Home People Opinions The World Bank Has No Place In India's Tiger Recovery Plans

The World Bank Has No Place In India's Tiger Recovery Plans

The World Bank Has No Place In India's Tiger Recovery Plans

February 2011: (This letter, dated January 14, 2011, was written by Sanctuary’s Editor, Bittu Sahgal to the Minister for Environment and Forests in response to a recent announcement by the MoEF that the World Bank is being approached to ‘strengthen partnerships’ to advance India’s green-growth agenda.)


Dear Minister,


Frankly, I have no doubt that Robert B. Zoellick actually does love tigers personally and that is a good thing. However, it would be a grave error to believe that his personal love for tigers can ever translate into a change of heart for the World Bank. Sadly, the Bank does not work that way. Many Presidents have come and gone. Virtually all of them said they want to do something good for wildlife and “the poor”. Yet the Bank continues trundling over habitats and people.


We need to internalise one thing. Today, the World Bank is undoubtedly the planet’s number one financier of climate change and biodiversity loss. Not in the past. Their current lending is aggravating damage to ecosystems. The fig leaf they use is “Your country asks for the loans”. The reality is that they promote and influence government-decision making through Prime Ministers and Vice Chairmen of Planning Commissions who are “oriented” towards the Bank and IMF’s GDP mission.


Seriously, just five minutes spent on understanding the Bank’s “GDP-led justification for environmental destruction” over the past four decades in India (and Brazil, and sub-Saharan Africa, and Indonesia and Malaysia) will probably provide better insight than reams of specific data (all of which Mr. Zoellick could summon in one day with just one instruction). The best possible advice we should give the World Bank and those in it that want to gain from the tiger’s PR potential is: “Physician Heal Thyself.” Once they embark on a mission merely to repair the past damage they have done, the first step towards any change of heart will have been taken by the Bank.


I would in fact request you to instruct the MoEF to immediately undertake an exercise to evaluate the impact of World Bank lending to all sectors in India on ecosystems and wildlife. If you were to officially ask the World Bank to submit just cold facts it would be obliged to share with you specific project documents, internal assessment reports and other documents that list the adverse impacts of their own lending. But I would not hold my breath waiting for such cooperation from the World Bank, so here is some food for thought.


1. THE MORSE REPORT: Do ask Mr. Zoellick to focus on the biodiversity aspect of the report. Tiger forests were destroyed in Madhya Pradesh (MP) and projects spawned by the Narmada Project continue to damage the state’s tiger habitats.

World Bank forestry projects in places such as Buxa generated widespread protests, such as the one outside the World Bank office in New Delhi in 1999 – Pankaj Sekhsaria.This internal report was commissioned by the World Bank itself. It is identified with the Narmada Project, but a quick read lists several systemic failures on the part of the Bank. These systemic failures have still not been dealt with apart from cosmetic changes. They are vital to understanding the ‘what and why’ of Bank culpability on the environmental front. I suggest very strongly that Mr. Zoellick be asked to fish out this telling document and that he reads at least its introduction and conclusions. This was the most honest internal Bank report that I know of. Never since has the Bank allowed this degree of honesty to emerge from any of its “independent” reports.


The then President of the World Bank, Lewis Preston, gave Bradford Morse a free hand and subsequently urged vigorous internal actions to remedy the shortcomings of Bank lending, largely on the rehab front. However, even these proposed remedial actions ultimately were deemed unworkable, and the Bank Group withdrew from the project in 1995. In 1992, the Bank instituted a major review of its resettlement activities, and published the results as Resettlement and Development: the Bank review of projects involving involuntary resettlement 1986 – 1993. The environmental lessons that could have been learned were not. The Bank merely abandoned the geography and moved on.


2. COAL SECTOR REHABILITATION PROJECT (CSRP): The total project cost was U.S.$ 1,700 million. Money was spent on facilitating the tearing up of tiger habitats, largely with machines purchased for open cast mining. The objective was to boost coal production from 240 million tons to 329 million tons. The project was abandoned half-way, the damage was never repaired. One of the most tragic victims of this project were the elephant and tiger habitats of Bihar... the Hazaribagh coal belt. The area involves the upper watershed of river Damodar, the North Karanpura Valley. These coalfield projects were initiated in 1985-87 and involved opening up of 70 new mines. Two mines (Magadh and Amrapali) received environmental clearance with a lot of arm twisting by the Bank, despite the fact that evidence of destruction of wildlife corridors was placed on record by Delhi University researchers, with maps and detailed reports of both tiger and elephant presence. Machines purchased then and infrastructures set up are still opening new coal mines. The many coal scams we read about were facilitated by this project.


