The World Bank’s Board of Executive Directors has approved an independent investigation into World Bank-funded water supply project in two villages of Jharkhand. The development comes on the back of allegations that the district authorities “failed” to consult members of local Adivasi communities before implementing the project, “sidestepped” valid Gram Sabha consent, “used force” in implementation, and overlooked impacts on indigenous cultural resources and environmental impact.
The approval for investigation was given after the World Bank inspection panel, a fact-finding agency independent of the Bank’s management, verified that harms alleged by the complainants are of serious nature, and linked to the project and their implementation.
The two villages are part of Chhotagovindpur-Bagbera multi-village schemes under Rural Water Supply and Sanitation Project (RWSSP) for Low Income States, a $1-billion project being implemented in Assam, Bihar, Jharkhand, and Uttar Pradesh. The World Bank is financing half the project, with the Centre and respective states funding the other half.
The Indian Express has a copy of the inspection panel’s report.
The panel received complaints about the schemes from indigenous communities in two villages in Jharkhand’s East Singhbum. The district is a Schedule-V protected area under the Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act, 1996 (PESA), which makes Gram Sabha consent mandatory for any development activity in a village.
The first complaint came from 104 people of Santhal (Adivasi) community from Giddi Jhopri village about location of the water treatment plant (WTP) – as part of Baghbera multi-village scheme of RWSSP – on community land.
The second complaint was by 130 people from Santhal and Ho tribal communities from Sarjamda village, near Giddi Jhopri, about construction of an elevated storage reservoir (ESR) as part of Chhotagovindpur multi-village scheme under RWSSP.
Shishir Kumar Soren, executive engineer at Drinking Water Sanitation Department (Jamshedpur), which looks after the project’s implementation, did not respond to questions since he was busy in “election arrangements.” Soren asked The Indian Express to contact another officer, Anuj Sinha, who said, “Until we see the project report, we will not be able to comment.”
Sukhram Kisku, 43, a Santhal community member from Giddi Jhopri and one of the complainants, said: “Why should Adivasi people always suffer? How justified it is to inflict pain upon us, destroy our ancient land without valid Gram Sabha consent?”
Kisku said they are not opposing the project, being implemented in his village since 2015, but the fact that the authorities “undermined” their consent. “A different Gram Sabha’s consent was taken, and when we opposed, force was used on us,” he maintained. “The project is under way on community land, which we have been using for the last three generations to bury and cremate the dead, as also for religious functions.”
According to the inspection panel’s report, the World Bank management’s written responses conceded to several non-compliance issues, which were lapses under the Bank’s safeguard policies for projects affecting indigenous people.
The panel’s report noted, “.In its responses, (World Bank) Management notes that Gram Sabhas were not held in the first Requesters’ (first village) habitation; in the Gram Panchayat of the second Requesters’ habitation and, as a result, their agreement to the development of WTP and ESR was not sought. The responses acknowledge that in both cases Management ‘was not able to confirm unambiguously that broad community support, as required by OP 4.10 (operation policies of World Bank), was achieved’.”
The panel reported that “as acknowledged by the (World Bank) management”, there was “no systematic assessment of potential impact of the schemes on physical cultural resources” and referred to “efforts made by the contractor and district authorities to address community concerns with respect to areas of significance during the construction”.
The panel recognised the World Bank management’s intention to support consultations with the communities, but stated that it was not “yet clear what specific remedial measures will be implemented to address the concerns of the communities”.
The report stated: “.The Panel therefore recommends carrying out an investigation into the alleged issues of harm and related potential non-compliance with Bank policies in the Requests.”