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By Joe Athialy and Monalisa Barman
For Indian corporations, the grass seems to be getting greener the other side. Investments and acquisitions abroad have been the hallmark of Indian corporations the past decade and a half. While acquisitions of Jaguar Cars and Land Rover & Corus in the UK, Kashagan Oilfields in Kazaksthan, Port Terminals in Australia, Algoma Steel in Canada and Marcellus Shale in the US might have made news, increasing investments of Indian corporations are hardly reported. Even less reported is the role of the Export-Import Bank of India (Exim Bank) and their lendings to these corporations.
With 215 lines of credit in place covering over 63 countries in Africa, Asia, Latin America, Europe, which are worth over USD 15.87 billion Indian Exim Bank is a key player in promoting Indian business abroad. Africa seems to have its heart with 34 out of 63 countries for its investments in recent years.
Established in 1982, the growth of Exim Bank has been a phenomenon. From a lending portfolio of Rs. 64,353 crores in 2012-13 it has nearly doubled at Rs. 1,02,641 crores in 2016-17. Major Indian corporations – both public and private – benefited handsomely from Exim bank’s support. They include RITES Ltd, Goa Shipyard Limited, Cosmos International Ltd, Tata Power, Shapoorji and Pallonji Co. Ltd, Ashok Leyland Ltd., Tata Motors Ltd., Suzlon Group, Godrej Group, Bharti Enterprises, Kirloskar Group, Mahindra & Mahindra, Escorts, Apollo, Essar and Jindal.
Impacts of Indian investments abroad, particularly in African countries is well captured in the report India’s Role in the New Global Farmland Grab. Among the many African countries, Ethiopia has been a favourite destination for Indian corporations, particularly the agro-business. According to Oakland Institute, “Indian firms have acquired over 600,000 ha of land. Most investors plan to grow edible oils and crops while a few have plans to grow cotton.” Many of them are financed by Indian Exim bank.
According to an RIS Discussion Paper, “Indian companies have offered investment of over USD 4 billion to Ethiopia. Of this, an estimated USD 2 billion is already on the ground or in the pipeline. There are 608 Indian projects approved by the Ethiopian Investment Commission in Ethiopia. About 48 per cent of the Indian companies are in manufacturing and 21 per cent in agriculture.” Amongst these, Indian Exim bank alone has invested USD 98 million, through 65 companies.
There have been local protests against these land grabs. “Many (in Ethiopia) are describing India as a “neo-coloniser”. The phenomenon has in fact received wide local coverage, with damning headlines like ‘Indian agribusiness devastates W. Ethiopia’” a report in Outlook says. It further mentions, “…a million hectares are being handed over to Indian firms at bargain prices, suppressing local dissent and causing displacement of people.”
The Tendaho Sugar project in Ethiopia is one of the significant investments of India in Ethiopia. Situated in the Afar State in north-eastern Ethiopia, Exim bank invests through the Indian firm Overseas Infrastructure Alliance (OIA). In operation, it will crush more than 619,000 tonnes annually and is expected to cover 50,000 hectares of sugarcane cultivation, according to the RIS Discussion Paper.
Some of the impacts of the project on the local community are documented. There has been a major impact on the pastoral indigenous people of Afar community residing near the Tendaho sugar project. As most of their grazing land is taken for the project there has been a rapid increase of child labour in the locale. Since sugarcane plantation is water intensive cropping, it consumes a lot of water which has created scarcity for the domestic consumption, including for household and livestock. The community says that they were not consulted before taking their lands in the name of development. The Afar community also states that after the Tendaho Project prostitution and thievery has increased which was unknown few years ago in the area. (Socioeconomic Effect of Tendaho Sugar Plantation on the Pastoral Livelihood of the National Regional State, Nov 2016).
In regions where people are critically dependent on natural resources with low and uncertain incomes, customary tenure rules had been the main ways of providing security of land tenure and food security. Both State control of land tenure and private investment, however, have tended to be detrimental to the interests of local people living in marginal lands. (Getachew, 2001)
India cannot shrug off the responsibility just because these violations are happening elsewhere, As noted aptly by Anuradha Mittal of Oakland Institute, “The Indian government and corporations cannot hide behind the Ethiopian government, which is clearly in violation of human rights laws”.
This brings us to the fundamental point of accountability and ethics of Indian Exim bank and Indian corporations while rolling out investments off shore. Most of the corporations investing elsewhere have a bad track-record at home when it comes to upholding human rights and protecting the environment. To assume that they will do those elsewhere is a far distant dream.
