World Bank plans for forestry project in Jharkhand State (India) continue to cause controversy

World Bank plans for forestry project in Jharkhand State (India) continue to cause controversy

Since 2002 the World Bank has been trying to promote a Participatory Forest Management (PFM) Project in the newly formed Jharkhand State in India. The hugely controversial Government Eviction Order of May 2002, which generated immediate national and international outrage, did cause the Bank to take a step back. [1] As a result, progress on project proposals for Jharkhand was stalled as Bank officials sought “dialogue” with the Government of India on how World Bank-assisted projects should deal with so-called “encroachers” in forest areas which the government claims are State property.


Bank officials report that these difficulties have been largely overcome in the case of Jharkhand and a compromise solution for the whole of India is set out in new general guidelines on World Bank engagement with the Forest Sector in India. However, nobody knows what these guidelines say on the encroachment issue as these principles remain confidential. Bank staff assert that the guidelines will not be available to the public until they are formally “agreed” between the Bank and central government. The Bank maintains that the forthcoming guidelines are not mandatory, but rather generic principles for deciding eligibility for World Bank loans for forestry projects or forest-related programmes in India.

While these guidelines are being finalised, the Bank has pushed ahead with its plans in Jharkhand. To this end, in mid-July 2004, it gave the green light internally for the implementation of a $2 million (9 Crore Rupees) pilot PFM project in Jharkhand involving 50 villages in five Districts. At the same time, the Bank gave the go-ahead for 16 months preparation work for the larger State-wide PFM project which is likely to be financed by a $110 million USD loan. The Bank admits that the pilot project has not been formally approved by the Bank’s Board of Directors and task managers confirm that this procedure of including actual field pilot projects during project preparation has not been done in any previous World Bank forestry projects in India.

Lack of transparency in Bank’s plans

Adivasi leaders, activists and civil society organisations in Jharkhand are questioning the whole process by which the pilot phase in Jharkhand has been approved internally by the Bank. They ask: how have Adivasi organisations, traditional authorities and Gram Sabahs in the 5 affected Districts been consulted? How has their agreement to the pilot phase been obtained and has such agreement been verified as genuine collective acceptance to the pilot JFM project? As Sanjay Bosu Mullick of Jharkhand Save the Forest Movement explains:

We want to know how exactly was the approval of Adivasi organisations and Gram Sabahs in affected communities were obtained prior to the Bank’s public announcement that a pilot JFM initiative is to start as quickly as possible in 5 Districts in Jharkhand. Also, we want to know how the Bank has pushed through this pilot phase before its guidelines on Bank Forestry Projects in India are available to the public. Why are these guidelines still confidential? What are the minimum preconditions for Bank engagement in the forest sector in India? How does the Bank plan to recognise and respect people’s rights?

At this stage, activists have not even been able to obtain information about which districts will be affected. For its part, the Bank claims that specific villages have still not been identified, and will be selected on a “demand” basis. However, there is no clarity on how such demand will be judged to be truly coming from the grassroots and to what extent the position of Gram Sabahs and traditional authorities will be respected.

Defective public consultations

Over the last few years, World Bank staff have made individual approaches to activists and Adivasi leaders in Ranchi in order to hear their views on the proposed project. Those approached complain that their criticisms of the Bank’s plans fall on deaf ears, while the larger public consultations held in Ranchi in November and December 2003 hardly involved any Adivasi representatives critical of the World Bank’s plans to support JFM. The few that did manage to attend complain that the meetings were overwhelmingly attended by NGOs who are eager to secure contracts as facilitators for the World Bank project and by villages that have already accepted JFM committees. A strong rejection of JFM and the opposition to the proposed Bank project was made by a few Adivasi representatives in the workshops, but their interventions were either rejected or ignored. Adivasi leaders and activists therefore protest that World Bank consultations in Jharkhand have been one-sided and have failed to respect dissenting voices.

