With its fast-flowing, glacier-fed rivers, the Himalayan region is the site of hundreds of large-scale dams and hydropower projects designed to supply the energy-hungry South Asian subcontinent. When such projects are developed without careful consideration of the social and environmental impacts on nearby communities, conflicts can arise.
In Himachal Pradesh, India, construction of the Allain-Duhangan hydropower project caused several disputes between a nearby, rural community and the energy company over the quality and quantity of village drinking and irrigation water; worker safety near the construction site; the safety of women and children; excessive dust from project activity; and the introduction of HIV/AIDS by migrant laborers. The project was financed in part by the International Finance Corporation (IFC), the private arm of the World Bank Group. Charged with responding to stakeholder complaints about World Bank-supported projects, the IFC Compliance Advisor Ombudsman (CAO) team asked CBI to conduct a stakeholder assessment in order to look into and resolve the conflicts exacerbated during the project’s construction stage.
To assess the situation, a CBI-CAO team made two visits to the project site and held in-person meetings with a wide range of stakeholders. This work was done in collaboration with a local, female Indian partner to ensure that gender and cultural issues were appropriately addressed. The team also made sure that all community members understood the purpose of the CAO visits and explained how the team would be assisting the community and corporation to resolve ongoing disputes.
The team found that community and company relations had recently improved because of an increase in available jobs. However, some community frustrations remained due to the company's overall lack of transparency about project operations and the company's reliance on informal communication and dispute resolution to address community concerns. Community members complained that their leaders were obtaining project contracts for families and friends, while ignoring the interests of minority groups, such as lower castes and women. The CBI-CAO team discovered that while informal and rapid consultation between company staff and individual villagers was often an effective and convenient means of resolving short-term disputes, in the long-term it was leading to overall community distrust and suspicion.
After the assessment, CBI recommended that all stakeholders move toward a more structured, systematic method of problem solving with a goal of enabling the community to speak with collective voice about its interests. In this way, the company could engage in effective dialogue and consultation with leaders that truly represented the whole community.
The CAO-CBI team proposed that company and government leaders, and all interested community members, participate in customized workshops to help them develop fair, transparent, representative and durable mechanisms for dispute resolution. Time would also be spent creating clear agreements between all parties on the ground rules for working together in a constructive and productive manner.
CBI’s recommendations opened up the opportunity for the community and company to take steps toward: