In 1997, the World Bank pledged to invest $400 million in the National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC) for its Power Generation Project in India. Primarily, the Power Generation Project would expand two already-existing plants in Singrauli, India, by 1000 MW each. World Bank that Noting that similar World Bank projects were notorious for displacing nearby communities with little heed to necessary resettlement efforts, Singrauli activist Madhu Kohli – with CIEL support – requested an inspection of the project. According to Kohli’s request, the World Bank failed to adhere to its policies regarding involuntary resettlement, indigenous peoples, environmental assessment, participation, supervision and monitoring, and consideration of economic alternatives.
Acting on the complaint, the World Bank Inspection Panel recommended a full investigation into the alleged violations. The World Bank’s Board of Executive Directors ignored the recommendation, but authorized a more limited investigation into NTPC, though it was to be conducted from their Washington, DC headquarters. Claimants expressed that the physical separation between policy-makers and the affected citizens demonstrated a lack of transparency and comprehension of conditions on the ground. A 1998 progress report issued by the World Bank Board of Directors acknowledged deficiencies with regards to resettlement and rehabilitation, and the ultimate continuation of the project resulted in little social and environmental justice for the people of Singrauli.
The case is an indictment of the flaws inherent in development-induced displacement and should have led to a comprehensive review of whether the World Bank is capable of actually restoring the economic and social base of people whose lives have been uprooted and destroyed in the name of development.
In a 2011 review of the World Bank’s involvement in the NTPC Project, Singrauli residents shared experiences around their continued hardships living amidst the polluting coal mines and power plants. Citing respiratory illnesses, water pollution, damages to homes, and electricity shortages, Singrauli residents consider the World Bank to have failed them in its promises of respecting their human rights. Though a number of Indian NGOs have visited the area in recent years and expressed hopes of providing relief, the situation has yet to see significant change. In March 2014, India’s Union Ministry of Environment and Forests officially declared Singrauli a Critically Polluted Area (CPA) on account of excessive industrial pollution from the coal mines.