New Delhi: The Asian Development Bank (ADB) begins its South Asia consultation, in the city tomorrow, on the revision of its safeguard policies on social and environmental impacts of its projects. The revision is claimed towards mitigating adverse impacts of its investment on people and the environment. The draft will be reviewed in consultation to be held with South Asian groups from 16-18 January 2008 at the Hyatt Regency and Taj Palace hotels.
Quite in contrast with ADB’s high expectations of acceptance of its invitation to participate, over 50 representatives of diverse social action and civil society groups have decided to boycott this process. A boycott call issued by the Peoples Forum Against the ADB (PFAADB) has been endorsed extensively and it states that ADB’s Draft Safeguards Policy,
‘Overlooks more than a decade of global campaigns to strengthen national and international social and environmental policies to prevent the disastrous impact of development projects on local communities – especially indigenous people’.
Organisations from India, Sri Lanka, Nepal and Bangladesh have boycotted the consultation. These include Sri Lanka based Movement for Land and Agriculture Reforms (MONLAR), South Asia Alliance for Poverty Eradication (SAAPE) and Collective Initiative for Research and Action (CIRA) from Nepal and Coastal Development Partnership (CDP) and Banglapraxis from Bangladesh, who have received specific invitations to participate. They are backed by Indian groups such as the National Forum of Forest Peoples and Forest Workers, National Alliance of Peoples Movements and Indian Social Action Forum.
The ADB had circulated its new Safeguard policy in October 2007 for public response. Commenting on the policy, groups have already raised serious concerns that this draft is opposed to indigenous peoples’ rights and subverts environmental considerations. The draft under review collapses, and thus dilutes, three earlier policies on Environment (2002), Involuntary resettlement (1995) and Indigenous peoples (1998) into one flaky ‘statement’ of principles.
It further introduces ambiguity in project review, allowing for investments to proceed even as environmental and social impacts have not been fully assessed by promoting a weaker set of standards through its so-called ‘country systems’ approach. The ‘country systems’ approach, first advocated by the World Bank and now being adopted by ADB, has come under extensive criticism as a policy that deliberately supports weak regulation of investments by taking advantage of inadequate environmental and social standards in-country.
On ground experiences reveal that the ADB’s track record on preventing social and environmental upheaval through its projects has been dismal with its projects causing extensive environmental and social damage. In the Phulbari Coal Project in Bangladesh, for instance, the ADB’s private sector investment front is financing a massive coal mining project by the UK based Asia Energy PLC. Mining 15 million tones of coal every year over a 30 year lease period will devastate the fertile Phulbari agricultural region, causing irreversible ecological damage to its wetland ecosystems. ADB itself has confirmed that this project would displace over 50,000 people directly, whereas independent researchers put the number as several times more. Massive resistance against his project has been quelled with the ruthless use of police force and has already caused the death by firing of three community members. Yet the ADB has not found any reason to reconsider its decision to invest in Phulbari.
People of Phulbari had this to say to the ADB Board:
‘The long struggle of people of Phulbari and the sacrifices made for this cause firmly state that open pit coal mining in a densely populated region like Bangladesh will not be accepted by the local people’.
Another instance of ADB’s reckless financing is the Kali Gandaki Hydroelectric project in Nepal which was completed in 2004. Prem Majhi who is a project affected person says,
‘Many indigenous Bote fisher folk families (one of the indigenous Nepali Communities) were given a month to shift and after six years the project finally built houses for us. Only that, it was two families per house and in no time the houses developed cracks and leakages’.
The ongoing Southern Transport Development Project (STDP) in Sri Lanka has been a case replete with violations of ‘ADB safeguards’. For instance in 2007 seven people were killed at the project site due to gross negligence by project authorities.
The Indian Government has been a strong advocate for the ‘country systems approach’ claiming that this is in respecting sovereignty. However, if it’s recent review of social and environmental policies and legislations is any indication, it reveals that the intent is to push for investment at any cost. The Union Ministry of Environment and Forests has come under fire for diluting the Environment Impact Assessment Notification under its so-called “re-engineering” programme financed, ironically, by the World Bank. Under the new norms it is easier to clear large dam and mining projects on long term leases, even if they involve submersion and destruction of forests. For instance, the Lafarge mining project in Meghalaya has been approved and cleared on the basis of fraudulent environment impact assessment reports and without in any manner conforming even with the new and diluted EIA Notification.
ADB has been repeatedly exposed as an institution that has leveraged its investment and return on investment over every other consideration. World over as technologies have improved in meeting higher safeguard standards, investing agencies have abandoned support for problematic or poor technology. However, in Assam state of India, ADB continues to fund the embankment projects for river taming, a technology that has been abandoned world wide.
Seen in this light, the current review of ADB’s safeguards policy, read with the promotion of “country systems” approach is a duplicitous effort in negating higher social and environmental standards – standards that have been painfully secured due to the struggles of hundreds of communities. The net effect is increase in development induced violence against forests, agricultural and marginalized urban communities by projects financed essentially from enhancing the revenues of private developers and their financiers.
Such regressive measures are gaining strength even as some very strong efforts are being made to protect human rights and the environment. Leading Indian Parliamentarians recently promoted reform of draconian anti-tribal laws to restore a semblance of justice to communities long wronged by enacting the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006. However, in the very regions that are likely to benefit from the implementation of this Legislation’s progressive features, the ADB’s current Safeguards Policy review disturbingly promotes powerful investment lobbies who are keen to negate such legislative safeguards by taking advantage of weaker policies of international financial institutions. In protecting such investments, many Indian states are invoking draconian legislations such as the Chattisgarh Special Public Security Act and West Bengal Prevention of Criminal Activities Act that brutally encroach on human rights of local communities protesting such inhuman and ecologically destructive development.
The Delhi boycott is the latest in a series of actions against ADB which began at it’s 39th Annual Governors Meeting in Hyderabad in May 2006 when the PFAADB was constituted by over 100 groups from across Asia.
The boycott call categorically states:
‘We need to let the ADB and our Governments know that we reject their attempts to manipulate and dilute our rights. Boycotting the ADB’s consultation meetings…. will be a crucial first step towards collectively formulating a strategy to achieve genuine accountability on the part of the ADB as well as governments’ (Ends)
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