Opposition Mounting Against HZL’s Land Disposal By Vedanta Group

The news of the sale of Vizag Zinc Smelter’s land by its management, the Vedanta Group, created unrest among the farmers and former employees who sacrificed their land for setting up the factory in the 70s. Activists accuse the government for backing the private companies.

Visakhapatnam: Public anger is mounting against the proposed disposal of the industrial land owned by the Vedanta group at Mindi in the industrial belt of Visakhapatnam.

The Vedanta group, which had acquired a major stake in the government owned Hindustan Zinc Limited, is now reportedly poised to sell 365 acres of zinc smelter’s land located at Mindi in Visakhapatnam for real estate purposes.

The group has closed down Vizag Zinc Smelter in February 2012. It is learnt that the Vedanta management had written to the Andhra Pradesh government seeking its approval for conversion of its zinc smelter’s land from industrial status to residential one on the grounds that there was no industrial activity on the premises.

Peeved at the reported move, farmers who lost their lands for setting up of HZL in the latter half of the 70s, the former employees of Hindustan Zinc Limited (HZL), who were ‘forcibly’ given voluntary retirement, and local people, have launched an agitation under the aegis of Hindustan Zinc Samrakshana Samithi.

The Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU), which held a dharna opposite the factory recently, demanded that the lands be given back to the original landowners if the Vedanta group could not run the business.

Former Energy Secretary to Government of India (GoI) EAS Sarma charged the government with allowing the Vedanta group to profiteer from the valuable public land, worth about Rs 1800 crore at Mindi village.

The Communist Party of India (Marxist) state leader Ch. Narasinga Rao alleged that Vedanta group had indeed no interest in running the zinc smelter, and it had eyed only on the Rs 20,000 crore cash reserves that the HZL had in its coffers before it was sold.

The lands have been given to the government for paltry Rs 850 per acre by the local farmers only in the expectation of employment to them and to their kin, Rao said.

“Now that the Vedanta has closed down the industry, the lands should be given back to the farmers and it doesn’t have any right to enjoy the lands,” he maintained.

In a letter written to the GoI, the retired civil servant EAS Sarma accused the government agencies of acquiescing in the statutory violations the Vedanta Group had committed on the environmental front.

“Vedanta has caused toxic pollution all around, and damaged the health of its workers and local villagers apart from contaminating the ground water aquifers,” he complained.

The government, in the interest of public, would have brought the company to book by now. But, it seemed to be going all the way to allow the company to profit from the valuable public land, he said.

Sarma alleged that the ruling party and its predecessors have been recipients of political donations from the company and opined that the policies adopted by the NDA and UPA dispensations vis-a-vis Vedanta Group might be something to do with it.

“The recent moves on the part of the NDA government in terms of retrospectively amending the Foreign Contributions Regulation Act seem to corroborate this premise,” he stated while demanding an independent, court-monitored investigation into it.

Alleging that the Vedanta had mismanaged the HZL unit at Mindi, Sarma said it should have opened the eyes of the government to the mindless policies it had been adopting towards disinvestment of PSUs, more so the defense PSUs.  He demanded that the Centre initiate steps to stop Vedanta Group from selling the land and order CBI investigation into the role played by the political executive, ministry of mines and the government nominated directors on the board of the company.

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