India’s mining and oil conglomerate Vedanta ran a covert lobbying campaign to weaken key environment regulations during the Covid-19 pandemic, according to a latest report by the Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP). The development comes a day after OCCRP accused the Adani Group of stock market manipulation through opaque investment funds based in Mauritius.

In its latest report, the investigative platform alleges Anil Agarwal-led Vedanta group lobbied to allow mining companies to boost production by up to 50% without having to secure environmental clearances and holding public consultations.

"Though the head of a major industry lobby group and India’s mining secretary also pressed for the rules to be loosened, internal documents and government sources suggest Vedanta’s lobbying was key. The environment ministry then changed the regulations by publishing an office memo — meant to be used for inter-office communication — on its website," it says.

"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," it adds.

The investigative platform also alleges Vedanta of lobbying to scrap public hearings for oil exploration projects for its subsidiaries Cairn Oil & Gas. "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," says the report.

"The six blocks in Rajasthan are among dozens where Vedanta bought extraction rights in government auctions. OCCRP’s analysis of official data shows Vedanta was the top benefactor of a recent government push to boost domestic oil exploration, scooping up 62 of the 220 blocks put up for sale across the country between 2018 and 2022," it adds.

As per the report in 2019, Vedanta’s subsidiary wrote to the environment ministry seeking no public hearings for oil exploration projects that were only "temporary and short-term." In 2020, the environment ministry amended “the environmental impact assessment (EIA) law that exempted oil and gas exploration projects from having to hold public hearings. "The change also downgraded the risk ratings of these projects meaning they only had to be greenlit by state authorities, rather than experts in the environment ministry. Despite widespread opposition, internal letters show all of Cairn’s projects in Rajasthan were approved in 2021," says the report.

The investigative platform also alleges Vedanta of benefitting the Bharatiya Janata Party in electoral bonds. According to the report, two entities linked to a Vedanta subsidiary gave a combined ₹43.5 crore to the party between 2016 and 2020. 

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