India’s mining and oil giant Vedanta Ltd (NSE: VEDL) led a covert lobbying campaign persuading the government to turn a blind eye to domestic companies bypassing environmental regulations to accelerate the development of projects, according to a new report.
The report was released on Thursday by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), an investigative publication comprised of journalists from around the globe. It is funded by several organizations such as the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, Ford Foundation and the United States Department of State.
Vedanta was responsible for pushing India’s government to ensure that mining companies could produce more commodities without needing new environmental approvals during the pandemic. “In early 2022, after a series of closed-door meetings, India’s environment ministry loosened regulations to allow mining companies to increase production by up to 50 per cent without needing to hold public hearings, which many in the industry considered the most onerous requirement of the environmental clearance process,” reads the report.
Vedanta’s subsidiary and one of India’s largest oil and gas companies, Cairn India, successfully lobbied to eliminate the need for public hearings regarding exploratory drilling in oil blocks Cairn won in government auctions, according to the report.
The OCCRP says India’s government approved the changes without public consultation and implemented them using what experts consider to be illegal methods. Crafting the report involved analyzing thousands of government documents obtained through freedom of information requests and showed that India’s government officials developed new rules in line with the interests of Vedanta and other monetary influences.
NEW: Our latest investigation exposes how a backroom lobbying campaign led by the powerful Vedanta Group weakened two of India’s key environmental regulations during the COVID-19 pandemic:https://t.co/S6IYynyOGb
— Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (@OCCRP) September 1, 2023
An anonymous senior government official told the OCCRP that the combined influence of Cairn and the country’s Director General of Hydrocarbons Joy Vazhayil (also known as V.P. Joy) led to India’s Environmental Impact Assessment law being amended to not require public consultations for oil exploration endeavours.
Following the amendment in January 2020, six of Cairn’s controversial oil projects in the state of Rajasthan have been authorized despite opposition from locals.
In recent years, Vedanta has been the focus of violent and deadly protests in India. In 2018, police in the country resorted to shooting and killing 12 protestors involved in a demonstration against the expansion of Vedanta’s copper smelter in the state of Tamil Nadu and pollution-linked diseases from it among those in the area.
The state’s government ordered the permanent closure of the copper smelter one week after the shootings and police charged 30 people involved with rioting and other offenses in 2022. The company attempted to sell the smelter that year but later abandoned that goal and is currently considering re-starting it pending new rulings from the country’s Supreme Court on the matter.
Anil Agarwal and his family had a net worth of US$2 billion at the end of 2022, according to Forbes.
Vedanta shares rose by 1.6 per cent Friday to the equivalent of $3.88 on the National Stock Exchange of India.