A new report by the Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) has alleged that mining and oil giant Vedanta ran a covert lobbying campaign to weaken key environmental regulations during the pandemic.
The report comes a day after OCCRP published a report alleging the Adani Group of "brazen stock manipulation" which the conglomerate vehemently denied.
In the new report against Vedanta, the OCCRP, funded by billionaire George Soros and the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, claims that Anil Agarwal, chairman of the energy and mining giant Vedanta Resources Ltd, took advantage of the pandemic situation when the economy was on a standstill to weaken key environmental regulations. Agarwal wrote to the then Environment minister Prakash Javadekar in 2021 that the government could add "impetus to India’s rapid economic recovery by allowing mining companies to boost production by up to 50 per cent without having to secure new environmental clearances," the report said.
His letter was met with a positive response from Javadekar, who directed the secretary of his ministry and the director general of forestry to discuss the policy issue. "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," the OCCRP report added.
The environment ministry then changed the regulations by publishing an office memo — meant to be used for inter-office communication — on its website. "Modifying important regulations using instruments like office memos, without any public debate, the government may also have skirted the law," the report alleged.
Besides weakening environmental regulations for miners, one of Vedanta's subsidiaries, Cairn Oil & Gas, had also lobbied to scrap public hearings for oil exploration projects. "As with mining, the government quietly amended the law with no public consultation. Since then, at least six of Cairn’s oil projects in the northern deserts of Rajasthan have been greenlit for development," the report said, warning that the decision would have "broader environmental ramifications".
Vedanta is one of India’s most powerful companies, reporting more than $18 billion in revenues last year. The company has not yet offered any comments about the report.