended with a pledge that any attempt to implement coal-fired plant in Bangladesh will be resisted and solar energy should be promoted. People in both Bangladesh and London have acknowledged that despite the tragedy, people in Phulbari have made an example by preventing the devastating project from happening for almost a decade. It is solid people power. And that’s definitely worth celebrating.

But sadly, the news of celebration and commemoration in Phulbari remains under-covered in mainstream media. Professor Anu Muhammad, the member secretary of National Committee and a leading economist in Bangladesh stated: ‘while the significance of Phulbari resistance has been recognised by national and international environmentalists, with the exception of a few newspapers mainstream media has ignored the news of Phulbari Day.’

The fight for people’s right, nature and environment must move forward. Activists in London have now decided to hold a symbolic protest this September when the Bangladesh’s Energy Advisor Toufiq Elahi visits London.