The Indian Budget 1996-97 The Indian Economy Overview

The World Bank NGO Relationship: TIME FOR DEBATE

[World Bank in India] [Related Pages: 1 2 ]

High time that some of these issues are discussed and debated not just within NGO community but with the wide sections of Indian society

Before leaving for a week-long visit to India, beginning from October 12, Mr. James D. Wolfensohn, President of the World Bank, addressed a press conference in Washington. Among other things, he said that he will be meeting with the representatives of NGOs in India including Ms. Medha Patkar of Narmada Bachao Andolan and would like to benefit from their criticism of the World Bank-funded projects.

Unfortunately, the names of Ms. Medha Patkar and many well known critics of the World Bank-funded projects and programmes in India were not in the list of invitees for the meeting with NGOs, organised by the World Bank staff in New Delhi on October 19, 1996. When a few of initial invitees raised concern over not inviting Medha Patkar and others, the inivitation to Medha Patkar was extended. The names of many other Indian activists including Arvind Anjum, Shankar Sundi, Awadesh, Madhu Kohli and Tony Herbert, who are working on Bank- funded projects, also do not appear in the list of invitees for meeting with Mr. Wolfensohn.

On the contrary, a large number of NGOs invited for this meeting either have little or no experience in dealing with the Bank or whose approach to the Bank is of collaboration and patnership rather than critical. For instance MYRADA, a Karnataka-based NGO was given a contract by the Karnataka state Government to develop a resettlement scheme in connection with the Upper Krishna II Irrigation Project.In what was described as a "socio-culturally sensitive plan", MYRADA prepared a scheme, in co-operation with government agencies;

In the Women, Rural Administration and Poverty (WRAP) Project, an NGO called PRADAN has been contracted to select 9 NGOs based on the Bank criteria. PRADAN was supposed to oversee their work of documenting type of development efforts and how to reach them to the poor. These would be used as inputs in WRAP;

Development Alternatives (DA), an NGO, has been contracted to train farmers in various districts in four states—the grassroot NGOs and the panchayats;

In Uttar Pradesh, NGOs are involved in a massive project to reclaim 45,000 ha. of sodic (highly alkaline) lands and related activities. The NGOs involved in this project are Sarvodaya Ashram, Society for the Promotion of Wasteland Development, Centre for Social Research, MYRADA and Self- employment Women's Association; AVARD, with the support of the Bank's office in New Delhi, had formed an Indian Committee of World Bank-NGOs in early 1990s. Besides, it had been organising seminars on the invitation of the Bank.

Thus, doubt have already expressed by many activists and NGOs about the outcome of this meeting with the President. If Mr. Wolfensohn is serious to meet critics of the Bank-funded projects and policies in India, the Bank should have invited these activists representing NGOs and people's movements. In India, the Bank is not only supporting large infrastructure projects like dams, thermal power stations, highways, it is also supporting Structural Adjustment Programme. To understand the implications of Structural Adjustment Programme on the poor people, economy and environment, the Bank could have invited the representatives of academic, students' organisations, labour unions, peasant and farmers' organisations. Such an approach would have helped Mr. Wolfensohn to benefit from critical inputs into the ongoing privatisation, liberalisation, deregulation and foreign investment policies, supported by the Bank. Although many of us also wanted James Wolfensohn to visit Singrauli, Narmada and Subernarekha projects to see the damages done by the projects on the displaced people and environment and meet with the activists and groups working in these projects, he has decided to visit Talacher Project in Orissa where NGOs have already been 'coopted' and are involved in clearing the mess (consisting of displaced people and environment degradation) created by the Bank-funded power project.

The Bank looks upon NGOs as 'efficient' implementers of many components of SAP. With the withdrawal of the State from the social sector (e.g. health, education, nutrition, water supply, etc.) and subsequent privatisation of these sectors, the NGOs are encouraged by the Bank to run these projects. But, the Bank has encouraged only those NGOs which 'implement' the adjustment programmes in the social sector to provide a 'human face' to the SAP. There is a risk of NGOs becoming subcontractors at the expense of developing local capacity to deal with the problem. Unfortunately, many NGOs in India, by their action, if not in their policy statements, are supporting this trend. Very few will disagree with the fact that many of changes in the policies of the World Bank (e.g. disclosure policy, environment policy, rehabilitation policy) have been the result of intense campaigning and lobbying by NGOs and activists, in which many Indian activists and groups (e.g. Narmada Bachao Andolan) took part. But, the critical NGOs and people's movements which are not only opposing destructive projects funded by the Bank but also raising critical policy issues with Bank (such as disclosure policy, privatisation, democratisation of the Bank) are ignored by the Bank.

Over the years, many NGOs involved in development, education and campaign activities are not just critically questioning the government agencies, multilateral financial institutions, TNCs and trading blocks, but also are equally critical of their own interventions. It has been seen in many cases that NGOs can end up doing things that should be the responsibility of governments, multilateral institutions and others. Many donors, bilateral and multilateral often perceive NGOs as the panacea. The reality is that there are no simple solutions to India's growing socio-economic problems. By putting more money to NGOs to run schools, hospitals and nurseries, the structural issues of poverty and development cannot be resolved. The experiences in many African countries demonstrate that replacement of State bureaucracy by NGO bureaucracy offers no solution. The issues related to accountability, transparency and democratisation of political system cannot be addressed by facilitating favourable environment and funds for NGOs.

Besides, there is always the danger of imposing blueprints for local development without looking into the macro development reality. The blueprint emerging from either Washington (by the World Bank), or Delhi (by the Central Government), or Bhubaneswar/Talcher (by NGOs) can be equally faulty and ineffective. It is high time that some of these issues are discussed and debated not just within NGO community but with the wide sections of Indian society.

[World Bank in India] [Related Pages: 1 2 ]

Kavaljit Singh is Coordinator of Public Interest Research Group, a Delhi-based NGO.

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