The worldwide movement against big banks and their corporate ambitions found more protestors recently when Indian and foreign activists launched the Peoples' Forum Against the Asian Development Bank (PFAADB) in Hyderabad.
Hyderabad was the venue of ADB's Annual Governors' Meeting (AGM), chaired by none other than P Chidambaram, India's Finance Minister. The AGM gave a clear message - ADB plans to double its loan share to India for huge projects in urban infrastructure, water and health. While many see the promise of more ADB investments as a sign of India's growing clout, PFAADB thinks otherwise.
In fact, Hyderabad reverberated with slogans like 'Enough is enough', `No to ADB, World Bank and the marauding corporates', `Governments listen to the voices of the peoples!' Around 90 civil society organizations participated in the anti-ADB campaign which lasted a week (May 1-May 6, 2006).
Supourno Lahiri, the PFAADB Convener, said that ADB spells danger for every country it enters - particularly a country like India which takes pride in its democratic institutions. Like the World Bank (WB), ADB too imposes 'conditionalities', which primarily aim at 'institutional changes' and legislative reforms.
"These conditionalities strike at the very heart of a country's sovereignty, as they seek to interfere with the constitutional framework of the country," he said. By dismantling or weakening the legislations that protect people's rights, the ADB smoothens the entry of the corporates, whether multinational or national.
Gautam Bandhopadhaya of the Nadi Ghati Morcha, from Chhattisgarh, gave an example: "Chhattisgarh's strength lies in its agriculture and bio-diversity. The ADB will destroy this with their plans to promote agri-business in the state. The loan will introduce high-end seed varieties that consume a lot of water. This will lead to limiting of seed varieties and farmers will be pushed off the land. Eventually, it would lead to an agrarian crisis and mass migration."
The ADB and the WB account for less than two per cent of the loan budget of India, but hold a powerful sway over the country's bureaucrats, influencing them to change "key policies that form the foundations of India's welfare state".
On paper, ADB's policies seem to target the Millennium Development Goals and focus on reducing poverty. But PFAADB believes they have simply mastered the 'development jargon' that sounds sweet to the 'development' hungry Asian countries.
"Their foundation is based on the belief that a free market will reduce poverty, which is not true, and has not happened anywhere," said Richard Mahapatra of the Bank Information Centre, an NGO which partners with civil society to influence the World Bank and other international financial institutions (IFIs) to promote social, economic justice and ecological sustainability. Mahapatra believes the ADB advances capitalist and corporate interests. "It serves the will of powerful countries like Japan, the US and other expansionist nations, and excludes poor and marginalized peoples from control over their resources."
"Many reports, including some by ADB itself, reveal that it actually doubled unemployment while it tore apart societies which were earlier egalitarian," said Mahapatra. Besides, ADB has also cocooned itself against any legal action from affected communities or governments. (It is well-known that banks like ADB/WB are immune to national and international laws.)
"We are not against development, but fear that this kind of functioning subverts our democratic space and representatives," said Benny Kuruvilla of Focus on Global South - an international programme of Development Policy Research, Analysis and Action.
The negative impact of ADB-funded projects is highest on marginalized communities like the dalits, tribals, women, peasants, fishworkers, factory workers, hawkers and slum dwellers.
Almost all of Asia, claims PFAADB, is experiencing the negative impact of ADB projects. Shalmali Guttal, from Focus on Global South, mentioned ADB's pet project - the Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS) - comprising Cambodia, China, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam. "Their whole idea is to take the natural wealth of GMS and put it in projects which serve the industrial sectors only," claims Guttal.
Cambodian activist Premrudee said, GMS - promoting highways, dams and widening of the river for water transport - has led to massive land loss for the people. "This has had a particularly heavy impact on Cambodian women who are forced into the sex industry thriving in Thailand and other Southeast Asian cities." She said that thousands of displaced persons have received no compensation for their land taken to build 'corridors', "and have no means of getting it either".
In India, examples of ADB's non-transparent style of functioning abound. Ramananda Wangkhwairakpam, Convener of the Initiatives against International Finance Institutions, a platform of over 30 Northeastern organizations, says: "The ADB is pushing for drastic policy changes in the region. It provides technical assistance, which can actually be called 'bribe' paid to consultants, bureaucrats and others to pave the way for bringing in 'reforms'."
Bureaucrats doing consultancies and assignments for the ADB is an issue of serious concern for people like Prashant Bhushan, a Supreme Court advocate. He mentioned that Pradipto Ghosh, the current Secretary in the Environment Ministry, was with the ADB for five years before he came to the ministry.
Activists from Arunachal Pradesh mentioned the mega dam projects that are being planned through bureaucrats in the fragile Himalayan state without the consent of the people.
In West Bengal, the ADB-funded Kolkata Environment Improvement Project is displacing slum dwellers, hawkers and small traders. Similarly, the ADB is also backing another controversial project - the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (NURM), massive plan to attract private investment to 663 of India's largest and most important cities. "Plans for 19 cities have already been formulated and submitted to state agencies without any consultation with local bodies, peoples groups and affected communities. Mandatory policies to be implemented include privatization of basic services, introducing user fees and repeal of the Urban Land Ceiling Act. The ADB is promoting urban apartheid," declared Saktiman Ghosh, President of the National Hawkers Federation.
The anti-ADB campaign has just found a stronger voice. The activists are hopeful it will go a long way.