Mining and oil giant Vedanta ran a covert lobbying campaign to weaken key environmental regulations during the pandemic, according to a new report by The Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project.

Vedanta’s oil business, Cairn India, also successfully lobbied to have public hearings scrapped for exploratory drilling in oil blocks it won in government auctions, it added.

In early 2022, the environment ministry loosened regulations to allow mining companies to increase production by up to 50 percent without needing to hold public hearings. This came after Vedanta chief Anil Agarwal wrote in 2021 in a letter to the then environment minister Prakash Javadekar that the government could add “impetus” to India’s “rapid” economic recovery by allowing mining companies to boost production by up to 50 percent without having to secure new environmental clearances.

“Apart from immediately boosting production and economic growth, this will generate huge revenue for the Government and create massive jobs,” Agarwal wrote, recommending that the change could be made with “a simple notification.”

Vedanta’s response

Responding to the OCCRP report, a Vedanta spokesperson said, “Vedanta Limited is one of the leading natural resources organisations in India. We operate with an objective of import substitution by enhancing domestic production in a sustainable manner. In view of the same, continuous representations are submitted for consideration to the Government in the best interest of national development and India’s march towards self-reliance in natural resources.”

To understand how key environmental regulations were modified during the pandemic, OCCRP combed through thousands of government documents obtained using freedom of information requests. “The records — ranging from internal memos and the minutes of closed-door meetings to letters like the one from Agarwal — show government officials tailored the rules in line with requests made by the industry, and in particular Vedanta,” the report said.

Cairn, too lobbied

The OCCRP report also alleged that Vedanta’s oil division — Cairn Oil & Gas — lobbied to scrap public hearings for oil exploration projects. “As with mining, the government quietly amended the law with no public consultation. Since then, at least six of Cairn’s oil projects in the northern deserts of Rajasthan have been greenlit for development,” it alleged.

The report did not have any negative impact on market sentiment on Friday. Vedanta Ltd. shares were up 1.64 per cent to close at ₹236.15 on the BSE.

This is the second report by OCCRP on Indian companies in the last two days. On Thursday, OCCRP said hundreds of millions of dollars were invested in publicly traded Adani stock through opaque investment funds based in the island nation of Mauritius that had direct links with Adani group promoters.