Two years ago when I went to Lanjigarh on a Vedanta-sponsored trip, the mining project was already in hot water. Thanks to it being a London-based company, the international press was also following it keenly.
After a long road journey, we reached Lanjigarh late in the afternoon. From the main road, we saw a gleaming refinery with the bauxite-rich Niyamgiri hills — the bone of contention — in the backdrop. Later, after a briefing on the project, we went to the heart of the plant, the control room. The Vedanta officers introduced us to the team that was at the controls that night. “All-woman team, madam. They have been recruited from different engineering colleges in Orissa,” an officer told us proudly. One of Vedanta’s promises have been to provide job opportunities for the locals. I know that journalists are known to be skeptical and sometimes cynical, but an all-woman team (they all looked just out college) ‘manning’ the hub on the same night we visited it had to be too much of a coincidence.
The next day, we were taken to the Niyamgiri Vedanta Nagar, a rehabilitation colony. As we visited a self-help group, a woman gave us a long exposition on their activities and the group’s micro-saving schemes. However, even in this area, which was surely the company’s turf, we were never allowed to be alone with the ‘beneficiaries’. All through the trip, I had a feeling that Vedanta was pushing too hard to portray a ‘correct’ image.
On Tuesday, the government halted the project because it had violated forests and environment norms. That ‘correct’ image it tried so hard to cultivate has been sullied now. For this, Vedanta has only itself to blame.