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By Joe Athialy
Ever since the first lending from World Bank in 1949 worth $34 million to Indian Railways and the bilateral credit India received from the erstwhile USSR and USA in the early 50s, India has been a recipient of significant funds from different multilateral and bilateral sources.
While each of these lendings came with baggage, and often conditionalities, much of it was justified in the name of nation-building, and critiques of the enormous social, environmental and even economic costs were shut their mouth by the oft-repeated rhetoric of ‘somebody has to sacrifice for greater common good’. This was true not just for lending from international sources, but any investments.
What the Multilateral Development Banks (MDBs) brought, along with its lending, was a host of policy changes in almost all critical sectors. They often influenced and changed the course of development agenda of the country, by providing ‘Technical Assistance’ to governments, being the knowledge provider and taking the role of a development finance gatekeeper with their Doing Business Reports, Investment Climate Reports and many such.
With India opening up her economy in 1991, India has been a destination of many foreign corporations and by late 90s, with all systems in place for their smooth landing, they started pouring, starting with companies like Enron and Cogentrix. With the foreign corporations, came in financial institutions, both private banks as well as Export-Import Banks (ExIm Banks). Some of the institutions operating here in the past have deepened their operations. What was witnessing the past decade or so is an influx of these investments majorly in energy, transport, steel, dams, roads, urban projects, industrial zones/corridors, smart cities and other mega projects. The number of financial sources coming in, the pace in which these investments are finalised and the quantum of money pouring in is alarming and often do not give the opportunity to see the investments in toto.
There have been many struggles – small and big – against these investments and the devastation, which caused to the people – their livelihood and natural resources, and the environment. While the yardstick of measuring the successes and failures of these struggles could vary depending on who does it, the reality remains that the struggles have forced MDBs to relook the way they conduct business in this country, compelled them to adopt safeguard policies and compliance mechanisms and didn’t shy away from confronting them on the ground, on the streets and even at their doorsteps.
The Indian government, for past few decades, has stressed the need for large infrastructural projects for the country’s development and these projects are being seen as a stimulus to the growth of India’s GDP. This aggressive growth comes at the cost of displacing the lives of people who are dependent on land and natural resources for their livelihood and devastating the environment. This also often comes at the expense of displacing existing dwelling communities who are pushed to a life of poverty and whose life and livelihood cannot be commensurably compensated by money – in most cases, not even that.
This document is an effort to compile data of investments coming into India from MDBs, ExIm banks and other bilateral investments, to help understand the landscape of financing from these institutions and helping to understand the overlaps of international financial institutions in certain key sectors.
The data provided in this document is not comprehensive. While information from MDBs is comparatively easy to access, that of ExIms and bi-lateral sources are difficult to compile. Despite our best efforts, there are many we missed. We will keep this as a work in progress and will update the data as and when we get it.
We hope that this data and the broader understanding this document may help provide will strengthen the struggles on the ground as well as critical voices demanding transparency and accountability in financial institutions.