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Solidarity Statement from India At People’s Dialogue, Cape Town on 31 March 2019

Solidarity Statement from India

At People’s Dialogue, Cape Town on 31 March 2019

In response to BRICS-led New Development Bank’s 4th Annual General Meeting in South Africa

The BRICS led NDB (New Development Bank) is being promoted as an institution that serves as developing economies’ healthy and essential alternative to undemocratic International Financial Institutions (IFIs) such as the World Bank, Asian Development Bank and International Finance Corporation that are controlled by western powers. We reject such rhetoric and assert that the $100 billion NDB is designed and structured to function equally undemocratically. NDB invests in projects that do not conform with necessary environmental and social safeguards. Consequently, billions of dollars invested by NDB in critical sectors such as energy, road building and urbanization is causing extensive environmental and social impacts. We know, as a result, South Africa, a huge recipient of NDB loans, has become a site for corporate land grabs which is resulting in massive loss of livelihoods and displacement of rural and urban communities, along with rampant corruption. The prime examples of these as we understand are Eskom, Transnet and the Development Bank of Southern Africa who are among the most notorious of South Africa’s corrupt, climate-change-causing and non-consultative firms.

IFIs have systematically disrupted evolution of democratic governance forcing Governments to implement regressive policies, legislation and schemes, commodify and financialise land, essential services and food production systems, which attack environment, food security and labour. They are gaining significant access to sovereign decision-making processes. They operated with legal immunity until recently when the US Supreme Court issued a judgement in the suit filed by Indian fishing communities against IFC that IFC is not above law. This immunity had always encouraged them to finance projects without a proper appraisal of their environmental and social impacts, and due diligence of their financial and economic consequences. IFIs typically invest in massive projects in critical sectors. A slew of such highly destructive and economically disastrous mega projects in India include Industrial corridors – Bharatmala (roads and highways expansion project), Sagarmala (creating sea-routes linked to tens of new ports), bullet train, and smart cities. The massive scales of such projects have little to do with need and necessity. Very often, a network of transnational corporations are the beneficiaries of the massive contracts that ensue. We understand it’s a way of making money out of money. The result of such development is systemic human rights violations, social disruption, and environmental destruction. And, these mega projects typically end up in massive financial losses and lead to devastating economic instability in regional and national economies. Communities in farms, coastal areas and cities are uprooted in the process, accentuating impoverishment and unemployment at massive scales. People end up burdened with crippling debts merely to survive.

Further, outsourcing the formulation of critical policies of a country relating to labour, food security, defence, water, land, farming, etc., to a variety of think-tanks and foreign consultancies work to maximise corporate control over peoples’ lives and natural resources. Institutions of democracy and decision-making of a country, such as the Parliament, are kept in the dark and global financial powers are making deep forays into sovereign decision making. Moreover, the aggressive privatisation of essential services such as electricity, water, health, food supply, public transport and education, is causing a rapid escalation of the living cost of the majority population.

Communities on the frontlines of resistance to mega undemocratic and destructive projects are facing extreme forms of violence and terror and becoming victims of systemic abuse of executive power of the State. Instead of responding to popular and people’s genuine demands, when farmers, Adivasis, Dalits and workers organise to demand just action by the State, they have often been met with state repression. The present social upheaval in India and a range of arrests of dissenters, writers, cultural and social activists across India based on fabricated cases are indicative of increasing repression.

Social movements and peoples organisations representing Adivasis, Dalits, indigenous peoples, women, farmers, fisherfolk, forest workers, hawkers, artisans, unorganised workers and civil society from across India, together with solidarity groups from India resolve that undemocratic International Financial Institutions (IFIs) have no role in a democratic polity, and therefore need to be shut down. These institutions, including NDB, trample on peoples’ rights, disregard national sovereignty, tear into the very fabric of constitutionally guaranteed governance and thus undermine India’s economic and political security.

