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World Bank prepares new advisory: Free, prior, informed consent "must" for land acquisition for any project

By Rajiv Shah
At a time when the Government of India is considering to tone down two of the main components of the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013 – social impact assessment and consent – a top World Bank document, leaked to Counterview, has insisted that there cannot be any land acquisition without “free, prior and informed consent.” Pointing towards the need to “strengthen meaningful consultation with vulnerable groups, project-affected communities, and indigenous peoples”, it has added, “Emphasis should be on the need for strong and consistent risk assessment and risk management.”
The document – in draft stage to be placed before an experts committee on July 30 at the World Bank headquarters in Washington – insists on avoiding and mitigating “adverse impacts to people and the environment” when a project is being implemented with its funds. It also wants its borrowers to conserve and rehabilitate “biodiversity and natural habitats”; promote “worker and community health and safety”; give due consideration to “indigenous peoples, minority groups and disadvantaged because of age, disability, gender or sexual orientation; and ensure that there is no prejudice or discrimination towards project-affected individuals or communities.”
Saying that all this is important “to strengthen its partnership with its borrowers” and is part of its “common commitment to environmental and social sustainability”, the document says, the borrowers would have to facilitate compliance norms by agreeing on an “Environmental and Social Commitment Plan (ESCP)”, which would be part of the financing agreement. The plan would include “a grievance mechanism for workers and for worker health and safety provisions”, with the borrowers obligatorily quantifying green house gas (GHG) emissions in projects with higher carbon dioxide production.”
Specifically saying that it “prohibits forced evictions”, the World Bank says, the borrowers must address “the rights of different categories of affected people, including those without legal right or claim to the land they occupy”. It underlines, “Project-related land acquisition and restrictions on land use can have adverse impacts on communities and persons. Project-related land acquisition or restrictions on land use may cause physical displacement (relocation, loss of residential land or loss of shelter), economic displacement (loss of land, assets or access to assets, leading to loss of income sources or other means of livelihood)/ or both.”
It says, “Unless properly managed, involuntary resettlement may result in long-term hardship and impoverishment for those affected, as well as environmental damage and adverse socio-economic impacts in areas to which they have been displaced. For these reasons, involuntary resettlement should be avoided. Where involuntary resettlement is unavoidable, it will be minimized and appropriate measures to mitigate adverse impacts on displaced persons (and on host communities receiving displaced persons) will be carefully planned and implemented.”
“To mitigate unavoidable adverse social and economic impacts from land acquisition or restrictions on land use by: (a) providing timely compensation for loss of assets at replacement cost, and (b) ensuring that resettlement activities are implemented with appropriate disclosure of information, consultation, and the informed participation of those affected”, the World Bank says, adding, its environmental and social standard norms apply “to permanent or temporary loss of land or assets.” It would also “include situations where legally designated protected areas, forests, biodiversity areas or buffer zones are established in connection with the project.”
Other conditionalities of the World Bank include “appropriate risk assessment” when the project developer seeks to employ “children under the age of 18”, including “regular monitoring of health, working conditions and hours of work.” It adds, “Forced labour, which consists of any work or service not voluntarily performed that is exacted from an individual under threat of force or penalty, will not be used in connection with the project. This prohibition covers any kind of involuntary or compulsory labour”, including bonded labour and labour-contracting arrangements.
Favouring hire-and-fire mechanism for workers under the project, the World Bank says, “All outstanding back pay, social security benefits, pension contributions and any other entitlements will be paid on or before termination of the working relationship, either directly to the project workers or where appropriate, for the benefit of the project workers. Where payments are made for the benefit of project workers, project workers will be provided with evidence of such payments.”

NGO body protests loopholes

Meanwhile, the Bank Information Centre (BIC), which comprises of civil society members independently advising the World Bank on the impact of projects on local people, has said that World Bank’s new draft proposals appear to “reverse a generation of gains”. Joe Athalay, representing BIC’s Delhi office, says, “Despite over two years of input from civil society, project-affected communities, and experts on a wider range of social and environmental issues, the proposal reveals a significant weakening of those standards. The proposed policies are not only at odds with the Bank’s stated goals of ending extreme poverty and boosting shared prosperity, but they also lower the bar for the entire international community.”
The BIC official says, “The draft reveals major dilutions”, adding, there is an “elimination of clear, predictable rules also appears to be a clear attempt by the World Bank to avoid accountability for the negative impacts of projects that it funds.” Yet another example of clear dilution, he adds, is that the World Bank “is proposing a new loophole that allows governments to ‘opt out’ of following requirements related to indigenous peoples, which would be a major blow to indigenous peoples who have counted on the Bank to recognize them when governments refuse” (click HERE to read).

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