Revised rules may dilute existing norms, fear civil rights bodies

The World Bank is set to revise its safeguard policies for lending, which, if implemented, will ensure that the projects that the Bank is funding follow norms to protect environment and vulnerable communities.

But, the civil rights organisations feel that the draft, which has been leaked earlier this month, is diluting the existing norms of the Bank and has the potential of impacting indigenous and vulnerable communities, besides diluting environmental protection rules.

The Bank’s Committee on Development Effectiveness (CODE) of the Board of Executive Directors is expected discuss this draft on Wednesday.   When contacted by BusinessLine, World Bank spokesperson said the “safeguard policies are at the centre of our efforts to protect people and the environment and to achieve our goals to end extreme poverty and promote shared prosperity in a sustainable manner.”

While accepting that a review of safeguard policies is on, the spokesperson said, “We want a new and strong environmental and social set of policies that will support sustainable development through standards that are clear to those impacted by the projects we finance, those who implement, and those holding us to account.”

The draft, seen by BusinessLine, is going slow on some major human rights issues, such as worker rights, involuntary resettlement of project-affected people, rights of special groups and bio-diversity protection.

Besides, reversing some protective conditions, such as strict timeline for submitting resettlement plans, and making some guidelines conditional; it also gives more weightage to national laws, as opposed to international standards.

For example, the draft gives borrowers the option to opt out of safeguards, such as identifying indigenous populations in a project area based on grounds of “exacerbating ethnic tension” or where identifying these vulnerable groups, often dependent on the land for survival, does not fall within the purview of the national laws.

With the World Bank chief Jim Yong Kim recently saying that the group would provide financial support worth $15-18 billion over the next three years to India, these new policies, if implemented, could be a cause for concern as tribals in States such as Odisha and Madhya Pradesh continue to resist large development projects, such as steel plants and coal mines.

“The world needs investment in development. Institutions that can invest development capital, like the World Bank, are essential to fulfil peoples’ rights to water, sanitation, education and healthcare. But too often communities have been displaced by or otherwise adversely affected by so-called ‘development’ projects, inadequately compensated for losses, and pushed further into poverty.

We fear that the new draft safeguards framework would be insufficient to prevent this,” said Jessica Evans, senior researcher and advocate working on international financial institutions at Human Rights Watch.

Some contentious portions of the draft put the onus of monitoring and managing social and environmental risks on the borrower; and require sub-projects to only comply with national laws (irrespective of the efficiency of these laws); and lack of protection of third-party contract workers, besides several others.

(This article was published on July 30, 2014)
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