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Marginalized communities "excluded" from World Bank Inspection Panel review, complains India's civil society

Counterview Desk
Senior civil society activists, including Medha Patkar, Bharat Patel and Nityanand Jayaraman, have criticised the Working Group of the World Bank Board’s Committee on Development Effectiveness (CODE), entrusted to “review of the Inspection Panel’s Toolkit to determine whether it should be revised to enhance the Panel’s effectiveness”, saying, its design would exclude marginalizes communities.
While appreciating the World Bank on forming the Working Group on the occasion of Inspection Panel’s (IPN's) 25th Anniversary, civil society organizations (CSOs) in an open letter, have criticised the Bank for giving less than a fortnight to seek comments on this issue. The activists and researchers demanded to extend the deadline by at least two months in the interest of the sanctity of the process.
They demanded wider publicity is given to ensure better participation in the process. “The current consultation is designed and carried out to exclude affected communities, for whom the Inspection Panel is established,” the signatories said.
Demanding suo moto powers, the activists wrote that in the projects where Inspection Panel knows severe impacts of the projects — especially the Category A projects which entail high-risk — it should have powers to take suo moto investigation as well as actions. “The IPN should proactively look out for the involvement of the potentially affected communities and facilitate their observations/complaints… to ensure timely intervention and to minimise the damages caused to people,” the letter added.
The letter follows a recent meeting of the Working Group on International Financial Institutions – a network of over 50 CSOs and grassroots organisations in India – to reflect on India’s Experience of Independent Accountability Mechanisms (IAMs), in the context of Inspection Panel’s 25 years.
During the deliberations, in which both the Inspection Panel and Compliance Ombudsman Advisor (CAO) participated remotely, the inadequacy of IAMs in functioning independently and efficiently; lack of capacity and powers to promote and ensure accountability; failure in intervening timely to ensure that the voices of the affected people are adequately heard, addressed and issues resolved; and lack of powers to stay the progress of project construction in cases of extreme violations, were highlighted.

Text of the civil society submission to the Inspection Panel Working Group:

