Vedanta, JLF urge open debate on London fest boycott

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New Delhi, May 17 (IANS) As the Jaipur Literature Festival’s South Bank edition runs into rough weather with activists’ calling for its boycott citing alleged rights and other violations by its sponsor, Vedanta, the organisers said that sponsors do not influence the content of the festival.

Speaking to IANS, Sanjoy Roy, managing director of Teamwork Arts, which produces the festival, said that the sponsors have nothing to do with the event and asserted that they are being targeted for no reason. “Vedanta has sponsored many events in the country. Why only us are being targeted? I don’t see any controversy as there is no judicial inquiry against Vedanta. We are happy to debate on this,” said Roy.

An open letter signed by a dozen writers and academics around the world, expressed shock and dismay over JLF roping in Vedanta as its partner for the festival, scheduled to begin on May 21.

The writers and others who are expected to participate include Indian envoy to Britain Navtej Sarna, Sunil Khilnani, Andrew Whitehead, Barkha Dutt, Shatrughan Sinha and James McConnachie among others.

“Are you aware that Vedanta’s activities are destroying the lives of thousands of people in Odisha, Chhattisgarh, Goa, Tamil Nadu, Rajasthan, Karnataka and Punjab and also in Zambia, South Africa and Australia? Are you also aware that Zambian villagers are currently taking Vedanta subsidiary KCM to court in the UK, accusing it of poisoning their water over the last decade,” says the open letter.

Reacting to the allegations, Roy said that the festival has a session on Dalit rights moderated by human right activist Salil Tripathi.

“We have a session on dalit rights and it’s an open platform that allows for free thought and expression,” said Roy, adding that he is hopeful that festival will function smoothly.

The letter also accuse Vedanta of gross human rights violations. “In Goa, Vedanta’s iron ore mining subsidiary Sesa Goa (now Vedanta Limited) was the largest company indicted by the Shah Commission in 2012 for illegal mining, including failure to obtain leases or environmental clearance, and exporting 150 million tonnes of iron ore from Goa in 2010/11 while only declaring 76 million, their agreed export allowance.”

“Not far from Jaipur itself Vedanta is accused by an employee’s union of casualising and de-unionising the labour force at Hindustan Zinc Ltd by reducing permanent workers to only 2,500 of 18,000 workers,” says the letter.

It also exhorts writers and artists to disassociate from the event as responsible citizens.

“Literature doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It makes little sense to discuss books and ideas and the problems of the world in abstraction, while being funded by and publicising a company that has been and continues to be a gross violator of human rights across the world. We hope that you will withdraw from involvement in this discredited and damaging PR campaign,” it said.

Meanwhile Vedanta issued a statement terming the allegations as baseless and underlined its commitment to sustainability and community development.

“The size and scale of Vedanta’s commitment to CSR and sustainability is one of the most robust in India. Last year, we spent $42million on community development initiatives and this year we have delivered long-term social and economic benefits to approximately four million people,” it said.

Taking on the allegations of environment degradation by the company, it said, “Last year, we invested $61.5 million in environmental initiatives and 88 percent of our sites are now certified to the ISO 14001 environmental standard,” it said.

It also welcomed an open debate on the allegations.

“We welcome a direct and open dialogue with any organisation or individual that has doubts regarding Vedanta’s commitment to sustainability and engagement with the communities where it operates,” it further said.

–IANS

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