We pledge in solidarity with the peoples’ movements, communities and civil society groups of South Africa, at this occasion of People’s Dialogue at Cape Town, to resolve to tirelessly work against subordination of governments to corporate power, against exploitation of human and natural resources, against discrimination, against social, economic and environmental injustices, against corruption, loot and violence.

We will continue resisting the prevailing financial hegemony of undemocratic and unaccountable financial institutions such as the BRICS-led NDB. We resolve to push for people-centred alternatives in all sectors of the economy and to advance an inclusive model of development in which finance and infrastructure support the vulnerable and the poor communities.

We continue remaining dedicated to building a society based on democratic and secular principles that ensure freedom, equality, equity, dignity, fraternity, love and respect for all

We continue remaining dedicated to building a society based on democratic and secular principles that ensure freedom, equality, equity, dignity, fraternity, love and respect for all, deeply respecting Mother Earth’s rights.

Signed by,

  1. Medha Patkar, Social Activist, Narmada Bachao Andolan and National Alliance of People’s Movements
  2. Ashok Choudhary, All India Union of Forest Working People
  3. Saktiman Ghosh, National Hawkers Federation
  4. Ulka Mahajan, Social Activist, Sarvahara Jan Andolan
  5. Xavier Dias, Former Editor, Khan Kaneej Aur ADHIKAR (Mines minerals & RIGHTS)
  6. Peter, National Fishworkers Forum
  7. Working Group on IFIs, India
  8. FAN-India – Financial Accountability Network India
  9. Rajendra Ravi, Director, Institute for Democracy and Sustainability
  10. Sreedhar Ramamurthy., Environics Trust
  11. PT George, Intercultural Resources, Delhi
  12. Gautam Bandyopadhyay, Nadi Ghati Morcha and Peoples Alliance in Central East India
  13. Vimal Bhai, Convenor, Matu Jan Sangathan and National Convenor, National Alliance of People’s Movements
  14. Soumya Dutta, Bharat Jan Vigyan Jatha
  15. Vijayan MJ, Pakistan India People’s Forum for Peace and Democracy
  16. Leo Saldanha, Environment Support Group
  17. Anil Tharayath Varghese, Delhi Forum
  18. Usman Mangi, Machimar Adhikar Sangarsh Samiti
  19. Kalyani Menon-Sen, Independent Researcher and Feminist Activist
  20. Madhuresh Kumar, National Alliance of People’s Movements
  21. Bilal Khan, Ghar Bachao Ghar Banao Andolan
  22. Sanjeev Kumar, Dalit-Adivasi Shakti Adhikar Manch – DASAM
  23. Tani Alex, Centre for Financial Accountability
  24. Ajay Kumar Jha, Pairvi- Public Advocacy Initiatives for Rights and Values in India
  25. Priya Pillai, Social Environmental Activist
  26. Vidya Dinker, Social Activist, Karavali Karnataka Janabhivriddhi Vedike
  27. Ovais Sultan Khan, Human Rights Activist
  28. Rajkumar Sinha, Chutka Parmanu Virodhi Sagarsh Samiti
  29. Willy D’Costa, INSAF – Indian Social Action Forum
  30. Linda Chhakchhuak, Grassroots Options – Independent Journalist
  31. Krishnakant, Activist, Pariyavaran Suraksha Samiti Gujarat
  32. C. Ramachandraiah, Centre for Economic and Social Studies, Hyderabad
  33. Meera Sangamitra, National Alliance of People’s Movements
  34. Vijay Kumar, Social and Political Activist, CPI-ML Red Star Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh
  35. Himanshu Damle, Public Finance Public Accountability Collective
  36. Chennaiah Poguri, General Secretary of AP VV Union India and National Agricultural Workers Forum
  37. Maglin P., Activist, Theeradesha Mahila Vedi Kerala
  38. Bharat Patel, Machimar Adhikar Sangarsh Sangathan Gujarat
  39. Awadesh Kumar, Srijan Lokhit Samiti Madhya Pradesh
  40. Ram Wangkheirakpam, Indigenous Perspectives, Manipur
  41. Rajesh Serupally, Freelance Researcher and Journalist

