1,826 Zambian villagers are taking legal action against UK based Vedanta Resources plc (Vedanta) and its Zambian subsidiary Konkola Copper Mines (KCM).
They are members of four artisanal farming communities situated in the Copperbelt region of Zambia along the Mushishima and Kafue Rivers.
They live close to the city of Chingola and next to the Nchanga Copper Mine which is operated by Vedanta’s subsidiary KCM. Vedanta bought a controlling share in KCM in 2004.
The communities, Shimulala, Kakosa, Hippo Pool and Hellen claim that polluted water is affecting their health and causing illnesses and permanent injuries. Their primary source of water for drinking, washing, bathing and irrigating farms are these waters.
The claimants’ primary source of livelihood is through farming as well as some fishing from the rivers. The alleged pollution has devastated crops and affected fishing greatly impacting the earnings of the local people.
Leigh Day issued proceedings on behalf of the villagers against Vedanta and KCM at the High Court in London in July 2015.
Lawyers who have been over to Zambia to see the effects of the effluent spills and discharges, claim that the pollution primarily stems from the copper processing part of the plant called the Tailings Leach Plant.
Much of the infrastructure was built in the 1970s and is over 40 years old and in need of replacement.
Toxic effluent flowing from the Tailings Leach Plant is supposed to be caught by a Pollution Control Dam however the dam is believed to be at capacity and is overflowing directly into the waterways.
The effluent is highly toxic containing chemicals such as sulphuric acid and high levels of heavy metals. The pollution emanating from the Nchanga Copper Mine in breach of Zambian regulatory requirements has been widely documented. The claimants are seeking compensation for their loss and damage to their land and their health suffered as a result of the pollution. They are also seeking remediation of the land and the provision of clean water.
In September 2015 both Vedanta and KCM challenged the jurisdiction of the English courts to hear the claims. In April 2016 a three day hearing took place in the High Court in London before Mr Justice Coulson to decide whether the claims could proceed in England.
Mr Justice Coulson’s comprehensive judgment was handed down on 27 May 2016 in which he granted jurisdiction over the claims and rejected the defendants’ arguments that the claims must be brought in Zambia. He agreed that the claimants had a legal right to bring their claim against the UK company Vedanta under EU law, upholding the EU case of Owusu and finding that it applied to group action claims.
In his judgment Mr Justice Coulson also referred to the judgment in U & M Mining Zambia Ltd v Konkola Copper Mines PLC (2014) where the English court had previously found that KCM had repeatedly acted in a dishonest and unjustified manner.
Mr Justice Coulson also found that that KCM are a necessary or proper party to the claim against Vedanta and that England is the appropriate place to bring the claim.
Following the judgment the defendants sought and obtained permission to appeal from the Court of Appeal. Their appeals will be heard in July 2017.