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Vedanta stripped of safety awards over disaster that killed 40

business Updated: Aug 29, 2010 13:57 IST

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Leading mining group Vedanta Resources has been stripped of international safety awards amid claims that it won the prize without declaring that a chimney collapse at one of its sites had killed at least 40 workers last year, a media report said today.

Awards to Vedanta have been immediately withdrawn by the British Safety Council in response to findings thrown up by a broader analysis of deaths of workers at all FTSE 100 mining groups last September - one of the worst industrial tragedies in India's recent history, The Observer reported.

The Observer analysis found that 154 work-related deaths have been disclosed by London's largest multinational miners in their latest annual reports and other shareholder filings. According to the report, all 12 London-listed firms have "zero fatality" targets, but only Mexico's Fresnillo achieved this last year. Vedanta had the highest death toll, with 67, followed by Anglo American with 20, Kazakhmys with 17 and ENRC with 12. Countries where the deaths occurred were not disclosed by all companies, but estimates suggest they were most common in those resource-rich regions where labour costs are lowest. An estimated 67 occurred in India, 29 in Kazakhstan and 25 in South Africa.

Without the collapse of Vedanta's 240-metre part-built chimney in Korba, in the state of Chhattisgarh, the 2009 death toll among London's blue-chip miners would have been more in line with recent years. The BSC, which overseas the annual International Safety Awards with the support of the Health and Safety Executive, said it had stripped Vedanta of its honours because it was necessary to protect the integrity of the awards. According to the report, last month Vedanta's chairman Anil Agarwal had told a shareholder meeting in London that the episode at Korba was an "unfortunate accident".

Despite three officials from a Vedanta subsidiary being charged last November in India with what police described as "culpable homicide not amounting to murder", Agarwal told the meeting: "Investigations have revealed that (the incident) was caused by severe thunderstorms and lightning."

He said one of the group's alumina refineries had received a 2009 award from the BSC at a ceremony in May 2010. The subsidiary receiving the award was Bharat Aluminium Company (Balco): a second International Safety Award from the BSC was received by a Balco captive power operation believed to be located at the Korba site.

It was attempts to expand the site which led to the chimney collapse. According to report, the BSC said: "We are grateful to the Observer for bringing this matter to our attention and we have with immediate effect withdrawn the awards from both Vedanta and Balco pending the outcome of inquiries by the appropriate authorities into these tragic deaths."