MAC: Mines and Communities

Indian villagers celebrate historic US Supreme Court victory

Published by MAC on 2019-04-02
Source: Working Group on IFIs (India) (2019-03-31)

Last week came news that Tata was seeking to violate a Jharkhand plan to allow its entry into the Saranda forest, the largest site of sal trees in Asia [see: Saranda surrendered to miners ]

But, in another part of India, there's been jubilation at an apparent victory over the company's Mundra power project, secured from the US Supreme Court [see: US Supreme Court rules against Tata ]

 

Villagers Celebrate The Historic US Supreme Court’s Verdict Which Ended The Immunity of the IFIs

For Immediate Release

Working Group on IFI's (India)

31 March 2019

The air in Mundra filled with the slogans like Kaun Banata Hai Hindustan,
Machuawara, Majdoor, Kisan! (Who makes India? Fishermen, Labourer and
Farmers); Ladenge Jeetenge! (We shall fight, we shall win); Aadiwaasi
Machhuawara Kisaan Ekta Zindabad! (Long live the unity of tribals,
fishermen and farmers), and Poonjipatiyon Ki Dalaai Band karo!

Hundreds of people from Navinal and Tagri villages of Kutch and
representatives from various social movements and civil society members
have gathered to celebrate the historic verdict of the US Supreme Court
that ended the absolute immunity enjoyed for long by the International
Financial Institutions.

“Is Development only for Tata, Ambani, and Adani? What about the fishermen
from Mundra, who live in the open with huts made up of bamboo and gunny
bags but feed thousands of people in and outside Gujarat,” asked Medha
Patkar, senior activist, Narmada Bachao Andolan and National Alliance for
the Peoples’ Movements.

“Every citizen has the constitutional right to question anti-people
policies,” she asserted. She further said, “We do not have any problem in
discharging Sardar Sarovar (Narmada) Dam waters for the benefit of the
farmers of Kutch. However, we will fight if it is given to the
industries,” referring to the allocation of water for a large number of
industries.

She was speaking at the public meeting, organised by the Machimar Adhikar
Sangharsh Sangathan (MAAS), Mundra, which witnessed the participation of
the hundreds of the villagers affected by the World Bank Group’s
International Finance Corporation-funded Tata Mundra Ultra Mega Power
Plant. The meeting was organised to celebrate the historic verdict of the
US Supreme Court that ended the absolute immunity enjoyed for long by the
International Financial Institutions.

During the occasion, representatives from various social movements and
civil society members like Medha Patkar, senior activist of the Narmada
Bachao Andolan; Soumya Dutta, Convenor of the Beyond Copenhagen
Collective; Nitaben Mahadev, Gujarat Lok Samiti, Sanjeev Danda, Dalit
Adivasi Shakti Adhikaar Manch; and Maju Varghese and Anuradha Munshi from
the Working Group on International Financial Institutions (WGonIFIs) were
also present to extend their solidarity and felicitate the fishermen and
villagers who have been at the forefront of this historic struggle.

The petitioners of the case were garlanded and facilitated at the public
meeting. Speakers after speakers alluded their courage, encountering
hostilities and the broader impact of this victory to the people around
the globe, making institutions like World Bank more accountable.

Speaking at the occasion, Soumya Dutta, emphasised that the recent US
Supreme Court’s decision to end immunity of the International Financial
Institutions is a significant victory of the people fighting to save their
dignity, land and livelihood across the world. He stressed that a broader
alliance of different sections of the people affected by the project be
formed to fight getting justice.

Sanjeev Danda said the US Supreme Court’s verdict is a firm reminder that
fishers and poor are not insects that can’t be eliminated easily. He
thanked the villagers for their firm resistance against the might of the
IFC and Tata.

Nitaben Mahadev expressed solidarity on behalf of organisations in Gujarat
and wished the people the best to take the fight to higher heights.

Buddha Ismail Jam, the main petitioner of the case against the ongoing
IFC, emphasised the need to stay together. He said, “If we continue to
stay strong for the remaining struggle, nobody can snatch justice away
from us.”

