Friday, April 05, 2013

Advocacy groups storm into World Bank consultations on environment, say its purpose is to help corporates

A protest rally in Kutch against ultra mega power plant
By Our Representative
Senior activists of several advocacy groups stormed into the civil society consultation, being held to “review” and “update” the World Bank's environmental and social safeguard policies organized by the World Bank at India Habitat Centre in New Delhi.
Terming these consultations as “eyewash”, these activists didn't allow the consultations to proceed, because they felt that the World Bank continues to hide behind the central and state governments in India or other government agencies in different countries and shirk responsibility for environmental and social damage.

Among the projects which were particularly mentioned for receiving World Bank aid despite such consultations was the Tatas’ Ultra Mega Power Plant at Mundra. Madhuresh Kumar of the National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM), speaking on the occasion, said that if the Bank was seriously concerned about the impact of its investments, then the best test would have been “the sensitivity demonstrated in the investments made by its various lending operations.” The International Finance Corporation (IFC), the Bank’s private sector lending arm, is “complicit in massive human rights and environmental violations that form the basis of the super-mega $4 billion Tata-Mundra 4,000 MW power project in the ecologically sensitive Kutch region of Gujarat.”
In fact, the Bank, has “further endorsed such environmental crimes by offering a $1 billion loan to the building of the Fifth Power System Development Project, which essentially is a transmission line for Tata-Mundra and three other large coastal power projects. Participating in such manner, the Bank conveniently escapes any blame for the disaster, and yet benefits from financing such ‘development projects’”, he said.
Voluntary agencies which came together to protest against the Bank’s ways, apart from NAPM, were the Matu Jan Sangathan, the Domestic Workers Union, the Delhi Mahila Shahri Kaamgar Sangathan, the Delhi Solidarity Group, SRUTI, Delhi Forum, Programme for Social Action (PSA) and others.
Vimal Bhai of Matu Jan Sangathan said, “The way these consultations are organized are no different from what has been going on for decades. Many such reviews have been conducted, thousands of groups and individuals have participated with the intent of seeing genuine reform of the institution, and possibly its democratization, only to be utterly disappointed.”
He termed the current exercise nothing but a “charade to mask the true intentions of its major ‘shareholders’ – France, Germany, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States, who are grappling with “serious economic downturns and are conveniently using the Bank to force open global investment opportunities with scant regard to environmental and social impacts.” Meanwhile, he added, “the Bank refuses to own up to its responsibility for social and environmental damages it did in Narmada Valley, Singapur, East Parej Mines, Allain Duhangan, Rampur, Luhri and Vishungad Pipalkoti.”
He wondered, “On several occasions these have been brought to the notice of the Bank but without success. Work for the Tehri Hydro Development Corporation, for instance, continues. If such is the case then why hold these stakeholders consultations?”
Umesh Babu of the Delhi Forum said, “The Bank’s policy on piloting the use of borrower systems for environmental and social safeguards has in the past decade been a mantra to pave the way for promoting investment at any cost. Over a decade ago the World Bank funded the Indian Ministry of Environment and Forests’ Environmental Management Capacity Building Project. The result was a massive dilution of India’s environmental and social safeguard norms. What’s worse, the processes that resulted lent voice to those within administration and industry who were crying hoarse that the carefully evolved rigour of ‘forest’ and ‘environmental’ clearance standards in India was thwarting economic growth.”
PSA’s Lakshmi Premkumar said, “It took people's organizations across the globe 30 plus years to pressure the World Bank Group to formulate, reformulate and have in place mechanisms that would safeguard social-environmental-cultural-traditional interests of communities and people affected by the Group's financing of so called 'Development projects' across the World and in India.”
However, she added, “it took the Bank, in particular the IFC, only one stroke of destructive imagination to bring in the new model of 'financial intermediary lending' that wiped out all mandatory requirements posed by environmental and social safeguard principles on lending, as they are not bound by such standards. At a time when the financial institutions (FI) model of lending in India by IFC and the World Bank at large are expected to cross the halfway mark of their collective investments, it does not make any sense at all for the World Bank to be holding such reviews of their environmental and social safeguards; they simply do not matter at all to the actual practice of the Bank and its agencies.”
Activists urged members of civil society, who had come for the consultation, to leave the meeting, if they really felt the pain of the people of this country. “The Bank has pushed for policies which have undermined the sovereignty of India and its people, privatized services, opened up market for loot and plunder of natural resources by the private corporations and very fundamentally changed the policies of this country in favour of capitalists forces”, they alleged.
Shouting slogans of “World Bank Quit India!”, “World Bank Down Down!” activists refused to budge from the venue until World Bank Country Director Onno Ruhl, left the hall at 2 pm followed by Stephen F Lintner, Senior Advisor, Sanjay Srivastava, regional safeguards advisor and other Bank officials along with few civil society organisation members and Bank consultants who stayed till last.
A statement by NAPM later said, “These sham consultations will not be tolerated unless Bank owned up damages, compensated communities and stopped funding the environmentally and socially destructive projects in name of 'development'. People's movements have been struggling across the country against its own governments demanding justice and challenging their nefarious capitalist designs but that doesn't mean World Bank can hide behind them. They are part of the larger design of the global financial systems and we will continue to challenge it.”
“The current ‘consultations’ are therefore a sham and must be denounced by anyone deeply concerned about the nature of democracy and are keen to ensure that all peoples of the world benefit from human activity that is based on deep appreciation and adherence to the principle of prior and informed consent and the principle of intergenerational equity”, it added.

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