 

 

 

An Indian Perspective on New Development Bank & Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank

The Asian region has experienced the emergence of new MDBs over last few years. For many years, the Asian Development Bank was the only development bank in the region and has been dominated by the Japanese owing to the number of votes it has as compared to other members. However, the newly constituted NDB in 2014 has two key Asian members, India and China. The Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) led and initiated by China in 2015, and with a mandate to have at minimum 70% of shares allocated to Asian countries is sure to become another major player to support infrastructure development activities of the region as well as global south. The AIIB and NDB are two separate entities in their operations and constitution even though there are overlaps in memberships of the two banks.

The Role of IFIs in the Development Agenda

Ulka Mahajan on the Context of the Role of IFIs in the Development Agenda

BRICS 2017 Offers Nothing New

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.

India paid over 600 crores between 2009-2015 to the IFIs for not using their loans

~ 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.

Budget Session of Parliament: An Overview

By Maju Varghese

The Constitution of India has accorded the Parliament the supremacy among the three organs of the Union government viz legislature, executive, and judiciary. Parliament not only makes the laws but also enables the citizens to participate in controlling the government. The Parliament applies various oversight mechanisms to ensure transparency and accountability in the system. The two mechanisms available in our country are questions and debates on the floor of the house and various committees which scrutinise the public finances and policies.

The budget session of the Parliament was held between January 31 and April 12, 2017. The session had a recess between Feb 10 and March 8, 2017, during which the standing committees examined the demand for grants from various ministries. The session was convened in the context of upcoming assembly elections and also of post demonetisation distress.

This session was important for many reasons. The budget was introduced on February 1 instead of the last working day of February as per the tradition.  The government claims that advancing the presentation will result in necessary legislative approval for annual spending plans and tax proposals could be completed before the beginning of the new financial year.  According to eminent economist Arun Kumar, early presentation of Budget will help the entire exercise to get over by 31 March, and expenditure, as well as tax proposals, can come into effect right from the beginning of new fiscal, thereby ensuring better implementation.

Besides advancing the date, the government decided from this year to merge Union Budget and Railway Budget.  Earlier, Railway budget was presented first followed by the general union budget.  Another interesting development this year is doing away with the distinction of the plan and non-planned expenditure in the budget-making monitoring difficult on capital infusion in developmental planning.

The budget session held 29 sittings for 178 hours in total in which 24 bills were introduced, and 23 bills were passed.  Members raise 560 starred questions and 6440 un-starred questions during this session.

Some Major debates in the Parliament

The budget session saw the introduction of some major bills and discussions around those.  These are: The Finance Bill, 2017; The Specified Bank Notes (Cessation of Liabilities) Bill, 2017; Bills related to Goods and Service Tax; The Payment of Wages (Amendment) Bill, 2017; the Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Bill, 2017; the Mental Health Care Bill, 2017; and the Employee’s Compensation (Amendment) Bill, 2017.

Analysis of Questions in Parliament

During the budget session, about 6440 un-starred questions and 560 starred questions were admitted in the parliament.  However, the lack of interest in the functioning of the IFIs was evident as just 7 questions asked on the topic in Lok Sabha out of 5203 questions, and 7 in the Rajya Sabha from the total 5064 questions.  The break-ups of the questions are given below.

IFI Name Lok Sabha Rajya Sabha
World Bank 6 3
ADB 1 2
AIIB 0 2
NDB 0 0

Rising NPA’s and Parliament

The debate on Non-Performing Assets continued to be debated in the parliament with many parliamentarians raising the issue through questions. There were about 18 questions asked in the Rajya Sabha and 21 questions in Lok Sabha. K.V Thomas, then chairman of the standing committee on public accounts, said that the current non-performing assets stood at 6.8 lakh crore or 6.8 trillion of which 70% are those of big corporate houses. There were debates on the bad bank and how the banks could be cleared of the mounting NPAs. Interestingly, the same bankers who were asking the state to take care of their bad debts came against debts being waived off for farmers who are facing an acute crisis due to a variety of reasons leading to suicide deaths.