We are happy to note the Working Group of the World Bank Board’s Committee on Development Effectiveness is reviewing the Inspection Panel’s toolkit to determine whether it should be revised to enhance the Panel’s effectiveness. We take it as a positive step on IPN’s completion of 25 years. However, we demand, in the interest of the sanctity of the process, that the period is extended by at least two months and wider publicity is given to ensure better participation in the process.
Early this month, the Working Group on International Financial Institutions – a network of over 50 CSOs and grassroots organisations in India – called for a meeting to look at India’s experience of Independent Accountability Mechanisms, in the context of IPN’s 25 years. Both the IPN and CAO took part in it remotely.
During the 2 days deliberations what came out strongly was the inadequacy of IAMs when it comes to function independently and efficiently to live up to its mandate of delivering relief to affected communities in Bank-funded projects; often lacks capacity and powers to promote and ensure accountability at the Bank; fail in timely intervention to ensure that the voices of the affected people are adequately heard, addressed and issues resolved; and do not have powers to stay the progress of project construction in cases of extreme violations and makes it a fate accompli on the people.
It is in this context that we feel that the IPN Working Group’s initiative is timely.
We believe that IPN should be strengthened and not weakened, expanding its role and adding to its freedom and powers.
We have a few specific points to make:
1. Review and Consultation process:
The IPN Working Group’s consultation process seems to have designed and carried out, with no effort to reach out to affected communities, to exclude affected communities for whom the IPN is established and for its tight schedule and methodology lacks a genuine effort for meaningful consultation with communities and civil society groups. Hence we request to open up the process, give adequate time and space for the communities and CSOs, to ensure wide participation, and not holding them online, or in national capitals and metros alone. The Working Group should follow processes underpinning Principle of Free and Prior Consent, which requires this critical consultation is not rushed and ritual.
2. IPN should have suo moto powers
Currently, the onus of identifying Bank’s lending to a particular project, understanding the Bank Safeguard Policies, knowing about the existence of IPN and developing a complaint in a manner acceptable to IPN is on affected communities. This structure disempowers the communities for they are never consulted in advance with full disclosure of impacts, lenders and of compensation/rehabilitation for their losses in most of the projects. Hence in projects, IPN has knowledge about serious impacts, it should have powers to take suo moto investigation as well as actions. Particularly in cases of Category A projects, knowing that potential high risks, the IPN should proactively look out for the involvement of the potentially affected communities and facilitate their observations/complaints.
3. Timely intervention
Most often by the time affected communities get to know about Bank’s lending to a project they are dealing with and mobilise enough support to develop a complaint and reach IPN, the project is well into the construction phase, sometimes in advanced stages. That not only defeats the purpose of IPN’s mandate to “give affected people a greater voice in activities supported by the World Bank” but rather makes it a fate accompli. Hence, related to the earlier point, the IPN should have powers to take actions suo moto to ensure timely intervention and to minimise the damages caused to people and environment. IPN must assist impacted communities in developing taking their legitimate concerns through a thorough and proper review and hence must proactively interact with impacted communities as in the spirit of the Report of the Independent Review (Morse Report).
4. Powers to stay the progress of the project
In cases where the IPN recognises serious impacts and violation of Bank’s safeguard policies, IPN should have powers to stay the project until the problem is comprehensively addressed with due compensation and course correction.
5. IPN should have powers to recommend actions
IPN actions should not merely be suggestive but binding. Based on the findings of their investigation, IPN is best positioned to recommend actions, and not let it to the management/Board to suggest an action plan. Documenting the violations alone, without recommending actions to rectify them and having no powers to ensure implementation of them makes the process looks more symbolic than genuine. In the event the project proponent cannot respond appropriately and rationally to the recommendation, due corrective action should follow.
6. Powers to Monitor
IPN should have powers to monitor the progress of its recommended action plan. In cases of failure by the Bank/project proponent to implement them in a timely manner, IPN should have powers to take punitive and exemplary action against them. Punitive action should include public blacklisting of consultants.
7. Erroneous ESIA
In cases where IPN find erroneous Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA), on which the project is planned and executed, IPN should stay the project and recommend a fresh ESIA because an erroneous ESIA will have irreparable damage to the environment and to people and their livelihood. In addition, such an ESIA leave to room for planning mitigation of damages. The project should be planned afresh and a new set of mitigation plans should be developed on the basis of a new ESIA. Punitive actions should be taken on the consultants/entities who prepare such ESIA, for their willful negligence puts people and environment in danger.
These are some of the preliminary comments on how to strengthen the IPN. We would be able to give more substantial comments if the consultation period is opened up and involved a wide range of people in the process.
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Submitted by:
Medha Patkar, Narmada Bachao Andolan, Madhya Pradesh
Madhuresh Kumar, National Alliance of People’s Movements
Soumya Dutta, Bharat Jan Vigyan Jatha & India Climate Justice
Himanshu Thakkar, South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People, New Delhi
Sridhar R, Environics Trust, New Delhi
Leo Saldanha, Environment Support Group, Karnataka
Nityanand Jayaraman, Vettiver Collective, Tamilnadu
Rajendra Ravi, Institute for Democracy and Sustainability, Delhi
Ram Wangkheirakpam, Indigenous Perspectives, Manipur
Maglin Philomin, Teeradesa Mahila Sangathan, Kerala
Sanjeev Kumar, Delhi Solidarity Group, Delhi
Anil Varghese, Delhi Forum, New Delhi
Bharat Patel, Machimar Adhikaar Sangharsh Sangathan, Gujarat
Awadhesh Kumar, Srijan Lokhit Samiti, Madhya Pradesh
Rajkumar Sinha, Bargi Bandh Visthapit Sangh, Madhya Pradesh
Vinay Baindur, Urban Governance, Bangalore
Joe Athialy, Centre for Financial Accountability, New Delhi

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