Indian Exim bank, which is owned by the government and uses public money, has a lot to answer.
By Tani Alex
For those closely looking at the trajectories of IFIs, especially the current trends of the New Development Bank (NDB) or the BRICS Bank, well, it’s all pancakes and fritters with news of NDB and BRICS Xiamen Summit all around.
The Bank, with 11 projects of over $1.5 billion already in their sack within a span of two years of their establishment, is targeting to lend $2.5-3 billion this year for ‘sustainable infrastructure’ ventures. In the last few weeks, BRICS witnessed saw a host of activities: NDB’s first regional centre opened in Johannesburg, South Africa; the interim sense of political ease happened between India and China on the Dokhlam issue just a few days before the Summit; the bloc again reinforced south-south cooperation by declaring to focus on the projects in Africa and Latin-America; their first project-financed firm commenced operations at Shanghai Lingang Distributed Solar Power Project (100 MW).
Now that the BRICS teammates have officially drawn the curtains at the finale this week at Xiamen, in their perpetual quest to overturn the western economic order, what were their projected takeaways placed side by side with their subtle agendas?
For our ease, let’s start with the first letter in the acronym coined by Jim O’ Neill of Goldman Sachs. Brazil, slouched under the pressure of staggering recovery from recession and joblessness, urged for economic cooperation in global markets.
Russia wanted to sign an intergovernmental agreement for international information security and did not hesitate to mention its initiative to establish an energy research platform for joint energy investment. They were also candidly advocating against global trade protectionism and for an open multilateral trade system.
Back here, India insisted on a medley of items—stronger cooperation in the financial sector and investment in private entrepreneurship to cater to the financial needs of ‘sovereign and corporate’ entities. Tenacious partnership with International Solar Alliance, birthed by both India and France, was also emphasised upon for ‘mutual gains’ through a comprehensive solar energy utilisation (read further exploitation of land resources for solar parks). Further India displayed vanity in having discovered digital economy as the tool for spurring economic growth and to attack corruption through demonetisation. While the World Bank and International Monetary Fund lauded this move, the citizens, independent experts, and local and international media criticised the reckless experiment thrust down to the country. In fact, RBI’s Financial Year report also indicated towards the monumental failure of the senseless decision. Media reports clamour on the resolution of the member nations to together fight corruption with a dedicated Anti-Corruption Working Group. Well, wait, did we hear anti-corruption? Does this also apply to the leaders of these nations as well, or to the higher management of their extolled NDB? We are reminded of Oscar Wilde, who said that the only thing to do with good advice is to pass it on. It is never of any use to oneself.
With the newly-begun construction of NDB headquarters in Shanghai last week and the sprouting AIIB with 80 members in its kitty, China, which who chaired this year’s Summit, did not miss time in laying bare its agenda – promoting its star project Belt Road Initiative (BRI), which linked its vital China-Pakistan Economic Corridor as well. During the Summit, China did not address its differences with India, which boycotted the BRI meeting earlier in May.
Further, China reiterated the idea of ‘BRICS Plus’ to invite more emerging developing economies to expand BRICS. Towards this end, China also invited leaders of Egypt, Guinea, Mexico, Tajikistan, and Thailand for dialogues on south-south cooperation and global development. It looks like China is on a high to alter the prevailing financial order and form a new open economic order, while critics point towards China’s discriminatory policies and trade barriers to favour local economy.
South Africa, the chair for next year’s Summit, elated by the opening of NDB’s regional centre, shared a concerted approach against global terrorism, while also listing out its goal of achieving the Sustainable Development Goals and Agenda 2063 Africa Union. Interestingly NDB’s only project in South Africa, a $180 million renewable energy project with Eskom, was rejected by the Government. When asked about the rejection, NDB’s Vice-President Leslie Maardop explained that the economic slowdown in the country melted the demand for electricity bringing it to a dip and that South Africa did not need new power supplies.
Let’s also quickly glance at other developments of this week, encapsulated here. The idea of BRICS credit ranking agency, which was pushed by India in Goa last year, was discussed again. Further, resilience and the ability of central banks of member nations to foster cooperation between Contingency Reserve Arrangement (CRA) and IMF was stressed by India. It is interesting to note here that earlier we were made to believe that CRA is an arrangement competitive to IMF and that it did not require dollar denominated IMF backing?
Another curious development during this Summit was the discussion to develop BRICS’ crypto currency, in line with its earlier agreement on lending in local currencies and settlement mechanisms. One wonders, why did the countries, especially China and India, ignore the foresightedness of their central banks, which recently cautioned against virtual currencies?
In retrospect, every year there are tall claims and forged partnerships under the façade of bilateral and multilateral talks among the BRICS members. However, it seems that no member country has given any deliberate and honest assurances pertaining to the human development—not in the parameters of amassing wealth, expanding economic markets or filling the ‘gap’ in infrastructure development alone, but that kind of an integrated growth which carefully avoids human exploitation, political manipulation, natural and human resource extraction, and devastation of natural environments.
~ Maju Varghese
Every year, India pays an enormous amount of money as commitment charges to the multilateral institutions for not utilising the loans sanctioned by them. Investopedia defines commitment charges as the fee charged by the lender to a borrower for an unused or un-disbursed loan since it has set aside the funds for the borrower and cannot yet charge interest.
According to the CAG, between 2009-2015 India paid commitment charges up to 602 crores to the external lenders. In 2014-15 itself, India was holding Rs. 2,10,099 crores of unutilised funds thus inviting a commitment charge of Rs. 110 crores. Finance Ministry had found that between 1991 and 2009, the government had paid approximately Rs 1,400 crores as the commitment charges for loans not utilised.
The commitment charges are coupled with interest while reporting by the ministry of finance which makes it difficult to understand the charges paid to different agencies in a fiscal year. The CAG observed that putting commitment charges under the head “interest obligation” is misleading as it does not reflect the nature of expenses.
Arun Jaitley, the Indian Finance Minister minister of India, has been raising the issue of commitment charges. In the 94th development committee of the World Bank, he raised the issue of commitment charges which is highest among multilateral development Banks and demanded its withdrawal. This was again repeated when the demand when the CEO of World Bank visited the country and met the Finance Minister. India is among the countries which are graduating from a low-income country to lower middle-income country resulting in loss of concessional finance from IDA loans.
World Bank charges a commitment charge of 0.25 per cent per annum on un-disbursed loans even if they are committed to be drawn in subsequent years. This is in addition to a front-end fee, a fee paid by the borrower to the lender before the loan offtakes, of 0.25 per cent on loan agreement amount (applicable on current loans). These commitment charges begin accruing 60 days after the loan agreement is signed. Despite resistance from the countries, the World Bank has stated that it will not be able to remove commitment charges due to its cost recovery guidelines.
According to the CAG, India had a total outstanding debt of 51,04,675 crores as on March 31, 2015. This increased to around 57,021,582 crores on August 15, 2016, which means a per capita debt of Rs 44,032. This comes to around 41 per cent of the GDP. To service this massive debt, India pays about 36,318 crores as interest payment every year. CAG further reports that in 2014-15, 77 per cent of the long-term internal borrowings and 73 per cent of the external borrowings were utilised for debt servicing, implying that a larger percentage of debt was being used for paying the existing debts. This, in turn, meant the lower percentage of debt was available for meeting developmental expenditure to promote growth.
Swatch Bharat and commitment charges
The World Bank had approved a US$1.5 billion loan for Swachh Bharat Mission-Gramin (SBM-G), Modi government’s much-hyped flag-ship campaign on Sanitation to support the government’s efforts to ensure all citizens in rural areas have access to improved sanitation. The loan sanctioned in 2015 is the Bank’s biggest lending in the social sector.
The mission has provision for incentivizing states on their performance in the Swachh Bharat Mission. The performance of the States will be gauged through an independent survey based measurement of certain performance indicators, called the Disbursement-Linked Indicators (DLIs). However, due to lack of independent verification of results, India missed the first disbursement of the loan. According to the media reports, India is likely to miss the second tranche too. Despite not receiving a single paisa, India has paid the commitment charge, interest, and front-end fees of USD 15.40 million so far.
The payment of commitment charges to the multilateral agencies because of governmental inability to plan and implement shows a lack of seriousness in using public money. CAG has mapped and pointed out the inefficiency of governments in utilising funds. The money that we pay as fine and commitment charges are a waste of public resources as pointed out by CAG in the reports from time to time. The proposal to set up a public debt and management agency for proper planning of external debt is still pending in spite of various statements by the finance minister.
Multiple CAG reports on debt need to be taken on a priority basis, and an oversight mechanism should be created within the parliament of India through a standing committee to look into external debt and also its investments abroad and making it transparent and accountable to the citizens of the country.
The Asian Development Bank was conceived in the early 1960s as a financial institution that would foster economic growth and cooperation in Asia. India was a founding member of the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and is now the fourth-largest shareholder. ADB commenced operations in India in 1986 and has approved 240 loans totalling $36.8 billion.
Asian Development Bank (ADB) has grown to be the third largest source of development finance in the Asia-Pacific region, next to the World Bank Group and the Japanese Government. Documents published in 2017 reveals that from a lending portfolio of just over $3 billion during the first decade, ADB has expanded its lending to $123 billion during the last 10 years.
However, the Mid-term Review (MTR) of ADB’s strategy for 2015 and 2020 have acknowledged that the Asia-Pacific region faces widening inequalities in income and access to economic and social opportunities. Increased investment in infrastructure has failed to provide inclusive growth and social protection to the vulnerable sections of the populations including the workers and women.
India had about 84 ongoing sovereign loans from ADB amounting to $11.9 billion at the end of 2015. Currently, we have about 170 active projects in the country of ADB alone. The massive Vizag-Chennai corridor, the numerous urban development projects across the country, the ReNew clean energy projects in Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Telangana and Karnataka, are only a few of the 50 odd active and approved projects. Further 23 projects have been proposed to the ADB waiting for approval. These are just projects covered by ADB, adding them to the projects funded by all IFIs shows the extent of their influence in almost every sector – energy, infrastructure, health, etc. The scale of land grab, loss of livelihood, environmental destruction has been completely overlooked by both the IFIs and the government. The rampant privatisation of all the sectors, including health care, is going to affect all those who would not be able to afford health care. In such a time, holding the development banks accountable has become imperative for one’s survival with some modicum of dignity.
ADB Investments in India. Source: Answer by the government to the parliament of India
ADB 50 campaign in India
The first week of May 2017 was marked by actions across the country against ADB and other IFIs. It coincided with ADB’s 50 years celebrations in Manila. The massive protest actions were intended to send a strong message to the ADB and other IFIs of the havoc their investments have caused. Thousands of people, in over 140 locations spread in over 21 states in India and over 80 organisations, came together to make this campaign a massive success. These protest actions are both a reminder of the reckless lending of ADB and hope to continue the struggle against the IFIs and their inequitable development model.
The coming together of so many organisations resulted in a wide range of programmes, including the public meeting, lectures, demonstrations, and human chains. Activists also made short video clips highlighting the impacts of the investments by IFIs. The protests actions raised concerns about investments of IFIs like World Bank; International Finance Corporation; Japan Bank of International Corporation (JBIC); Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank; New Development Bank; Exim Banks of Korea, United States, China among others. Many of these agencies are co-financiers, with increasing investments in the infrastructure and cross border projects, thus causing irreversible damage to the people and environment, while their policies to safeguard the harm caused by their investments are made opaque and watered down.
The actions mentioned above on the occasion of 50 years of ADB are a part of the continuous struggle of the people from all the regions that have been affected by the projects.
After a Judge declared World Bank immunity cases “wrongly decided,” the communities affected by the Tata Mundra project approach US court to review “absolute immunity” doctrine
Communities harmed by Tata Mundra coal power plant in India continue to seek justice from World Bank Group’s International Finance Corporation
July 26, 2017, Washington, D.C., and Mundra: After a federal judge in US declared that the cases giving the World Bank Group an “absolute immunity” from lawsuits were “wrongly decided,” the communities affected by private-lending arm of the World Bank Group have filed a petition asking the full D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals to revisit its immunity doctrine.
In June, a three-judge panel of the D.C. Circuit, in the case Budha Ismail Jam v. IFC, had ruled that the International Finance Corporation (IFC), the private-lending arm of the World Bank Group, could not be sued for its role in the controversial Tata Mundra coal-fired power plant, which has devastated fishing and farming communities in Gujarat.
In its June ruling, the panel, citing the legal precedents, concluded that the IFC is immune from suit in this case. Justice Nina Pillard, however, wrote a dissenting opinion criticising those decisions as “wrongly decided” and suggested that the full D.C. Circuit, which has the authority to change the law of the Circuit, should revisit those cases.
“The panel’s ruling gives international organisations like the IFC an unparalleled immunity, insulating them from legal accountability regardless of how much harm they cause,” said Richard Herz, senior litigation attorney at ERI, who argued the case for the plaintiffs. “Such sweeping immunity, which is far greater than the privileges enjoyed by sovereign foreign governments, is inconsistent with multiple Supreme Court precedents, and is contrary to the IFC’s development mission,” added Herz.