Gajendra Sinh Jadeja, a co-petitioner of the case and Sarpanch of the
Navinal Panchayat in Mundra, listed the problems currently being faced by
the fishermen, farmers and pastoralists. He said, “The production of
cotton, dates, chikoo has considerably reduced due to the coal-ash, which
has also adversely impacted the health of the people. Similarly, the inlet
and outlet channel have increased the salinity, thus impacting
agriculture.

Additionally, the channel has also driven away from the fishes away from
the coast, due to which, the fishermen have to travel about 25 kilometres
into the sea.”

Bharat Patel, thanked the villagers, civil society and social movements
across the country for their solidarity, and the Earth Rights
International, for their unflinching support. He asserted that the
policies of the IFIs need to be amended and said that they can’t function
at the cost of the lives of people. Talking about the further course of
action, he said, “We will fight till the ecology is restored; the people
who lost their livelihoods are adequately compensated; and the officials
of IFC and Tata Power, who conspired to destroy our lives for their greed
are criminally charged.”

Background

On February 27, 2019, the Supreme Court of United States, in a historic
7-1 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court decided in Jam v. IFC that
international organisations like the International Finance Corporation of
the World Bank Group do not enjoy absolute immunity.

The Court’s decision marks a defining moment for the IFC – the arm of the
World Bank Group that lends to the private sector. For years, the IFC has
operated as if it were “above the law,” at times pursuing reckless lending
projects that inflicted serious human rights abuses on local communities,
and then leaving the communities to fend for themselves.

In the case of the Tata Mundra, since the beginning, the IFC recognised
that the Tata Mundra coal-fired power plant is a high-risk project that
could have significant adverse impacts on local communities and their
environment.

Despite knowing the risks, the IFC provided a critical Rs 1,800 crore (USD
450 million) loan in 2008, thus enabling the project’s construction.
Despite this, the IFC failed to take reasonable steps to prevent the harms
it predicted and failed to ensure that the project abided by the
environmental and social safeguards.

As predicted, the plant caused significant harm to the communities living
in its shadow. Construction of the plant destroyed vital sources of water
used for drinking and irrigation. Coal ash has contaminated crops and fish
laid out to dry, air pollutants are at levels dangerous to human health,
and there has already been a rise in respiratory problems.

The enormous quantity of thermal pollution – hot water released from the
plant – has destroyed the local marine environment and the fish
populations that fishermen rely on to support their families. Although a
2015 law required all plants to install cooling towers to minimise thermal
pollution by the end of 2017, the Tata plant has failed to do so.

A nine-mile-long coal conveyor belt, which transports coal from the port
to the Plant, runs next to local villages and near fishing grounds. Coal
dust from the conveyor and fly ash from the plant frequently contaminate
drying fish, reducing their value, damage agricultural production, and
cover homes and property.

The IFC’s own internal compliance mechanism, the Compliance Advisor
Ombudsman (CAO), issued a scathing report in 2013 confirming that the IFC
had failed to ensure the Tata Mundra project complied with the
environmental and social conditions of the IFC’s loan at virtually every
stage of the project.

The report recommended the IFC to take remedial action. However, the IFC’s
management responded to the CAO by rejecting most of its findings and
ignoring others. In a follow-up report in early 2017, the CAO observed
that the IFC remained out of compliance and had failed to take any
meaningful steps to remedy the situation.

The harms suffered by the people are all the more regrettable because the
project made no economic sense from the beginning. In 2017, in fact, Tata
Power began trying to unload a majority of its shares in the project for
one rupee because of the losses it has suffered and will suffer in future.
At the moment, the plant is operating much-below capacity in part because
India has an oversupply of electricity.

About us:

Machimar Adhikar Sangharsh Sangathan (MAAS) is a trade union of the fish
workers in Mundra and a co-petitioner in the historic Budha Jam vs IFC
case.

Contact:
Dr Bharat Patel (Mundra, Gujarat, India)
General Secretary, Machimar Adhikar Sangharsh Sangathan
+ 91 94264 69803
bharatp1977@gmail.com

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