Press Note: January 18, 2013
World Bank Misleads Public on Vishnugad Project: Communities Asks Them to Report Facts
The press release issued by the World Bank (Bank) India office on January 10 is misleading and has gone too far defending the project without waiting for the Inspection Panel (IP) to do its investigation. We wonder whether this is a veiled attempt to influence the process and to send across a message to all affected communities that, irrespective of their complaints, the Bank will have its way.
We deplore the tone and tenor of the press release and the accompanying ‘questions and answers’ posted on Bank website for they being misleading and for its message that the concerns of the affected communities will not be given the due seriousness. Inspection Panel is the only forum within the Bank where affected communities can seek redressal for the damages caused by a Bank funded project.
The press release claims that Vishnugad Pipalkoti Hydro Electric Project (VPHEP) “is a sustainable hydropower project with manageable impacts that have been thoroughly assessed and for which appropriate mitigation measures are prepared.” The distance of flowing river between the upstream Tapovan Vishnugad HEP now under construction and the downstream proposed Vishnugad Pipalkoti HEP is exactly zero and yet the Bank has the temerity to call it sustainable.
This defensive stand of the management contradicts the Bank’s own status report in May 2012 when the Bank found the Overall Implementation Progress “Unsatisfactory” (compared to “satisfactory” rating in the previous review 6 months earlier) and Risk Rating becoming “High” (compared to “Substantial” previously)1. Disturbingly, the next Implementation review report is dated Dec 15, 2012, but the Bank has refused to make it public2.
There is no credible, comprehensive cumulative impact assessment done for the dams coming up on Ganga River Basin to estimate the damage the dams can cause. How can mitigation plans be prepared without estimating the damage? Nor there are any studies to ascertain the carrying capacity of the river taking into accoung the basin wide river use pattern by the various communities for their needs and livelihoods. Bank’s claim of “thorough assessment” is more exposed in the context of the environmental flow of Ganga is not determined yet. The BK Chaturvedi committee, an inter-ministerial committee headed by Planning Commission member B K Chaturvedi, was constituted in June 2012 by the Prime Minister's Office to recommend the flow that should be maintained in the Ganga and its tributaries. Their report is yet to be made finalized and made public.
As stated rightly in the Bank press release, the second stage forest clearance for the project is still awaited. We wonder why the Bank was in a hurry to approve the project before all clearance was in place. We wonder whether the Bank approval was again used as a pressure on the authorities to give all clearances. In 1985 the Bank had approved financing the Sardar Sarovar (Narmada) dam two years before it was given environmental clearance by the government of India. Bank’s lending was used then to put pressure on the government to bestow environmental clearance to a project which is, till date, an example of monumental destruction to people and environment. It was in fact the Narmada episode that led to the Bank setting up the Inspection Panel.
Even as the Bank press release claim that the construction could begin only after the Forest Clearance is in place, blasting has already began for construction of tunnel for the Power House, putting the people in Harsari villagers under immense strain. Blasting continues at night as well, making it difficult for the people to live there.
The Bank press release tries to misrepresent what its Board of Executive Directors (Board) decided. Having received the complaint in early July 2012, the Inspection Panel found it to be eligible and the request for investigation was registered exactly a month later. There after all concerned were notified by the Inspection Panel about the registration of request. It waited for the management (Bank) response for over 2 months, and after extending the deadline twice, they submitted their response to Inspection Panel on October 24. For complete chronology, visit Inspection Panel website. As mentioned in the Press Note of January 9, before preparing the Report and Recommendation a team of Inspection Panel had visited the project site, met with different stakeholders at different locations and it’s on the basis of these meetings that an investigation was recommended to the Board.
The Board “approved the Inspection Panel's Report and Recommendation to investigate matters of policy noncompliance and related harm raised in the Request for Inspection”3 in its December 18 meeting. While an investigation does not cast any judgment on the project, it’s a recognition that there are outstanding and unsettled issues involved in the project. It was deplorable for the Bank to agree to suspend the beginning of the full investigation till March 15, 2013, once the full investigation is approved.
We are concerned about many media reports that suggesting that the Ministry of Power has put undue pressure on the Bank to keep the report of the Inspection Panel under wraps until the Maha Kumbh Mela gets over. It is reported that the request was made in order to avoid agitations that the findings may trigger some protests by the Hindu pilgrims and spiritual leaders. We wonder whether Bank is in connivance with the government in suppressing the report from being made public. The Bank owes an explanation on why it will disclose the report and other documents only after March 15 and not immediately.
World Bank documents on the project: http://goo.gl/sM4NW
Puran Singh Rana