Albion Monitor /News

U.S. Helped Suppress India Protests, Group Charges

by Danielle Knight

on Ex-Im and related article on Enron
(IPS) WASHINGTON -- Three United States corporations, funded in-part by two U.S. federal agencies, have been involved in human rights violations during demonstrations against the Dabhol power plant in India, according to Amnesty International.

The human rights group says that villagers and activists -- mostly women -- who have been protesting the construction of the Dabhol plant have been subjected to "harassment, arbitrary arrests, ill-treatment, and preventive detention" by state police in Maharashtra.

The Dabhol Power Corporation (DPC) is a joint venture between Enron, the world's largest natural gas company, based in Houston Texas, the General Electric Corporation, and Bechtel Incorporated. Enron has the largest share of the joint-venture, 80 percent.

DPC allegedly has a security arrangement with the government of Maharashtra state and a 100-strong police reserve unit has been deployed on the site. It is these police that have been implicated in human rights violations, according to Amnesty International.

Both Ex-Im and OPIC are currently awaiting expected multi- billion dollar extensions from the U.S. Congress
In early 1995, the DPC, began clearing ground 100 miles south of Bombay, in Maharahtra state, for a $2.8 billion, gas-fired combined cycle power plant, the largest single foreign investment in India. Designed to generate 2,015 megawatts, this power plant will be India's largest.

Hundreds of millions of dollars have been poured into the DPC through the U.S. tax-payer funded Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) and Export-Import Bank (Ex-Im).

Since the plant's proposal several years ago, villagers have been protesting its potential effects on the local population and the environment. Villagers claim that the power plant is overpriced and that its effluents would destroy the fisheries and coconut and mango trees that they depend on.

A fact-finding team from the All India Peoples Resistance Forum, headed by a former Bombay High Court Judge, found that "in the name of law and order the police have prevented all forms of peaceful and democratic protest, used force and violence while dealing with forms of protest, and resorted to a number of other subtle methods of harassment of the agitators."

Enron denies subcontracting with the state police. "DPC has no authority over the police in Maharastra," said Kelly Kimberly a spokeswoman for Enron.

OPIC and Ex-Im were created to encourage exports and U.S. private investment overseas and OPIC provided $200 million in political risk insurance to the Enron/Dhabol project. Such insurance covers the corporations against losses resulting from wars, nationalization, and other political events which might harm the project, according to their 1996 annual report.

OPIC says it is not aware of the Amnesty report. Although President Bill Clinton recently imposed new environmental guidelines for projects approved by OPIC, the agency insists that it has always had high human rights and environmental standards. "We continue to strictly screen projects considered for approval," said Murfy Alexander of OPIC.

Organizations here say OPIC's standards may not be so strict.

"Tax-payer money should not be going to projects that violate human rights and perhaps this calls for a revision of OPIC's human rights clearance process," said Doug Norlen of the Center for International Environmental Law.

In 1994, Ex-Im gave a $301 million loan to DPC for engineering services and equipment. However, Ex-Im will look deeply into these accusations if any new applications for loans for DPC are submitted in the future, said Judy Nath of Ex-Im. "When we approved this loan these human rights violations were not an issue," she told IPS.

Both Ex-Im and OPIC are currently awaiting expected multi- billion dollar extensions from the U.S. Congress.

Police forcibly entered the home of several women and dragged them into police vans, beating them with sticks
Women, who have been at the forefront of local agitation, appear to have been a particular target, according to the Amnesty report. "The police targeted mainly women, some of whom where minors, and the arrests were made violently, in violation of legal and humanitarian principles," said the Amnesty International report.

One incident occurred on June 3, when police forcibly entered the home of several women in Veldur, a fishing village which is home to many protesters, and dragged them into police vans, beating them with sticks, says Amnesty.

An investigative team found that a number of the women subsequently sustained injures, including bruises, abrasions, and lacerations on their arms and legs. Several hundred other peaceful protesters, many of them also women, have been arrested and temporarily detained by police since December 1996, according to the report.

"We consider those subjected to arrest and imprisonment, simply for protesting peacefully against the construction of the power plant, to be prisoners of conscience," Amnesty said.

The organization is calling on the three U.S.-based multinational corporations to establish strict guidelines for all security personnel. Amnesty is also calling on the Indian federal and state government to ensure the human rights of protesters.

"India's authorities have resorted to repressive measures in the interest of foreign investment and to expedite particular projects," said the report.

The villagers' protests have not been taken lightly due to the effects protests have had on other projects. Chemical giant DuPont had to abandon a plant in the southern state of Goa after public protests in early 1995 made construction work impossible.

Comments? Send a letter to the editor.

Albion Monitor September 22, 1997 (

All Rights Reserved.

Contact for permission to reproduce.

Front Page