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World Bank president meets Narmada protestors

James Wolfensohn sought to reduce the heat by
assuring the Narmada valley protestors that in future
the Bank would take care of “the rights of the poor”, reports Jitendra Verma

New Delhi, November 13

World Bank president James Wolfenson assured protestors from the Narmada valley who marched to the World Bank office in New Delhi today that “he would look into the each case” of project-affected people that will be put before him.

The dharna by the people of the Narmada valley against the recent Supreme Court verdict clearing construction
of the dam entered the third day. The protesters got
a fillip in the evening when Wolfenson came out of the
World Bank office to listen to their arguments against
the Bank.

Speaking on the occasion, Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) leader Medha Patkar welcomed Wolfenson and repeated her complaint that the people of the valley
were not happy with the World Bank. She also said
that the Bank had “made a mess” of the Sardar Sarovar Project (SSP) when it sanctioned financial assistance
to it without the necessary environmental clearance, and mentioned the Justice Bharucha minority judgment to
the same effect. “Despite knowing it, why did the World Bank sanction the SSP?” she asked Wolfensohn.

Answering her question, Wolfenson said, “No doubt that
in the history of the Bank we have made mistakes, (but) we also have no doubt that we have done some good work.” He confirmed that the Bank has no intention, however, of financing the Narmada project.

confirmed that
the Bank has
no intention of
financing the Narmada project

The protestors’ efforts to get the World Bank officials to come
out of their office continued through the day. Earlier, the officials, clearly unwilling to face the protestors, had asked five representatives of the protestors to meet them. The demand found

no takers, finally at about 6:15 pm, Wolfensohn ventured out. He spent almost half an hour answering the flurry
of questions.

Wolfenson, who listened patiently to the arguments, accepted that there was “some trouble” in the Narmada project regarding the issue of resettlement. “We are trying to pursue the case and it (resettlement and rehabilitation) has become our central concern in our projects. It won’t happen again,” said Wolfenson. He also assured the protestors that in future the Bank would take care of “the rights of the poor”.

He also said that he had read the Supreme Court judgement and understood from it that rehabilitation
would be “fulfilled”. However, the protestors said that
there was no land for rehabilitation and that there were thousands of families yet to be rehabilitated. He assured them that he would personally look into the issues of forestry and rehabilitation raised by the people.

The rider came in his statement that he was not the Supreme Court or prime minister of the country, a distinction that the people should understand. “I am
a banker,” Wolfenson said, on his way back into the
World Bank office.

After the exchange, Vimal Bhai of the NBA said, “We want that the World Bank should close down its office
in India. We thank him that he came here and listened
to the people. But we want him to take some action,
and only then will it make some sense.”

Meanwhile, the more than 2,000 NBA activists have
been evacuated from Rajghat and relocated behind the Red Fort. The reason for the ejection is the birthday of
the late prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru on November 14, which is traditionally celebrated in and around Rajghat.

November 14 is also a day of some importance for the people of the Narmada valley: the Indian People’s Tribunal will hold a daylong public hearing at the Red Fort’s
Parade Ground. Subsequently, on November 15, the
NBA will send a delegation to meet the President
K R Narayanan. The dharna, the NBA insists, will
continue at the Rajghat site till November 15, even if the NBA itself is displaced from there to another venue.

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