Madras HC stays Sterlite expansion, former bureaucrat writes to PM about political donations by Vedanta

A day after 11 people were killed in police firing during citywide protests against the Sterlite copper plant in Tuticorin, the Madras High Court has stayed the company’s expansion plans. Sterlite, that is the copper arm of Vedanta, runs a smelting plant with a capacity of 4,00,000 tonnes per annum. It was hoping to double its capacity when the Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court stayed the construction of a new copper smelter.

The entire Madras HC judgment may be read here.

Sterlite Expansion
Image: The Hindu

Locals, including fisher folk had accused the plant of contaminating ground water. Earlier the plant had been fined Rs 100 crores by the Supreme Court and the funds were to be utilised for environmental rehabilitation and compensation. The state government had expressed concerns over the expansion and the State Pollution Control Board Appellate Authority that was hearing an ongoing case had adjourned the hearing till June 6. Meanwhile, the National Fishworkers’ Forum came out in strong condemnation of the police’s decision to open fire that led to the death of 11 people from the coastal community.

Also senior former bureaucrat EAS Sarma who was previously the Secretary to the Government of India, has now written the following letter to the Prime Minister drawing his attention to money laundering in illegal mining activities by citing the Justice MB Shah Commission Report. He also highlighted how Sterlite’s parent company Vedanta, that has allegedly made political donations to different political parties including the Congress and the BJP, has benefited from the retrospective amendment to the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act.  
The letter may be read here: 

Shri Narendra D Modi
Prime Minister
Dear Shri Modiji,

I refer to the loss of eleven lives in Tuticorin in Tamil Nadu during the last couple of days as a result of police action on people agitating against Sterlite Company’s copper smelting plant. That unit has polluted the surroundings but neither your government not the State is willing to take action.

May I recall your attention to the forwarded correspondence in which I demanded that the series of retrospective amendments your government had made to Foreign Contributions Regulation Acts, 1976 &
2010 were prima facie illegal, detrimental to national security and prima facie unethical, as all foreign company donations involve quid pro quos that hurt the public interest?

I may point out to you that Sterlite, a subsidiary of the MNC, Vedanta Group is a direct beneficiary of FCRA amendments which not only “legalise” the donations accepted by BJP and Congress from the Vedanta Group but also apparently give the impression that neither BJP nor Congress would be willing to take any penal action against that Group and it’s subsidiaries in India, due to the clear conflict of interest involved. Some of these foreign companies and their subsidiaries have brazenly violated the rule of law but the Centre and the States have become passive spectators.

Kindly ponder over the highly undesirable outcomes of the hasty and imprudent manner in which your government had chosen to amend FCRA and how subsidiaries of foreign companies like Sterlite have attracted public ire, as they know well that the beneficiaries of their political donations, such as BJP and Congress, would only wink at the pollution they inflict on the people and the human rights violations they cause.

May I appeal to you to be sensitive enough to revoke both FCRA amendments at least at this belated hour and make a public announcement that your government will prohibit foreign company donations and discourage all indirect interference of foreign agencies in India’s electoral process?

Failing to respond to this appeal will, I am sure, erode the credibility of your commitment to electoral reform.

Yours sincerely,
E A S Sarma
Former Secretary to GOI



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