New Delhi, May 5 (G’nY News Service): In its attempt to back the colossal coal-powered Mundra project in India, the World Bank ended up enraging the locals of the north western state of Gujarat and a civil case was filed in the U.S. Federal Court on the 21st of April 2015. The suit was filed by the environmental group, Earth Rights International, on behalf of the fisher folk of the area. World Bank’s private-sector lending arm, International Finance Corporation (IFC), has alleged the activists of “irresponsible and negligent conduct”. This is the first time ever that a local community has filed a lawsuit in a United States court agains the World Bank.
The Mundra UMPP is a 4000 MW (800 x 5 units) Ultra Mega Power Project located near the ecologically hot spot of Kutch, in the state of Gujarat in India. A wholly owned subsidy of Tata Power, it is India’s pioneer 800 MW unit thermal power plant that promised to meet 2 per cent of India’s power needs single-handedly. IFC and Asian Development Bank (ADB) provided 450 million USD each to the project, enabling its construction and giving it immense influence over project design and implementation. IFC borrowers are expected to take precautions to protect vulnerable communities and the environment.
(Photo courtesy: http://masskutch.blogspot.in)
According to the plaintiff, the company has been causing serious harm to the native fishermen and farmers by shrouding the entire region with pollution from its cooling system discharge. Locals of the port city, predominantly fishing clans, allege that this has led to a drastic decrease in the fish population, thereby threatening the sole livelihood of the entire community. Moreover, the substantial amount of suspended coal dust and fly ash that the plant releases is harming not only the local farms and salt of the region but also the health of the local people.
A report by the Independent Fact-Finding Team on the Social, Environmental, and Economic Impacts of Tata Mundra Ultra Mega Power Project revealed the actual figures of the decline of catch in the area near the Port. It documents, “Till 2004‐5, 12 boats (4‐6 persons in each boat) in this bunder used to get INR 25‐27 lakhs worth of fish each year, which came down to INR 21 lakh in 2010, although 16 boats were used. By 2011, the figures dropped to a pitiful INR 9 lakhs, even after utilizing 21 boats.”
This was also confirmed by an audit report by the Compliance Advisor Ombudsman of the International Finance Corporation (Word Bank). The law-suit claims that “The project has already done substantial harm to local people and the environment, and if compensatory, remedial and preventive measures are not promptly taken, plaintiffs will be further injured, their livelihoods destroyed, and the local environment irreparably harmed, all in further violation of the IFC’s mission.”
Soumya Dutta, Convenor of Bharat Jan Vigyan Yatra, who worked along with the Machimar Adhikaar Sangharsh Sanghathan while speaking to Gn’Y correspondent said, “Apart from the members of the fishing community, the local salt panners, pastoralists, farmers – all have suffered huge losses, and their problems need to be taken care of on an urgent basis.” On being asked about the quantum of loss in store for the local people he said, “There is an approximate 20 per cent increase in URT diseases in children. Breathing problems in older people are also higher because of the coal dust and flyash particles suspended in air.
“The loss is gargantuan; it is a topic that urgently needs to be calculated by a very rigorous study so that everyone gets a clear picture of the intensity of the impending disaster. But then, the civil society groups do not have enough resources to do a methodical and epidemiological study on this,” he added.
Notably, both the IFC and the Asian Development Bank’s compliance mechanisms have confirmed in their audit reports now that the Tata Mundra UMPP has caused massive damage not only to the local fisher folk but also to the ecological balance in the area. The law suit that has been lodged tries not only to force the IFC to take responsibility and be accountable for the damages but also to do the necessary restoration.