AT THE START of India’s struggle with the COVID-19 pandemic, the Aditya Birla Group and Vedanta Limited were among the first corporate donors to the PM CARES Fund—the emergency-relief fund helmed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, which his government has shielded from all public scrutiny amid questions over how it has been managed and spent. Within the first week of the fund’s creation, in March 2020, the Aditya Birla Group gave Rs 400 crore and Vedanta gave Rs 200 crore. Both corporations were lauded in the media for their altruism.
Unbeknown to the public, JN Singh, a right-to-information activist, had tipped off multiple government agencies in December 2019 about massive concealment of aluminium production by Hindalco Industries, a part of the Aditya Birla Group, as well as the Bharat Aluminium Company, or BALCO, a subsidiary of Vedanta. Singh had evidence suggesting the two giant aluminium producers had failed to report hundreds of thousands of tonnes of output over extended periods, causing losses to the public exchequer worth thousands of crores of rupees. Analysis of information available in the public domain alongside documents furnished by Singh and other sources suggests that the two companies may have concealed production worth around Rs 24,000 crore.