Priscilla Jebaraj

NEW DELHI: In a blow to mining firm Vedanta, a fourth European investor has sold its multi-million pound stake in the company, citing “serious concerns about its [Vedanta’s] approach to human rights and the environment.” The company has been slammed for its plan to mine the Niyamgiri Hills of Orissa, home to the Kondh tribals, many of whom have opposed the plan.

The decision of the United Kingdom-based Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust to sell a £2.2 million stake (along with other investors who follow its ethical policy) in Vedanta follows the Church of England’s decision to sell its £2.1 million stake last week. The Norwegian government’s pension fund had been the first high-profile withdrawal, selling its $13 million stake in 2007, while the Martin Currie Investment sold its £2.3 million stake last year.

“Morally indefensible”

“We have heard first-hand about Vedanta’s environmental and human rights abuses in Orissa and believe that Vedanta is pushing industrialisation to the detriment of the lives and lands of the local people. This behaviour may be legal, but is morally indefensible,” said Susan Seymour, chair of the investment committee at the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust.

In New Delhi, Kumti Majhi of the Kutia Kondh community welcomed the decision. “I am glad they have listened to our problems. They [the Church’s representatives] came and stayed in our hut and listened to us also…Why doesn’t the government listen,” he asked. “The government people only come and they go around in Vedanta’s helicopter, in Vedanta’s cars, and then they go back and say Vedanta is doing good things.”

Mr. Majhi was in the capital to deliver a petition to the Prime Minister’s Office on Thursday. “We urge Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to act now and take a decision that will save Niyamgiri and the Kondh people from destruction,” he said. The Kondh people consider Niyamgiri Hills to be sacred and depend on them for food, livelihoods and cultural identity, he added.

Responding to the news of the stake sale, Mukesh Kumar, chief operating officer of Vedanta Alumnium, the Indian subsidiary of U.K.-listed Vedanta Resources, said the British team which had come to investigate had failed to get back to the company with their suggestions or complaints.

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