25 years of Inspection Panel has a special significance for India, having played a key role in its formation. As in the case of all safeguard and other policies, the independent accountability mechanisms (IAMs) of multilateral development banks are also a result of the valiant struggle fought by the communities affected of various projected financed by these institutions. Particularly the struggle led by Narmada Bachao Andolan since the late ‘80s demanding a review of Sardar Sarovar (Narmada) dam for its social, environmental and economic costs leading to the formation of Independent Review (first time in World Bank’s history) was a watershed moment in the history of struggles against international financial institutions.
Looking back the two and a half decades of India’s experience of IAMs is a good occasion to see their effectiveness in serving as a genuine mechanism to address affected communities grievances and upholding and protecting their rights against the might of the state, corporations and powerful financial institutions.
The past years there have been nearly 900 projects approved by just three institutions – World Bank, International Finance Corporation and Asian Development Bank. The total number of complaints registered with respective IAMs during this period was 40. What was the result of each of these cases is another factor to look into. However, less than 5% of complaints cannot be because the projects were devoid of problems. Documentation of the impacts of various projects in the past years proves it otherwise.
The onus of figuring out financing of one of these institutions in the project affecting them, understanding the contours of each of their policies and developing a comprehensive complaint within the parameters set is with the affected communities. These communities often never had an opportunity to know the financing of international institutions, never consulted before the project was approved and mostly far from the world of websites and English language. Thus, the design and structure of these IAMs are loaded against the ones, in whose name it is set up.
Experiences of cases where IAMs involved previously is yet another deterrent for people to approach them. Findings of IAMs in some cases raise the fundamental misses and violations in a particular project. Yet, IAMs do not have the mandate to recommend actions and leave that to the management, whose omissions and commissions lead to the complaint, to suggest actions based on the findings. As in the case of Tata Mundra, those action points developed by the management never address the fundamental problems of the project, doing so would discredit what they have done with the project right from its approval.
Never did the findings of the IAMs – sometimes lack consultations, some other times erroneous social and environmental impact assessment, leading to wrong mitigation plans – led to holding of any staff or consultant accountable for not doing their job diligently resulting in, in most cases, irreversible damages to communities and environment.
This is a compilation of six prominent cases from India to different IAMs. Each one of them had different experiences and results. These are reminders to us that while these are tools for communities to highlight the violations of their rights, one needs to go beyond IAMs for holding international financial institutions accountable.