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Chandrahas Choudhury

Mining Company's PR Campaign Backfires in India

On a recent visit to Bhubaneswar, the capital of the large eastern state of Odisha, I found the airport plastered with advertisements and slogans expressing the nurturing, socially conscious side -- caring for the poor, growth with inclusive values, creating happiness -- of the many steel and aluminum companies that have major operations in one of India's poorest but most mineral-rich and business-friendly states.

The most prominent voice in this cluster belonged to Vedanta, a London Stock Exchange-listed "globally diversified natural resources group with wide-ranging interests in aluminium, copper, zinc, lead, silver, iron ore, oil and gas and power," headed by Anil Agarwal, one of India's richest and most controversial businessmen. Vedanta's main interest in Odisha is represented by its subsidiary company Vedanta Aluminium, which has over the last decade set up, in the face of concerted opposition from tribal groups, an alumina refinery in the district of Lanjigarh, the most bauxite-rich area of a state that has over half of India's reserves of that mineral. A Vedanta ad at the airport declared that "Education is the backbone of a rising community," and announced, somewhat improbably, that the company was providing "quality education to all local children across [the districts of] Lanjigarh and Jharsuguda."