A latest report has asked Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) to “tread carefully” on National Infrastructure and Investment Fund (NIIF), a fund of fund that seeks to create long-term value for domestic and international investors seeking investment in energy, transportation, housing, water, waste management and other infrastructure-related sectors in India.

The report, released by the Bank Information Centre-Europe and Centre for Financial Accountability, titled ‘Financing the future? The Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and India’s National Investment and Infrastructure Fund’ warns that the AIIB do due diligence at all levels before approving a new $200m deal with India in April for fear of turning the key on some highly-controversial projects now being stalled by local community opposition.

The Prime Minister Narendra Modi has also vowed to revive long-stalled infrastructure projects, especially in the coal, power, petroleum, railways and road sectors. Quoting a recent data from the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy Pvt. Ltd (CMIE), the report mentions that the value of stalled infrastructure projects in the quarter ended September increased to Rs13.22 trillion. The CMIE’s analysis shows that 39.04% of the total stalled projects were in the electricity sector by value.

The report observes that the first proposed Indian investment on the AIIB’s books in 2018 reflects both the Indian government’s prioritisation of infrastructure financing, and the interest of AIIB in both India and financial intermediary (FI) lending, a financial model involving investing indirectly through third parties such as an infrastructure or private equity funds — which makes it difficult to track the money — thus posing a substantial risk of being spent on the coal or other harmful projects by the back door.

The report observed that FI lending is becoming the dominant model of financing at development banks. The AIIB started FI lending in 2017, when it approved approving three FI investments: in Indonesia’s Regional Infrastructure Development Fund, the India Infrastructure Fund, and the Emerging Asia Fund. Next up is a potential $200 million commitment to India’s National Investment and Infrastructure Fund.

“Around the world, we have seen how extremely risky this model of ‘hands-off’ lending through financial intermediaries can be. Without stronger safeguards and transparency, the AIIB will simply lose sight of its original investment and the damage it could cause,” said BIC Europe Campaigns Director and co-author Kate Geary in a media release.

“The AIIB must tread very carefully here because it is still accountable for any project that harms local communities in India or damages the environment – regardless of how much distance the AIIB might claim to have from it,” Geary said.

Exhorting AIIB to learn from the IFC’s problematic experience with its FI portfolio and to avoid the associated social, environmental and reputational damage, the report recommends putting in place mandatory robust policies and systems around financial intermediary investments to ensure transparency, accountability and efficient channels of communication with all stakeholders.

The recommendations include: Scrutinising the existing project portfolio and pipeline of proposed FI clients; Reviewing the track record of the FI client in applying the environmental and social framework and making this assessment public; Ensuring that FI clients require sub-projects to be compliant with all AIIB policies especially the Environmental and Social Framework (ESF), Complaints Handling Mechanism (CHM), Public Information Policy, and all relevant sectoral strategies and guidelines; Monitoring the proposed client’s social and environmental due diligence and supervision of its investment; and Ensuring FI sub-project affected communities have access to redress, including through the AIIB’s accountability mechanism.

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