October 31, 2018, New Delhi.: The Supreme Court of the United States of America heard the oral arguments in the historic case filed by the villagers from Mundra, Gujarat against the absolute immunity granted to the International Organisations like World Bank, International Finance Corporation etc. While the debate on the immunity is decades old, this is the first time that it is legally challenged by a people’s movement at this level.
The case, Budha Jam vs IFC, pertains to the lawsuit filed by the fish workers and farmers of Mundra to hold IFC accountable for the negative impacts it caused by financing the coal-fired Tata Mundra Ultra Mega Power Plant. IFC responded that they enjoy immunity and the lower courts upheld IFC’s arguments. It is being challenged in the Supreme Court now. Considering that the US Supreme Court takes less that 100 cases for oral hearing in a year, hearing this case by a bench comprising of all judges, except one, is significant. The judgement is expected next year.
In the statement issued after the hearing, Prof. Jeffrey Fisher, Co-Director of the Stanford Law School Supreme Court Litigation Clinic, said that the commercial activities of international organizations such as the IFC can have a significant impact on lives of people around the world and therefore critically important for the Supreme Court to reject the notion that these institutions have greater legal immunity for these activities than even foreign countries have.
Dr Bharat Patel, General Secretary of the Machimar Adhikar Sangharsh Sangathan, one of the plaintiffs in the case said, “People in Kutch have already lost whatever they had. Through this case, we want to ensure that future communities will not face what we faced.”
“If the IFC had proactively addressed these issues, we probably would not be in court today”, said Joe Athialy, Executive Director of the Centre for Financial Accountability. Athialy was referring to the 2013 report of the IFC’s internal compliance mechanism, the Compliance Advisor Ombudsman (CAO), which heavily criticised IFC for failing to ensure the Tata Mundra project complied with the environmental and social guidelines. It called the IFC to take remedial action. The immunity IFC enjoyed emboldened it to ignore the findings and not take any remedial actions.
This case probably will put an end to such callousness of IFC.