World Bank officials refuse to be held accountable

New Delhi, Sept.26 : World Bank officials have refused to be held accountable for their policy and project interventions in India as highlighted by the four-day meeting of the Independent Peoples Tribunal (IPT) in the Jawaharlal Nehru University campus here.

The deliberations, which were attended by over 600 people from communities, social movements, research institutes, NGOs and universities, concluded on a note of disappointment on Tuesday when the bank officials categorically stated that they were not accountable to the tribunal process or to the civil society at large.

In its preliminary findings, the IPT observed the Bank had an undue and disturbingly negative influence in shaping India's national policies disproportionate to its contribution, financial or otherwise.

While India is the world's largest single cumulative recipient of World Bank assistance, with lending totaling about 60 billion dollars (Rs. 2,40,000 crores) since 1944, current annual borrowing amounts to less than one percent of the country's GDP.

The IPT, however, charged the World bank with using its loan extension facility as a leverage to bring about important policy changes and impose conditionalities in areas such as governance reform, health, education, electricity, water and environment- many of these with obvious political and social consequences.

It also claimed that the loans were being used to legitimize substantial additional funding from a diversity of bilateral and multilateral donors such as the Asian Development Bank and Department for International Development (DFID-UK).

The Bank's loans have caused extensive social and environmental harm from mass displacement in the Narmada valley to loss of livelihoods of traditional fishworkers in places such as Barwani, the IPT statement noted.

It was noted that such overbearing influence on India's policy making was in violation of the World Bank's own Rules of Association, which mandate it to be an apolitical institution that should not interfere in political processes of any member country.

Further, the IPT depositions stated that the presence of former Bank officials in senior government positions was unacceptable and involved conflicts of interest.

Vice Chairman of the Kerala State Planning Board Professor Prabhat Patnaik in his deposition cited the example of the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (NURM), which is a World Bank designed project.

He said that in the Kerala NURM project, the state government, he said, was being forced to accept a conditionality to reduce stamp duties to five percent from the earlier 15-17 percent. To avail a loan of about 1000 crores, Kerala would lose up to Rs.7000 crores of government revenue, he added.

Vinay Baindur of the Bangalore based Collaborative for the Advancement of Studies in Urbanism (CASUMM) showed evidence of how the Karnataka Economic Restructuring Loan (KERL) resulted in the conversion of a state government and its economy into a corporatised entity meant to generate funds for "private sector and enterprise development".

'The 250 million dollar loan resulted in far reaching changes; the closure/privatisation of the public sector, nearly two lakh permanent employees were forced to take Voluntary Retirement Scheme (VRS) payments, he added.

Further, the restructuring process led to a steep rise in farmer suicides; many of those who committed suicide did so because they were unable to pay the arrears in power costs that were suddenly slapped on them on account of power tariff hikes.

"The withdrawal of subsidies for agriculture led to a sharp rise in the costs of cultivation", argued Baindur in his deposition.

Jury member and scientist Meher Engineer said that he found the depositions on how the Bank forced inappropriate technology on India such as incinerators especially damning.

"Given the well researched evidence that I have heard it is hard to imagine any role for the World Bank in the environment sector, he said. 'The Bank is pro-rich, pro-urban and anti-environment," he concluded.

The IPT was organized by an inclusive platform consisting of over 60 national and local groups. Activists, academicians, policy analysts and project affected communities presented evidence against the World Bank in over 26 sectors from September 21 to 24.

Jury members included historian Romila Thapar, writer Arundhati Roy, activist Aruna Roy, former Supreme Court Justice P B Sawant, former Finance Secretary S P Shukla, former Water Secretary Ramaswamy Iyer, scientist Meher Engineer, economist Amit Bhaduri, Thai spiritual leader Sulak Sivaraksa and Mexican economist Alejandro Nadal amongst others.

But in response to the depositions the Bank posted a question and answer document on its India home page. In the document, the Bank made the outrageous claim that, "The World Bank definitely has not recommended the privatization of water supply services in India". (With inputs from ANI)

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