Sardar Sarovar Dam
Why were they so keen?
Between 1947 and 1994 the Bank
received 6,000 applications for loans from around the world. They didn't turn down a
single one. Not a single one. Terms like 'Moving money' and 'Meeting loan targets'
suddenly begin to make sense.
Today, India is in a situation where it pays back more money to the Bank in interest and
repayment instalments than it receives from it. We are forced to incur new debts in order
to be able to repay our old ones. According to the World Bank Annual Report, last year
(1998), after the arithmetic, India paid the Bank $478 million more than it received. Over
the last five years ('93 to '98) India paid the Bank $1.475 billion more than it received.
The relationship between us is exactly like the relationship between a landless labourer
steeped in debt and the local Bania-it is an affectionate relationship, the poor man loves
his Bania because he's always there when he's needed. It's not for nothing that we call
the world a Global Village. The only difference between the landless labourer and the
Government of India is that one uses the money to survive. The other just funnels it into
the private coffers of its officers and agents, pushing the country into an economic
bondage that it may never overcome.
The International Dam Industry is worth $20 billion a year. If you follow the trails of
big dams the world over, wherever you go-China, Japan, Malaysia, Thailand, Brazil,
Guatemala-you'll rub up against the same story, encounter the same actors: the Iron
Triangle (dam-jargon for the nexus between politicians, bureaucrats and dam construction
companies), the racketeers who call themselves International Environmental Consultants
(who are usually directly employed by or subsidiaries of dam-builders), and, more often
than not, the friendly, neighbourhood World Bank. You'll grow to recognise the same
inflated rhetoric, the same noble 'Peoples' Dam' slogans, the same swift, brutal
repression that follows the first sign of civil insubordination. (Of late, especially
after its experience in the Narmada Valley, the Bank is more cautious about choosing the
countries in which it finances projects that involve mass displacement. At present, China
is their Most Favoured client. It's the great irony of our times-American citizens protest
the massacre in Tiananmen square, but the Bank will use their money to fund the Three
Gorges Dam in China which is going to displace 1.3 million people.)
It's a skilful circus and the acrobats know each other well. Occasionally they'll swap
parts-a bureaucrat will join the Bank, a Banker will surface as a Project Consultant. At
the end of play, a huge percentage of what's called 'Development Aid' is re-channelled
back to the countries it came from, masquerading as equipment cost or consultants' fees or
salaries to the agencies' own staff. Often 'Aid' is openly 'tied'. (As in the case of the
Japanese loan for the Sardar Sarovar Dam, tied to a contract for purchasing turbines from
Sumitomo Corporation.) Sometimes the connections are more sleazy. In 1993 Britain financed
the Pergau Dam in Malaysia with a subsidised loan of £234 million, despite an Overseas
Development Administration report that said that the dam would be a 'bad buy' for
Malaysia. It later emerged that the loan was offered.
( This article is posted by the expressed permission of the author, Arundhati Roy,
obtained during her recent visit to Mumbai. When asked for permission to post she said
that this article belonged to every one and has been posted many places. Originally the
article was published in Outlook)