BHUBANESWAR: There is much controversy doing the rounds in Lanjigarh town of Kalahandi district in Odisha, where metal and mining major Vedanta has a one million tonne alumina refinery.
For the Vedanta group of companies, this is not something new. Billionaire Anil Agarwal, who rose from a scrap dealer to metal magnate, has been a magnet of bad press especially since the Tuticorin incident — where police opened fire on protesters seeking to shut down Vedanta’s copper smelter plant, killing 13.
This has now given fresh impetus to Lanjigarh’s tribesmen seeking closure of the alumina unit run by the company’s Indian unit, Vedanta Limited. Hundreds of tribals, along with members of various forums, fear that the company aims to revive plans to extract bauxite in the unique tribal region of Niyamgiri.
But how far does this pose a challenge for Vedanta? Without commenting on whether it aims to access the Niyamgiri reserve, a company executive said that the government, in February, had approved a long-term linkage policy for bauxite, the key raw material used to make aluminium.
According to the policy, 70 per cent of the saleable stock of bauxite would be made available for long-term linkage, with sources saying that this signifies that there is no question of shutdown as the plant has the backing of the state government.
For Vedanta, which has been running its Lanjigarh refinery on bauxite sources from Andhra Pradesh, Brazil and Guinea, the move will enable it to purchase bauxite from state-run Odisha Mining Corporation on a long-term basis at market prices.
Meanwhile, allegations of air and water pollution by Vedanta’s alumina refinery in Lanjigarh notwithstanding, it can be argued that the area around the plant has benefited from good roads, housing, healthcare and schools. The Niyamgiri villages, on the other hand, do not have access to these. Vedanta has also denied any violations of environmental norms.
The company executive added that Vedanta aims to expand the refinery’s capacity to six million tonnes of alumina a year. “Despite huge revenue loss, we’ll try our best to run the plant, as aluminium is the future,” said an official from Vedanta.
In addition, the two mines with 15 mtpa bauxite reserves which it has bagged this year will help Vedanta convert its unit into six mtpa alumina. In a nutshell, Vedanta is looking forward to a turnaround for mega aluminium operations in Odisha, including the two smelters in Jharsuguda.