By Sudarshan Varadhan and Jatindra Dash
NEW DELHI/BHUBANESWAR, March 18 (Reuters) - A protester and a policeman died in clashes outside Vedanta Ltd’s eastern Indian alumina refinery, a police official said on Monday, less than a year after police killed 13 anti-Vedanta protesters in south India.
The incident in the eastern state of Odisha happened 10 months after police opened fire on demonstrators protesting against Vedanta’s copper smelter in southern Tamil Nadu state, killing 13 people.
“Two people have died - one of our Odisha industrial security force personnel and another one from the public,” Gupteswar Bhoi, a senior police officer, told Reuters.
Maheswar Pati, a protester, told Reuters the state’s industrial security force personnel attacked the people without provocation.
“They physically assaulted us with sticks,” Pati said.
The state police-controlled Odisha Industrial Security Force said its staff were attacked by stone-throwing protesters.
Pati said the demonstrators included people from three neighbouring villages who had surrendered land to Vedanta and hoped to secure jobs for locals in the company.
Vedanta says 85 percent of the 3,000 employees at its Lanjigarh plant were from the state of Odisha.
Ajay Dixit, Chief Executive of Vedanta’s aluminium business, told Reuters that protesters disrupted production at the 1.9 million tonnes per annum refinery by blocking railway lines supplying bauxite and burning the front gate and other parts of the premises.
“As soon as the bauxite supply resumes, we will be able to operate at a normal capacity,” Dixit said, without specifying a time frame for resumption of operations.
The company, which plans to expand its refining capacity to 6 million tonnes per annum in India, expects to end the fiscal year 2018/19 with production of 1.5 million tonnes, compared with 1.1 million tonnes the previous year, he said.
The protests, involving over a hundred people, were also sparked by the retrenchment of a local employee, a senior police official told Reuters on condition of anonymity as he is not authorised to speak to media.
Dixit said the employee was not fired, and had voluntarily resigned after the company initiated an investigation over compliance-related issues.
The dead protester was a labourer who worked for one of Vedanta’s contractors, Dixit said.
Vedanta did not comment on what the demands of the protesters were, but said they wanted to resolve the situation through discussions.
Dixit said the company was not intending to follow up on plans to mine bauxite in the contentious jungle-clad Niyamgiri hills of eastern Odisha, which tribes consider sacred.
“We are not dependent on Niyamgiri, we are not following up Niyamgiri,” he said. (Reporting by Sudarshan Varadhan in New Delhi, and Jatindra Dash in Bhubaneswar; Editing by Martin Howell and Ed Osmond)