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Hydro project: Nepal's indigenous people object to ADB, European bank funding

By Our Representative
Indigenous communities affected by the Tanahu Hydropower Project in Nepal have filed complaints with independent watchdogs of the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the European Investment Bank (EIB) -- two co-financiers of the project -- requesting an independent mediation process. The communities have alleged failure to uphold free, prior and informed consent and inadequate compensation for loss of lands and livelihoods.
At least 32 affected families or landowners organized under the Directly Inundation Affected Peoples Collective Rights Protection Committee have called for ‘land for land’ and ‘house for house’ compensation, re-survey of land left out during the Detailed Measurement Survey of the project, and free, prior and informed consent in the project process, among their ten demands, they have submitted to the ADB and the EIB.
The Tanahu Hydropower Project is being developed by Tanahu Hydropower Limited, which is fully owned by the Nepal Electricity Authority. The project will construct a 140 meter high concrete dam with a reservoir about 25 kilometers long on the Seti river in Tanahu District in western Nepal. The Sino Hydro Corporation constructed affiliated facilities for the project. The ADB, the EIB and the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) have provided funding to the project.
Sher Bahadur Thapa,​ a community member and one of the complainants, states: “As indigenous Magars, our lives depend on land and natural resources. The project has and will cause direct and material harm to our ancestral land, our livelihoods, and traditional practices. Our agricultural land, structures in the farms, cremation sites, bridges, roads and trails and our water resources will be directly affected by the project, and we will be displaced once the farming land is full of water.”
Despite policies in place at the ADB and the EIB to ensure meaningful consultation in projects, indigenous communities affected by the project claim that they were not given a seat at the table. Til Bahadur Thapa, one of the complainants, states: “We did not receive adequate information and opportunity for meaningful participation and proper consultation in the project. Key documents were not provided to us in our native tongue. The form and rates of compensation were determined without our participation and as a result, are unfair, inadequate, and discriminatory against our families and thus are being imposed on us.”
Indira Shreesh, a lawyer for the Indigenous Women’s Legal Awareness Group (INWOLAG), one of the advisors for complainants, states: “Communities have made many attempts to resolve their concerns with the company, relevant government agencies, and the operations department of the Asian Development Bank. To date, however, their demands remain unresolved. The indigenous communities seek redress through these complaint mechanisms."
Communities have alleged failure to uphold free, prior and informed consent and inadequate compensation for loss of lands and livelihoods
“The balance of power between the affected communities and the project supported by the State authorities remains highly uneven. So, the complainants have moved these complaint mechanisms seeking neutral dispute resolution as per the safeguards of the banks,” says Prabindra Shakya of the Community Empowerment and Social Justice Network (CEMSOJ).
Rayyan Hassan, executive director of the NGO Forum on the ADB commented, “The ADB Problem Solving function within the accountability mechanism has often been touted to be biased towards ADB management and project developers. In the case of Tanahu Hydropower Project and the plight of the Magar people, the ADB mechanism has an opportunity to do right and address the harm and resolve the Magar people’s concerns. We hope that this time the bank delivers on its problem solving mandate in actual practice.”
According to Tom Weerachat of International Accountability Project, “When multiple development finance institutions co-fund a project, they should uphold the best performance in preparation and implementation of the project. In reality, the community in Tanahu is struggling to have their rights respected and fulfilled. Complaints from the community affected by the Tanahu Hydropower Project is an opportunity for the financiers and their accountability mechanisms to facilitate a community-led process for problem solving.”

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