“We will not give up our struggle for justice,” said Budha Jam, a plaintiff in the case, after the verdict.
“This decision tells the world that the doors of justice are not open to the poor and marginalised when it comes to powerful institutions like IFC,” added Gajendrasinh Jadeja, the head of Navinal Panchayat, a local village involved in the case. “But no one should be above the law.”
It is noteworthy that the plaintiffs filed suit against the IFC in April 2015 over the destruction of their livelihoods and property and threats to their health caused by the IFC-funded plant. The IFC recognised from the start that the Tata Mundra plant was a high-risk project that could have “significant” and “irreversible” adverse impacts on local communities and their environment. Despite knowing the risks, the IFC provided a critical $450 million (Rs 1800 crore) loan in 2008, enabling the project’s construction and giving the IFC immense influence over project design and operation. It failed to take reasonable steps to prevent harm to the local communities and to ensure that the project abides by the required environmental and social conditions for IFC involvement.
The plant has destroyed the local marine environment and the fish populations that fishermen like Jam rely on to support their families, and vital sources of water used for drinking and irrigation. Coal ash contaminates crops and fish laid out to dry and has led to an increase in respiratory problems.
The IFC’s compliance mechanism, the Compliance Advisor Ombudsman, issued a scathing report in 2013 confirming that the IFC had failed to ensure the Tata Mundra project complied with the conditions of the IFC’s loan. Rather than follow CAO’s recommendation for remedial action, rejected most of its findings, and ignored others. Plaintiffs had no other recourse but to sue IFC. In its ruling last month, the panel recognised the “dismal” situation of the affected communities, noting IFC did not deny that the plant had caused substantial damage and yet found IFC could not be sued.
The harms suffered by the communities are all the more regrettable because the project made no economic sense from the beginning. In fact, in the past month, Tata Power, which owns the plant, has begun trying to unload a majority of its shares in the project for 1 Rupee because of the losses it has suffered and will suffer going forward.
On appeal, the plaintiffs argued that IFC has waived immunity because this suit promoted the IFC’s mission, which includes the goals of reducing poverty without harming its projects’ neighbours. The IFC interestingly argued that it is not bound by its own mission.
“The court’s judgment supports the arrogance of lenders like IFC, who disregard the law, their own safeguard policies, and even the findings of their accountability mechanisms,” said Dr. Bharat Patel of Machimar Adhikar Sangharsh Sangathan (Association for the Struggle for Fisherworkers’ Rights), which is a plaintiff in the case. “This sends the wrong message to institutions like IFC – that you can continue to lend money to bad projects, causing irreversible damage to people and environment and no law will hold you accountable.”
The plaintiffs are optimistic that the full D.C. Circuit will reconsider the case.
~ Joe Athialy
With Subhash Chandra Garg assuming charge as secretary of the Department of Economic Affairs (DEA) in the Finance Ministry, the position of the Indian Executive Director (ED) at the World Bank has fallen vacant. The 1983-batch IAS officer of Rajasthan cadre, Garg was the ED at the World Bank from Nov 2014 until June 2017.
Appointments Committee of Cabinet decides appointment of important posts under the Government of India, including ED at the World Bank. While in the past the Appointments Committee had the Prime Minister as its Chair and the Ministers for Home and in-charge of the concerned ministry, with a notification in mid-2016, the Appointments Committee is reduced to only the Prime Minister and Home Minister.
There are currently 25 EDs on the board, one each for the seven largest shareholders at the Bank – US, Japan, Germany, France, UK, China and Saudi Arabia. Other countries are grouped into constituencies, each represented by an executive director. Indian ED is in charge of Bangladesh, Bhutan and Sri Lanka, apart from India.
The EDs are based at the World Bank Group’s headquarters in Washington DC. It is responsible for policy decisions affecting the World Bank Group’s operation, and approval of the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD) loan and guarantee proposals and International Development Association (IDA) credit, grant and guarantee proposals.
There are a few pertinent questions surrounding the appointment and functioning of positions like that of World Bank ED:
Shouldn’t the elected representatives of people have a say in the appointment of an ED at any of the multilateral institutions, who represents the interests and positions of the country?
Shouldn’t s/he be guided by the wise counsel of the Parliament, for the positions s/he takes at the Board, given that the positions could have far reaching impact for the country for a long time to come? (In US, Congress provide “legislated instructions” to the ED representing the US at the Bank).
Shouldn’t s/he be transparent and accountable to the Parliament for the positions s/he takes at the Board?
It is the time that we start asking some hard questions.