Indian fishermen vow to keep fighting 'devastating' World Bank project

A worker sprays water over piles of coal as a bulldozer shifts coal at Mundra Port Coal Terminal in the western Indian state of Gujarat April 2, 2014. REUTERS/Amit Dave

Salt water leaking from the plant has made ground water undrinkable, according to a fishermen's group

By Rina Chandran

MUMBAI, Sept 28 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Farmers and fishermen who sued an arm of the World Bank - for funding an Indian power plant they say hurts their livelihoods - have vowed to appeal a U.S. court ruling that the institution has "absolute immunity".

The Indian communities, represented by advocacy EarthRights International (ERI), had sued the International Finance Corporation over its $450-million loan for a coal-fired plant operated by a Tata Power unit near Mundra, in Gujarat state.

The 4,000 megawatt plant has had a "devastating and irreversible impact" on the coastal ecosystem, reducing fish stocks and destroying livelihoods, according to the communities.

Earlier this week, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, while noting the damage caused, said it would not reconsider the immunity rule that shields the World Bank group from being sued in the United States.

The communities said they will appeal in the U.S. Supreme Court.

"The court's decision says the IFC is above the law and accountable to no one, regardless of how much harm it causes," said Richard Herz, senior litigation attorney at ERI, who argued the case for the plaintiffs.

"The Supreme Court should correct this error," he said in a statement.

In a separate opinion, Judge Nina Pillard said the court had taken "a wrong turn" in granting international organisations a "static, absolute immunity".

Representatives of the World Bank in India did not respond to an email seeking comment.

A spokesman for Tata Power said on Thursday that its subsidiary "is in complete compliance with necessary ecological and social parameters of the Indian central and state government, as well as lenders' performance standards".

The project, billed as key to providing cheap energy and creating jobs, has long been criticised for its environmental impact.

The Compliance Advisor Ombudsman, an independent recourse mechanism for the IFC, said in a 2013 report that affected communities were not consulted, and the impact on the marine environment was not adequately considered.

Salt water leaking from the plant has made ground water undrinkable and unfit for irrigation, according to Bharat Patel, general secretary of fishermen's group Machimar Adhikar Sangharsh Sangatha, a plaintiff in the case.

Hot water from the plant's cooling system has harmed the fish and air quality, he said.

"The ruling sends the message that institutions like IFC can continue to lend money to projects that cause harm to the people and the environment, and not be held accountable," Patel told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

"But we will not give up. We will go to the Supreme Court."

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