New trend of undermining  democratic institutions

The Parliament is witnessing a new trend of bypassing Rajya Sabha in important matters including amendment of acts where both Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha is responsible. The introduction of the Finance Bill[1] first with 10 amendment of acts and later to change 40 different acts including Reserve Bank of India Act as well as the Representation of the People Act was according to opposition first in the history of Parliament itself.  This act has robbed the Parliament its right to refer the bill to a standing committee or to scrutinise it clause by clause as to every amendment and the power of Raja Sabha to discuss, propose and incorporate amendment.

The very fact that the finance bill is a money bill gives the option of not incorporating Rajya Sabha view in the bills. All the five amendments passed in the Rajya Sabha was not incorporated into the finance bill, and it was passed as such.  Centre has got 22 Money bills passed in Lok Sabha ignoring the Rajya Sabha, and this has kept a bad president for the functioning of the democracy as such.

Executive legislation through Ordinance rather than legislation

The ordinance is an independent legislation brought out by the Executive; it is the wisdom and authority being exercised by the Executive. An Ordinance can only be done in extraordinary situations when the houses are not in session or a critical condition.  The Ordinance encroaches the right of the parliament in law making.

The government seems to issues ordinance after ordinance despite the fact that this could be brought before the parliament for legislation in the first instance. According to the PRS Legislative, the government in the last three years has promulgated 27 ordinances, including the ones on land acquisition, demonetisation, payment of wages bill, etc. Many of the ordinances were promulgated multiple times. It is interesting to read the observation of the Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court observation in Krishna Kumar Vs State of Bihar delivered on January 2, 2017, that promulgation of ordinances is a fraud on the Constitution and a subversion of democratic legislative processes. The latest subversion is the Banking Ordinance, on which the finance minister refused to share details of the ordinance before Presidential assent.

While there were interesting debates in the parliament this session, it seems some of the issues are not being captured in the discussions.  This includes life and livelihood issues of people who are getting displaced/ affected by development projects, investments of bilateral and multilateral agencies including World Bank, Asian Development Bank, IFC and new development banks like New Development Bank, Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank, etc.  A point to make in this regard is about New Development Bank, a multilateral Bank initiated by BRICS nations.  There seems to be no real engagement of the Parliament in influencing the nature of the Bank given that Mr K. V. Kamat is the chief of the Bank.  The Bank is in the process of developing its policies with regards to the environmental and social framework, disclosure policy, etc in their lending.

The other major lack of oversight is on negotiations in the trade policy.  India is Negotiating a free trade agreement, Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership – RCEP [2] in the Asia Pacific region.  According to India FDI Watch, “In the past four years and to this day, no text has been made available to members of the public, parliamentarians, civil society or media,”. The trade negotiations are happening under a veil of secrecy where Parliament and parliamentarians are kept in the dark.

Parliament does not have an institutional space like Standing Committee where trade negotiations, Indian investment abroad and Multilateral and Bilateral investments to India and its effects on Indian policy environment is being discussed.  The failure of the Standing Committee to come out with a report on the demonetisation in this session with full facts and figures were a let down on the process particularly when it was announced that it would come out before the end of the budget session.

[1]          The finance bill is for ordinarily introduced to give effect to financial proposals of the Government of India for the following fiscal year and not to make permanent changes in the existing laws unless they are consequential upon or incidental to the taxation proposals.

[2]          RCEP is a 16-nation trade pact that includes the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), along with China, Australia, India, Japan, South Korea and New Zealand, a region that accounts for 46 percent of the world’s population and that produced nearly 30 per cent of global GDP in 2016.

 

FAQ on BRICS, NDB & AIIB