Human rights activists in Andhra Pradesh have strongly objected to World Bank plans for a new economic reform loan to the state government. In a statement issued 13 December, K.G. Kannabiran, the National President of the People's Union for Civil Liberties, and K. Balagopal of the Human Rights Forum describe the widespread social injustice, violence, and police brutality in the state. They argue that approval of the planned loan, known as APERL 2 (Andhra Pradesh Economic Reform Loan 2), meant to finance structural adjustment and economic liberalisation will both exacerbate social conflict and be equivalent to an endorsement of state brutality.
This criticism comes soon after similar anguish over the British government's plans to fund development projects, also in Andhra Pradesh. The Guardian columnist George Monbiot had this to say about the UK government's plans:
342 million pounds for Andhra Pradesh is a staggering amount of money, 15 times what was spent last year on the famine in Ethiopia. Why is Andhra Pradesh so lucky? Because its chief minister, or "chief executive" as he now likes to be known, is doing to his state what Pinochet did to Chile: handing everything which isn't nailed down, and quite a lot which is, to big business. Most of the money is being used to "restructure" and "reform" the state and its utilities. His programme will dispossess 20 million people from the land and contribute massively to poverty. DFID's own report on the biggest of the schemes it is funding in the state reveals that it suffers from "major failings", has "negative consequences on food security" and does "nothing about providing alternative income for those displaced." But it permits Andhra Pradesh to become a laboratory for the kind of mass privatisation the department is seeking to encourage all over the world.
Andhra Pradesh is the most unequal of the nation's southern states, and has had a history of internal conflict and violence, and rights activists have long assailed the state government's responses. Since the 1970s, Naxalites have been active in large parts of the State, fighting for social justice through revolutionary change. The movements' violence has been met with massive state repression, including extrajudicial executions, torture, sexual assault and illegal detentions. The National Human Rights Commission is currently investigating over 200 cases of police killings in Andhra Pradesh.
Text of open letter
20 million at risk of displacement
Vision 2020: The People's Verdict
The reforms have meant a drop in health and educational expenditure, the
erosion of workers' rights, and a collapse in the state's agricultural support and marketing
In their statement, Kannabiran and Balagopal describe the government's
approach as "market fundamentalism", arguing that "[the government believes] resources such
as land, forests, water, and nature in general are to be put at the disposal of those who can
invest... this can have a disastrous effect on livelihood opportunities." Forest communities,
landless labourers and small farmers are all suffering from policies that privatise
government support systems and grant big landowners and large corporations carte blanche over
land and forest exploitation. Further, state rollback has meant that health care has been
taken out of the reach of the poor; the statement quotes the death of hundreds of children
from a 2003 encephalitis outbreak as a typical example.
Also see: Vision 2020: The People's Verdict
This market fundamentalism, say the authors, is accompanied by government support for police impunity and brutality in its efforts to repress demands for social justice. Pointing out that "a meaningful and effective policy of handling the Naxalite phenomenon can only be a policy that will address [social] deprivation", the authors say that the government of Andhra Pradesh "has never had such a policy." Instead, it has engaged in brutal and unconstitutional acts such as the killing of prisoners in police custody, the use of paramilitary gangs to intimidate, assault and murder social activists and human rights workers, and widespread and institutionalised torture of prisoners and detainees. Such state brutality has in turn triggered further violence from the Naxalite movements.
The activists argue that granting APERL 2 is tantamount to endorsing this situation. Instead, they argue that the Bank and the Andhra Pradesh government are accountable to the international community and to the people of the state for promoting true and socially just forms of development. There has been no official response from the World Bank to the statement. The loan comes up for consideration by the Bank board 10 February, and it remains to be seen if the objections raised in this statement are taken into consideration.