High time that some of these issues are discussed and debated not just
within NGO community but with the wide sections of Indian society
Before leaving for a week-long visit to India, beginning from October 12, Mr.
James D. Wolfensohn, President of the World Bank, addressed a press
conference in Washington. Among other things, he said that he will be meeting
with the representatives of NGOs in India including Ms. Medha Patkar of
Narmada Bachao Andolan and would like to benefit from their criticism of the
World Bank-funded projects.
Unfortunately, the names of Ms. Medha Patkar and many well known critics of
the World Bank-funded projects and programmes in India were not in the list of
invitees for the meeting with NGOs, organised by the World Bank staff in New
Delhi on October 19, 1996. When a few of initial invitees raised concern over not
inviting Medha Patkar and others, the inivitation to Medha Patkar was extended.
The names of many other Indian activists including Arvind Anjum, Shankar
Sundi, Awadesh, Madhu Kohli and Tony Herbert, who are working on Bank-
funded projects, also do not appear in the list of invitees for meeting with Mr.
On the contrary, a large number of NGOs invited for this meeting either have
little or no experience in dealing with the Bank or whose approach to the Bank
is of collaboration and patnership rather than critical. For instance MYRADA, a Karnataka-based NGO was given a contract by the Karnataka state Government to develop a resettlement scheme in connection with the Upper Krishna II Irrigation Project.In what was described as a "socio-culturally sensitive plan", MYRADA prepared a scheme, in co-operation with government agencies;
In the Women, Rural Administration and Poverty (WRAP) Project, an NGO
called PRADAN has been contracted to select 9 NGOs based on the Bank
criteria. PRADAN was supposed to oversee their work of documenting type
of development efforts and how to reach them to the poor. These would be
used as inputs in WRAP;
Development Alternatives (DA), an NGO, has been contracted to train
farmers in various districts in four statesthe grassroot NGOs and the
In Uttar Pradesh, NGOs are involved in a massive project to reclaim 45,000
ha. of sodic (highly alkaline) lands and related activities. The NGOs involved
in this project are Sarvodaya Ashram, Society for the Promotion of
Wasteland Development, Centre for Social Research, MYRADA and Self-
employment Women's Association; AVARD, with the support of the Bank's office in New Delhi, had formed an
Indian Committee of World Bank-NGOs in early 1990s. Besides, it had been
organising seminars on the invitation of the Bank.
Thus, doubt have already expressed by many activists and NGOs about the
outcome of this meeting with the President. If Mr. Wolfensohn is serious to meet
critics of the Bank-funded projects and policies in India, the Bank should have
invited these activists representing NGOs and people's movements. In India,
the Bank is not only supporting large infrastructure projects like dams, thermal
power stations, highways, it is also supporting Structural Adjustment
Programme. To understand the implications of Structural Adjustment
Programme on the poor people, economy and environment, the Bank could have
invited the representatives of academic, students' organisations, labour unions,
peasant and farmers' organisations. Such an approach would have helped Mr.
Wolfensohn to benefit from critical inputs into the ongoing privatisation,
liberalisation, deregulation and foreign investment policies, supported by the
Bank. Although many of us also wanted James Wolfensohn to visit Singrauli,
Narmada and Subernarekha projects to see the damages done by the projects
on the displaced people and environment and meet with the activists and groups
working in these projects, he has decided to visit Talacher Project in Orissa
where NGOs have already been 'coopted' and are involved in clearing the mess
(consisting of displaced people and environment degradation) created by the
Bank-funded power project.
The Bank looks upon NGOs as 'efficient' implementers of many components of
SAP. With the withdrawal of the State from the social sector (e.g. health,
education, nutrition, water supply, etc.) and subsequent privatisation of these
sectors, the NGOs are encouraged by the Bank to run these projects. But, the
Bank has encouraged only those NGOs which 'implement' the adjustment
programmes in the social sector to provide a 'human face' to the SAP. There is a
risk of NGOs becoming subcontractors at the expense of developing local
capacity to deal with the problem. Unfortunately, many NGOs in India, by their
action, if not in their policy statements, are supporting this trend.
Very few will disagree with the fact that many of changes in the policies of the
World Bank (e.g. disclosure policy, environment policy, rehabilitation policy)
have been the result of intense campaigning and lobbying by NGOs and
activists, in which many Indian activists and groups (e.g. Narmada Bachao
Andolan) took part. But, the critical NGOs and people's movements which are
not only opposing destructive projects funded by the Bank but also raising
critical policy issues with Bank (such as disclosure policy, privatisation,
democratisation of the Bank) are ignored by the Bank.
Over the years, many NGOs involved in development, education and campaign
activities are not just critically questioning the government agencies, multilateral
financial institutions, TNCs and trading blocks, but also are equally critical of
their own interventions. It has been seen in many cases that NGOs can end up
doing things that should be the responsibility of governments, multilateral
institutions and others. Many donors, bilateral and multilateral often perceive
NGOs as the panacea. The reality is that there are no simple solutions to India's
growing socio-economic problems. By putting more money to NGOs to run
schools, hospitals and nurseries, the structural issues of poverty and
development cannot be resolved. The experiences in many African countries
demonstrate that replacement of State bureaucracy by NGO bureaucracy offers
no solution. The issues related to accountability, transparency and
democratisation of political system cannot be addressed by facilitating
favourable environment and funds for NGOs.
Besides, there is always the danger of imposing blueprints for local development
without looking into the macro development reality. The blueprint emerging from
either Washington (by the World Bank), or Delhi (by the Central Government),
or Bhubaneswar/Talcher (by NGOs) can be equally faulty and ineffective.
It is high time that some of these issues are discussed and debated not just
within NGO community but with the wide sections of Indian society.