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Indian people to review World Bank role and impact

Added 18/Sep/07

Over 50 organisations and movements from all over India will meet in the capital on 21 September 2007, to conduct an Independent People's Tribunal on the World Bank in India. The tribunal, the first of its kind in India, is an opportunity for impacted communities and concerned groups to present testimony, evidence and research that objectively examine the impact of the World Bank's policies and projects.

Over four days from the 21st to the 24th of September 2007, will testify–and a 15-member Jury, which includes Aruna Roy, former SC Judge PB Sawant, Amit Bhaduri and Arundhati Roy, will render judgments on the validity, utility and effectiveness of the Bank’s policies and projects in the country.

“In convening this tribunal, the people of India are attempting to do more than simply rally another protest against injustice,” said Deepika D'Souza, Member of the Tribunal Secretariat and Executive Director of the Human Rights Law Network. “It is a well deliberated strategy aimed at raising a comprehensive national debate over neoliberalism and economic policy.”

Internationally, this Tribunal is creating critical dialogue at exactly the time the World Bank is being re-assessed from all quarters, including from within.

“By bringing into the limelight and giving voice to the testimony and personal experiences of the poor, Adivasis, Dalits, women, and other marginalised people, the tribunal will challenge the Bank's (and the elite's) most powerful tool: the monopoly of knowledge. These real stories are in direct conflict with the World Bank's own means of understanding economic and social policy,” asserted Prashant Bhushan, Senior Advocate, Supreme Court of India and a prominent human rights activist.

Highlighting the role of the Indian Government, Dr. Arun Kumar, eminent economist and Professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University, pointed out, “The Government has changed its economic policies under the pressure and influence of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, and consequently, our policies, and market–driven economic projects have a cascading effect on our production and employment," he pointed out.

Illustrating this point further, Prashant Bhushan said that officials of the Indian government immediately take up post-retirement jobs with the World Bank or with global 'consultants' at exorbitant salaries; also persons who have been working with the World Bank and the IMF have been invited to occupy senior policy-making positions in the government. “Persons who have been working with organisations that have vested interests, which could be opposed to the economic interests of the country, should not be called in to occupy policy-making positions in the government of India," he pointed out.

Mr. Ashok Chaudhary, General Secretary of the Gramin Mazdoor Union in the North Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, asserted that through the conditionality enforced by them, the World Bank and the institutions supported by it were destroying the livelihoods of the traditional forest dwellers and Adivasis. "Such policies are displacing people who have traditionally held rights over the forest lands, isolating them from traditional occupations, knowledge systems and livelihood, and damaging their socio-cultural fabric.”

Mr. Devinder Sharma, India's prominent food security expert, said that the World Bank has influenced Indian farming directly and indirectly in numerous ways, starting from the time of the Green Revolution. Ways in which the Bank directly influenced Indian agriculture include special projects designed to change agricultural technologies, inputs pertaining to those technologies, or institutions created, or dismantled, around agriculture, both at the state level or at the national level; while indirectly, agriculture was influenced by their structural adjustment/ (economic) re-structuring projects.

The Bank is thus responsible for directly and indirectly contributing to the agrarian distress and farmers' suicides and indebtedness in India today. "The Bank continues to influence the directions that Indian farming takes even now, if not by anything else, just the sheer magnitude of financing that goes into the agriculture sector," he added.

The World Bank is promoting the pure logic of the market over all other human values, and this is becoming visible in every sector, might it be agriculture, services, the environment or human rights, the panelists said.

According to the organisers, the trend toward private provision, at a macroeconomic level, can contribute to unequal and politically volatile societies. Although increased private investment can upgrade national infrastructure, introduce new technology, and provide employment; it can also lead to the establishment of a two-tiered service supply with a corporate segment focused on the healthy and wealthy and an under-financed public sector focusing on the poor and sick; brain drain, with better trained medical practitioners and educators being drawn toward the private sector; and a powerful private sector that can threaten the role of the government as the primary duty bearer for human rights by subverting regulatory systems through political pressure or co-opting of regulators.

Given what seems to be the record of the projects funded and promoted by the World Bank in terms of human rights violations and environmental degradation; and the feeble, inadequate response of these agencies and the Indian government to proposals and appeals by the people of India to reconsider its projects and approaches, it is time to examine and judge their claims to serving the wider public interest. This the tribunal will do, both in terms of in-depth and researched presentations from experts, as well as local people’s real voices and lived narratives.

IPT on WBG Secretariat
Deepika D'Souza ( deepikadsouza@hotmail.com)
Harsh Dobhal ( harshdobhal@gmail.comTel: 09818569021)
Suresh Nautiyal ( nautiyal.cl@gmail.comTel: 09868182289)
Minakshi Arora- www.watercommunity.in

For more information visit the tribunal website.