Bank president faces Narmada activists

12 December 2000

In October the Indian Supreme Court ruled that construction could restart on the Sardar Sarovar dam. Construction had been mostly stalled for nearly six years while the Court dealt with the case. The Narmada Bachao Andolan peoples’ movement (NBA) which had brought the case reacted with a series of protests both in the project area and in Delhi.

The World Bank was forced out of the project in 1993 due to public protests about the extent to which the project violated the World Bank’s policies on social and environmental issues. People assumed it would want to stay out, until it was reported that Bank President Wolfensohn had told the Chief Minister of Gujarat that the Bank might be willing to provide further finance for some parts of the project again.

Partly in response, 2500 people rallied at the World Bank office in New Delhi on 13 November. Wolfensohn was eventually persuaded to come out to talk with the protesters. He denied any plans to re-enter the Narmada projects. An NBA press release the following day said “People’s organizations cautiously take the promises made by the World Bank President before a gathering of over 2500 people yesterday. However, the people, who are the victims of the present lopsided development paradigm pushed by the Bank and their agents expressed their determination to fight this paradigm, which pushes them to deprivation and destitution”.

Other projects were also raised with Wolfensohn, including the Andhra Pradesh Social Forestry project and the Madhya Pradesh Forestry Project. The Madhya Pradesh project was halted before Phase II because it was “devastating the natural resource base of the adivasis and other communities whose life and livelihood is dependent on it”.

A number of NGOs from India and abroad signed an open letter to the World Bank calling on the Bank to shoulder its responsibility for the social and environmental impacts of the Narmada dams. The letter points out that the Bank approved its $450 million loan for the project in 1985 despite glaring violations of its own guidelines concerning resettlement and the environment. The Bank admits that despite cancelling the remainder of the loan in 1993, the Indian Government’s legal obligations to its creditor remain until the loan is repaid. In a 1999 letter, the Bank’s India Country Director stated that “the Bank has in the past and will continue to urge the Government of India to meet its obligations regarding the people affected by the Sardar Sarovar Project.” The letter points out that the World Bank has failed to do this and therefore demands that the Bank suspend all further disbursements and approvals for new loans for the Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra state governments until the Bank has ensured that the conditions of the loan have been met.

Narmada Bachao Andolan

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