“There was no example to follow on September 22, 1993, when the Bank’s Board of Executive Directors approved a resolution establishing the Inspection Panel. Over the next 25 years, the Panel forged a legacy as the prototype for international financial organizations to hold themselves accountable. Today, 17 other similar bodies exist, all modelled in some way on the World Bank’s pioneering effort.” Inspection Panel, 2018

World Bank’s independent accountability mechanism, the Inspection Panel, while completing 25 years, deservingly acknowledge the critical role played by Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) for its formation. At a time when it was unheard of, in the late ’80s, NBA demanded a comprehensive review of the Sardar Sarovar (Narmada) dam in Gujarat. Bank remained in a state of denial but the unrelenting persistence paid off.

It was a generation before the internet and mobile phones, having a handed down manual typewriter was the closest to technology NBA could claim, an STD call during daytime was still a rarity and functioning from bare minimum offices (Nandini Oza tells the story of NBA offices here). In that era NBA coordinated well with different groups to exert pressure on the Bank to make them accept the demand was remarkable.

What seemed to have looked like an unrealistic demand from the Bank at that time, resulted not just in World Bank’s withdrawal from the Narmada dam project and formation of Inspection Panel, but it forced every multilateral development banks to follow the suit and have their own accountability mechanisms.

While acknowledging that formation of the Inspection Panel was a “shift in the legal perspective of individual rights in international law” and a tool for communities to use to expose Bank’s violation of human rights and damage to the environment, the experience communities met with different accountability mechanisms were far from satisfactory, as detailed in a two-day symposium on India’s Experience with Independent Accountability Mechanisms (IAMs) early September. Six case studies published then captures the dismay succinctly.

In a submission made by different people’s movements and CSOs in India to the World Bank on strengthening the Inspection Panel, referring to the symposium it said “During the 2 days deliberations what came out strongly was the inadequacy of IAMs when it comes to function independently and efficiently to live up to its mandate of delivering relief to affected communities in Bank-funded projects; often lacks capacity and powers to promote and ensure accountability at the Bank; fail in timely intervention to ensure that the voices of the affected people are adequately heard, addressed and issues resolved; and do not have powers to stay the progress of project construction in cases of extreme violations and makes it a fait accompli on the people.” It went on to suggest specific steps which could strengthen the Panel.

A good example of how communities could effectively use IAM findings is the case against the private sector arm of World Bank, the International Finance Corporation (IFC) in the United States, filed by the members of the affected communities of Tata Mundra, a coal-based thermal power project financed by IFC. IFC claimed immunity from court cases and that is currently challenged at the Supreme Court of United States and judgment of that is expected next year.

At the time when global capital flow to the country is unfettered, the damage causing to the environment is enormous, is trampling people’s rights, and the sources are many than just the multilateral development banks, accountability of lenders/investors need to be addressed with provisions to fix responsibility for violations. Existing accountability mechanisms are inadequate. However, the struggle of NBA and the formation of the Inspection Panel is inspiring and that should provide the required energy to regroup and strategise.

The chapter on the formation of the Inspection Panel can be accessed here, whereas the complete report can be accessed here.

We have felt obliged to illuminate what we think are flaws in the Sardar Sarovar Projects. It should not be thought that these would only be found in India or confined to the Sardar Sarovar Projects. The fragile assumptions which have supported this project can be found elsewhere. Failure to consider the human rights of the displaced and the failure to consider environmental impacts occur in the development of megaprojects in both developed and developing countries.

We have found it difficult to separate our assessment of resettlement and rehabilitation and environmental protection from a consideration of the Sardar Sarovar Projects as a whole. The issues of human and environmental impact bear on virtually every aspect of large-scale development projects. Ecological realities must be acknowledged, and unless a project can be carried out in accordance with existing norms of human rights – norms espoused and endorsed by the Bank and many borrower countries – the project ought not to proceed.

Morse Report, 1992

For the Letter from Bradford Morse (Chairman) and Thomas R. Berger (Deputy Chairman) to Lewis T. Preston (President, The World Bank) see:


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