Flawed and unjust project design

Despite very persuasive and arguably misleading language about “empowerment” and a “people-centred” approach, scrutiny of the Bank’s Project Information Document (PID) for the PFM project has alarmed Adivasi leaders and activists in Jharkhand as it proposes an “Action Restriction Process Framework”, a “Physical Displacement Policy Framework” as well as “site-specific resettlement Action Plans”. Tribal representatives question how the Bank can promote a project that reinforces the states JFM policy which has been widely repudiated by the tribal movement in Jharkhand in both a memorandum to the government in November 2002 and in the Khunti Declaration of November 2003.[2]

Adivasi representatives point out that the Bank is planning to back a forest policy that is not acceptable to tribal communities who live in and depend on Jharkhand’s forests.[3] They are dismayed that the World Bank appears to be riding rough-shod over their opposition to the internationally-financed PFM project:

The Bank is planning to finance a forest policy that is not accepted by the vast majority of Adivasi leaders in Jharkhand. The Adivasi people here have clearly stated they do not want JFM, but rather their own genuine self-management of their ancestral forests. We challenge the Bank to show us where Adivasi leaders have accepted this specific JFM policy and their project plans? We do not accept Bank projects that reinforce government policies on forests that are rejected by the very people the Bank claims it is seeking to help. Nor do we accept the offering of development benefits, paid work and poverty reduction on the condition that people accept JFM and surrender land to the Forest Department. How can the Bank justify this top-down project?” [Alistair Bodra, Mundari leader and Adivasi activist, Ranchi District, Jharkhand, July 04]

Another top-down World Bank project

The World Bank claims it has learned from past mistakes in India and maintains that it would never promote a project that is not broadly accepted by forest-dependent peoples and civil society. Bank officials say that any imposition of an unwanted project would risk promoting public protests that would not be helpful to the Bank nor the Borrower government. Yet in Jharkhand all the signs are that the Bank risks imposing a project that is not wanted by the people.

Meanwhile, in a desperate effort to secure Bank funds the Jharkhand Forest Department is pressuring forest communities to form Village Forest Protection Committees - Vana Samrakshana Samithi (VSS). Forest officials are promising development benefits in return for the formation of such committees. Activists in Jharkhand complain the Forest Department is abusing the people and taking advantage of their poverty to advance their own agenda of appropriating land for plantations and scientific forestry. Yet villagers are not informed of the hidden agenda of the Forest Department and its JFM policy:

“In Hazaribag District the Forest Department has been very active and is all over the place talking to villagers, promising them roads, check-dams and paid work if they accept JFM and allow the Forest Department to work with their village….The people are confused and serious rifts are opening up in village communities over whether or not to accept the JFM committee. Villagers are in desperate poverty and the Forest Department is offering them cash and jobs… But those that have joined the scheme now see their land being lost to plantations. They are beginning to realise that the Forest Department propaganda is not true and does not benefit them!” [Pushpa, JJB Meeting, July 2004] 

In the majority of Adivasi villages where people are more aware of the problems with the state JFM policy, advances by the Forest Department are being strongly opposed. In response, the government officials have sought to by-pass opposition by creating VSS on paper without collective agreement from the villagers or their authorities. In one case, 10 villages in Southern Ranchi District learned that the forest department had named them as having formed VSS even though there had been no prior consultation in their villages. On challenging the officials concerned they admitted that they had falsified papers. In this case, after much protest the fraudulent papers were eventually nullified. However, organisations like Jharkhand Save the Forest Movement fear that many more spurious VSS are being established all over Jharkhand:

Jharkhand Jangal Bachao Andolan is challenging the Forest Department’s tactics. We are asking them to justify the formation of JFM Committees by methods that avoid the legitimate village authorities of the Gram Sabhas. The Department is maintaining that the Gram Sabha has no say in the formation of the JFM Committees. We reject their position. We maintain that the current underhand methods used by the Forest Department are arguably in violation of the law and that many recently-formed VSS in Jharkhand can be shown to be illegal” [Sanjay Bosu Mullick, JJB Meeting, July, 2004]

It still remains to be seen how the World Bank will respond to the legitimate outstanding questions and criticisms of Adivasi peoples and civil society in Jharkhand about its controversial plans to press ahead with support for JFM in the State.


This article was compiled by Tom Griffiths of the Forest Peoples Programme and Sanjay Bosu Mullick of Jharkhand Jangal Bachao Andolan – Jharkhand Save the Forest Movement


The Project Information Document (PID) and Safeguards Data Sheet on the Proposed Jharkhand Participatory Forest Management Project are available at:

[1] Bijoy, C R (2004) “Oppose illegal attempts of evicting forest people” Forest Voices, January 2004

[2] WRM(2004) “India: oppose World Bank and Save ForestsWRM Bulletin No. 81, April 2004.

[3] NFFPFW (2004) “Jharkhand Adivasis Assert Rights Over Forests” Forest Voices, January 2004