Vedanta and Modi

Over the last four years, Anil Agarwal and his mining empire have, on the surface, deeply embedded themselves in the Modi government's development agenda. A month after the 2014 general election, Agarwal told reporters that the "entire world" was ''looking forward to the Modi government".

Since then, Vedanta, the motorious mining and smelting enterprise of Agarwal has been a staunch supporter of the Centre's flagship development programmes. In October 2014 the mining boss announced that the company's 'Maryadaa' campaign would join Modi's call for 'Swachh Bharat'—all the company's townships and employees would join in a cleanliness drive—and that group firm Hindustan Zinc was already in the process of constructing 30,000 toilets in rural Rajasthan in collaboration with the state government.

While most Indian conglomerates often pledge CSR funds towards flagship governance programmes, Vedanta has its fingers in nearly every pie : In partnership with the women and child development ministry, it plans to modernise 4,000 angawadis as "nand ghars'' and focus on children health, education and skilling of women.

Agarwal has also taken personal interest in other projects seen as near and dear to India's prime minister. In late 2017, in London, transport minister Nitin Gadkari disclosed that Agarwal had "taken responsibility" for beautifying the Ganga river front in Patna.

Gadkari at the time noted that he was looking for wealthy Indian businessmen in the UK with sentimental links to the Ganga and India.

"Nitin Gadkariji offered me to take up the beautification and maintenance of Ganga River front in Patna, the place of my birth. Gadkariji is visionary—for building a modern India, that is strongly attached to its rich culture and values. The Ganga rejuvenation project is one such example. I gladly accepted the offer and I will be happy to be associated with the prestigious project", Agarwal told The Telegraph, adding that he had invited the minister to his home in London.

The mining boss, according to industry sources, is a key person for the Modi government in London when it comes to industry promotion in the country. In May 2017, Vedanta became among the first organisations in the United Kingdom to adopt the Modi government's pet Ujala scheme, which involves replacing all old lamps with energy-saving LED bulbs.

Coal minister Piyush Goyal, who was in UK at the time, presented Vedanta and the Indian High Commission in London with a set of LED bulbs at a launch programme.

"UJALA offers a great business opportunity in the UK, which can also become a base to foray into other countries in Europe. We can start with the London-listed Vedanta Group and I don't see any reason why UJALA cannot become a way of life in London, which is such a global city", Goyal said at the time.

With protests continuing to rock Thoothukudi—and the passing of one more person on May 23 taking the total death toll to 13—public ire shows little sign of abating. Meanwhile, the state's chief secretary issued orders asking for an Internet shutdown in the area and in the surrounding districts for the next four days, indicating that the local law enforcement agency believes that the abnormal situation is far from over.

How the Vedanta Group, the state government and India's environment ministry react this time will be crucial. But it appears very likely that more CSR and outreach programmes aren't going to cut it.


Vol. 50, No.49, June 10 - 16, 2018