In recent weeks, human rights and environmental activists have celebrated a court ruling rejecting a massive expansion of the Vedanta Mining Company’s hazardous alumina refinery and toxic red mud pond located in India’s eastern state of Orissa.
However, peaceful protesters continue to face police violence at the site, and 47 villagers have been jailed on false charges, signaling that the saga of Vedanta’s Lanjigarh refinery is not yet over.
In a victory for human rights, the High Court of the Indian state of Orissa has upheld the Indian government’s 2010 decision to reject UK-based Vedanta Resources’ plans for the six-fold expansion of the Lanjigarh aluminum refinery, finding that the project violated the country’s environmental laws. Vedanta Aluminum had challenged the Ministry of Environment and Forest‘s decision in the High Court in November 2010.
Residents of 12 villages who live in the shadow of the massive refinery – mostly Adivasi (indigenous) and Dalit communities who rely on agriculture for their livelihoods – have long campaigned against the expansion, arguing it would further pollute their land and water.
The refinery, which has been in operation for four years, fails to meet accepted national and international standards in relation to its environmental, social and human rights impact. The authorities must order an immediate clean-up of the site and monitor the health status of the local communities.
The Indian state of Orissa is where the Vedanta Aluminum Company (Indian-based subsidiary of a UK multi-national) runs a refinery in Lanjigarh. This refinery is home to a nearly overflowing 92 billion liter (24 million gallon) pond of rather innocent sounding red mud. Already this year, video shot by local residents show the walls of the pond being breached and streets being flooded. Compared to what is to come, the leaks have been relatively small.
When the monsoons come however, over 4,000 families in 12 villages will be threatened.
And red mud is not as innocent as it sounds. It is the leftovers of the aluminum refining process that includes highly toxic alkaline chemicals and radioactive materials. When the pond overflows its walls, red mud will contaminate drinking water, farmland, and homes, leaving environmental devastation in its wake and threatening the health and lives of thousands of people. This may sound familiar. Just last year a red mud spill in Hungary did the exact same thing.