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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.
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.