3. FORESTRY PROJECTS THAT WERE RECHRISTENED “SOCIAL FORESTRY” PROJECTS OR “FARM FORESTRY” PROJECTS: These involved clear felling of natural forests and replacing them with fast growing species. On paper, however, the bank said these were on ‘wastelands’ and farms. The Bank’s strategy was to borrow nomenclatures from social and environmental activists for projects that financed profit for corporations, but ended up sounding like they were designed to improve the lot of the poor and “enhance the productivity” of natural forest ecosystems. Virtually every Indian state fell for the line and the damage done by the Maharashtra Forestry Project, the Madhya Pradesh Forestry Project, the Uttar Pradesh Forestry Project, the Andhra Pradesh Forestry Project, the Bihar Forestry Project and the Kerala Forestry Project on tiger habitats will probably never be repaired. Any ex-Forest Officer will be able to ratify the fact that the World Bank actually changed the biodiversity profile of India with its
lending to this sector.


The IFC even ended up loaning $120 million to finance four of India’s leading pulp and paper companies. These firms account for roughly 60 per cent of India’s farm forestry programmes. They justify taking bamboo and clearing tiger forests including the connecting corridors in Chandrapur, Maharashtra that link the Tadoba Tiger Reserve to Kawal in Andhra Pradesh to the south and Indravati Tiger Reserve in Madhya Pradesh to the east. Further, something like $345 million in IDA credits were given by the Bank for what they called “social forestry” but which ended up stripping the biodiversity we now realise is vital to our fight against climate change.


Note: In 1984, the World Bank approved the India National Social Forestry project for $165 million for Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh. It was co-financed by the US Agency for International Development (AID) and had four objectives: 1. To increase production of fuelwood, small timber, poles and fodder. 2. To increase rural employment, farmer’s incomes and opportunities for participation by landless people. 3.To reforest degraded areas, wastelands, and reduce soil erosion.4. To strengthen forestry institutions.


A 1988 mid-term review conducted by US AID discovered that the project had failed. The damage was never repaired. The World Bank was never held accountable.


4. INDIA ECO-DEVELOPMENT PROJECT: The project had the effect of ‘training’ forest officials to shift their focus away from protection to “rural development”. The project involved around US$ 100 million in loans and grants. It was a failure and has been abandoned by the Bank, but the corruption it spawned has spurred many state governments that were not a part of this to incorporate similar ideas into their functioning. Thus we see cement roads in forests, JCB machines tearing up waterholes to cement them, annicuts where no water could possibly be stored. Amazingly much of the construction work ends up being done in March, just before the next budget. Everyone involved with even a cursory assessment knows that the World Bank Eco-development project seriously harmed biodiversity. Yet the self-congratulatory assessment of the Bank’s staff was:


“The ratings for Eco-development Project for India were the following: the outcome was satisfactory, the sustainability was likely, the institutional development impact was substantial and the Bank and borrower performance were both satisfactory. The lessons learned indicate that the project helped improve relations between forest departments and local people from a high conflict situation to one of improved cooperation and collaboration through implementation of the eco-development model.”


5. WORLD BANK-FINANCED DAMS, ROADS, MINES: The Bank is currently pushing a one billion dollar loan for national highways that threaten the Pench-Kanha tiger corridor, the Nagarahole-Wynaad tiger and elephant corridor, the Kaziranga-Karbi-Anglong Panbari-Dollamora elephant corridor and others. They have already damaged the southern aspect of the Nagarjunasagar-Srisailam Tiger Reserve by funding road expansion. This is only the tip of the iceberg.


Any forest protection policy put forward by the World Bank must first deal with the fact that Bank-funded projects, such as the Chandil dam on the Subarnarekha river, have destroyed large tracts of forest and displaced forest inhabitants. Reparations are due – Pankaj Sekhsaria. 


It would be a very good idea for you to ask what kind of assessment and action Mr. Zoellick is willing to promise before allowing future funding of projects that damage wildlife habitats, wetlands, grasslands, coasts, rivers and mountains. Only when we have a promise from them that they will not finance new destructive projects and will accept the responsibility of undoing the damage from past projects should we even sit to talk with them about how India can save the tiger. If you ask three students to put together the above document and ensure that the bureaucrats within the MoEF cooperate, a damning document of Bank culpability will emerge to demonstrate how it has pushed deforestation and virtually caused deep and widespread corruption in the Forest and Wildlife Departments of all states to be institutionalised.




That is what I see taking place towards the end of this month when they will throw pennies at us to fly people here and there and put them up just so they can say: “We are engaging with India on the issue of saving the tiger.”


Please do not allow the World Bank to use a Trojan Horse strategy to undermine India’s natural ecosystems. We can fight them if they try and break our protective barriers from the outside, but how can we fight them if someone opens the doors to their invading finance from the inside?


Editor, Sanctuary Asia


Sanctuary readers are encouraged to write to the Minister to ask that the World Bank be asked to stop financing the destruction of India's tiger habitats and other biodiversity vaults.


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