Article reproduced courtesy of the Guardian Environment Network
Church mission to Vedanta site in India
16th October, 2009
Archbishop questions Church's investment in mining firm that plans to build on site revered by indigenous tribe
A Church of England official will travel to a sacred area in India where the mining company Vedanta Resources plans to open a bauxite mine, after the Archbishop of Canterbury expressed concerns about the project.
Speaking at Southwark Cathedral this week, Rowan Williams said he had asked officials in charge of the church's investments to look into a mining company with controversial activities.
He did not name the company, but a church official confirmed that he had been referring to Vedanta.
The church, which has a £2.5m share in the mining firm, has been under mounting pressure to withdraw its stake after the government criticised Vedanta's actions in India.
Jonathan Mazower, a researcher at Survival International, said: 'There's a very strong religious element to this. [Vedanta] cannot go ahead with this project without destroying a most sacred mountain. It's like bulldozing down Westminster Abbey or St Paul's Cathedral. In a way, it's worse: the Dongria Kondh people don't just worship the mountain itself, they revere it as their god.
'It's hard to see how the Church of England can have any kind of ethical dimensions to their ethical policy while investing in Vedanta because it's not only going to destroy these people's livelihood but the whole foundation of their religion.'
In an unprecedented attack on a FTSE 100 company, the government ruled on Monday that Vedanta 'did not respect the rights' of the area's indigenous people; 'did not consider the impact of the construction of the mine on the [tribe's] rights'; and 'failed to put in place an adequate and timely consultation mechanism'. The report concluded that a change in the firm's behaviour' was 'essential'.
The ruling is the third embarrassment in five months for Anil Agarwal, Vedanta's executive chairman.
In June, an environmental award was withheld at the last minute when details of the mine in the eastern state of Orissa were brought to the jury's attention, and in August India's environment minister admitted the project should never have been approved.
Vedanta plans an open-cast mine on Niyamgiri mountain in Orissa. Activists believe it will destroy the area's ecosystem and threaten the future of the 8,000-strong Dongria Kondh tribe, who depend on the hills for their crops and water. They believe the mountain and surrounding forest are the sacred home of their god Niyam Raja.
Survival International has met the church's Ethical Investment Advisory Group on several occasions in an attempt to inform them about Vedanta's activities in Orissa. "We want them to know about all the difficulties.
'Vedanta are so powerful in that area that there is a culture of fear in the area of Vedanta's refinery. So when the church goes to the area, it is important that they meet people who have been affected by this.'
The church said an official would travel to Orissa with Vedanta on the understanding that they could go off unaccompanied to conduct their own research.
'Vedanta is very happy to work with the church commissioners to make sure that they are satisfied,' the company said.
The Bianca Jagger Human Rights Foundation, Amnesty International, ActionAid and Survival International have been collaborating on a letter campaign urging the Indian government to avert a potential humanitarian and ecological catastrophe.
This article is reproduced courtesy of the Guardian Environment Network
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