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Kvaerner involved in Indian scandal project: Extensive human rights violations

The human rights situation concerning the building of the American Enron's gas fired power station on the Indian west coast, has met with massive criticism from a number of human rights organisations. Kvaerner is currently carrying out work for the project, such as the building of facilities for unloading and storage of LNG. On a number of accounts, assisted by local police and authorities, the developer is violating the rights of the local population.
Artikkelen er mer enn to år gammel. Ting kan ha endret seg.
The human rights situation concerning the building of the American Enron's gas fired power station on the Indian west coast, has met with massive criticism from a number of human rights organisations. Kvaerner is currently carrying out work for the project, such as the building of facilities for unloading and storage of LNG. On a number of accounts, assisted by local police and authorities, the developer is violating the rights of the local population.

By Morten Rønning

A joint venture between Kvaerner Construction and Kvaerner Process was awarded a contract in July 1999, for the expansion of the Dabhol Power Project (DPP). The contract involves design, supply and construction of a new jetty for incoming LNG ships, pipelines, storage and processing facilities. A pumping process facility, supplying the new power station, is also included.

The completion of the plant is scheduled for the year 2002. The Kvaerner contract is worth about œ146 million. NorWatch has not succeeded in obtaining comments from Kvaerner on the human rights criticism of the project.

Riddled with conflict
The project met with scepticism at the central, regional as well as local level from the start in 1992. Suspicions of corruption, lack of access to information, absence of competition for the tender, and the high price of the electricity from the plant were the main objections. The DPP development costs amount to 44,9 million rupees (1,03 million US dollar ) per MW. This is comparable to the price of coal based power, and roughly 25% higher than the price of other gas based power. The fact that the price was calculated in dollars, not in rupees, when the contract was signed, also had a negative effect on the price. The World Bank refused to back the project as they did not - due to low profitability and failure to reflect the energy needs of the state - consider it viable.

The financial aspect of the project has met with particular criticism. The Maharastra State Electricity Board (the state energy company) has made a commitment to buy all energy from the power station, at an annual price of 1,4 billion dollars. This commitment is independent of the energy needs of the state and of potential offers of cheaper energy from other producers. With a 2 billion dollar investment in the project, this is a profitable deal for Enron. The result will be a minimum return on investments of 32%.

At the local level, much of the discontent with the project focuses on the consequences for the local community: forced relocation and environmental degradation. Close to 92.000 people, spread over 15 talukas or groups of villages, live in the vicinity of the power station. They depend entirely on local natural resources, such as rice cultivation, for their survival. Initially, it was assumed that 2.000 people would have to move because of the power station, and that all 92.000 people in the area would be affected by the environmental consequences.

Serious violations of human rights
Local authorities and Enron initiated the planning of the forced relocation without consulting the affected villages. The power plant occupies 400 acres of land, in addition to the areas for the natural gas storage facilities. In total, 1.617 acres of land were expropriated. The compensation, 20.000 to 30.000 rupees per acre of paddy field, is well below the market price.

According to law, Enron was required to inform the affected parties, and placed a small ad in the local papers in September 1993. The deadline for voicing complaints was two months. When the deadline expired, Enron sent a letter to the authorities stating that no inquiries had been made and no complaints had been filed.

Nevertheless, according to a report on the subject published by Human Rights Watch last year, 34 complaints and questions had in fact been put forward within the deadline. This information was withheld from the company's correspondence with the authorities. The local population, as well as organisations and farmers, had contacted the company. This included farmers demanding an immediate termination of the work, on account of the bulldozers ruining their fields.

The local population and critics of the project have been unjustly treated by the police as well as the authorities. In order to suppress the resistance against the DPP, the authorities have mainly made use of three laws. The Bombay Police Act and The Code of Criminal Procedure have been used at a regular basis, in order to criminalize groups of demonstrators. The laws have also been applied to stop people, suspected by the authorities of holding leading roles in the opposition, from entering the Ratnagiri district.

Using The Indian Penal code, charges have been raised against the leaders of the opposition. These charges include, among other things, attempted murder. In India, the maximum sentence for attempted murder is life imprisonment, even if criminal acts have not been proven. Charges of this kind are often succeeded by physical abuse, using batons, sticks and fists. This methodical suppression of the opposition of the DPP, Human Rights Watch concludes, is clearly in violation of the UN convention on civil and political rights (ICCPR), articles 19 and 21.

A number of demonstrations have been launched against the project, since the construction started in 1994. The demonstrations reached a peak during the first half of 1997, but slowed down after a particularly violent police raid the 3rd of June that year. There are numerous reports on the injured demonstrators, and the police helped transport the injured to the public hospital. The personnel at the hospital, however, were asked not to write medical records, only to treat the injuries. The reporting took place at the police station.

Extract from the testimony of the 3 month pregnant Sugandha Vasudev Bhalekar, a 24 year old housewife, describing her arrest on the 3rd of June 1997. Statement made to the Judicial Magistrate on June the 9th that year. In the fishing village of Veldur, her husband, Baba Bhalekar, was known as one of the leaders of the protest against the Dabhol project.

The company is paying
The Dabhol Power Company is paying for police forces to be posted at the plant. The company is, to a certain degree, instructed to do so. At any given time and at the company's expense, the police may increase the force. Between 10 and 300 police officers have, since 1994, been stationed at the plant at all times. These forces are mainly stationed for the purpose of preventing crime. At the same time, they have been involved in more than 30 violations of human rights at the power plant, investigated by the HRW. Furthermore, the Special Reserve Police, which are responsible for maintaining peace and order, have been involved in human rights violations against critics of the project, even outside the project area.

Paying for the police forces is not the only means of assistance provided by the Dabhol Power Corporation. On several occasions the company has placed helicopters at the police' disposal. The purpose has been to inspect the demonstrators from the air and to transport representatives of the authorities in and out of the area during times of conflict. According to the HRW, it is out of the question, given the company's close contact with police and authorities and extensive press coverage of protests and harassment, that the company has been unaware of the violations.

The protesters have been attacked by, and even received death threats from, the company's subcontractors. At the same time, local leaders have been offered employment, granted that the demonstrations ease off. The police have ignored charges against the company's subcontractors. The DPC denies that human rights violations connected to the project is in any way their responsibility. Similarly, they have not found the subcontractors to be responsible for any violations.

The extensive report prepared by the Human Rights Watch concludes that the company, alongside the authorities, is responsible for a number of grave - yet profitable - violations of human rights. The financial institutions involved in Phase II, the organisation concludes, must also be held responsible for these violations. Hence, the HRW urges all parties involved - Enron and the Dabhol Power Corporation, the governments of India and the USA, private and public financial institutions - to actively contribute to the investigation and prosecution of the violators. Furthermore, the involved parties must ensure that human rights are respected throughout the continued project development, at the same time preventing further violations from taking place.

Pregnant woman ill-treated
Three previous reports on human rights violations related to the Dabhol Power Project, were followed up in the Human Rights Watch report. On assignment from Amnesty International, the Committee for Protection of Democratic Rights (CPDR), the All-Indian People's Resistance Forum (AIPRF), and the People's Union for Civil  Liberties (PUCL) all issued reports on the situation in the area in 1997. Demanding a clarification of the role played by Enron in neglecting the human rights of the local population, Amnesty International directed a letter campaign towards Enron in 1997.

The reports portray a disturbing picture of violations carried out by the police during demonstrations, by supporters of the project, and by the State Reserve Police. As mentioned above, the latter has also been active outside of the project area vicinity.

One incident took place on the 3rd of June 1997. Not far from the project area, while the men were out fishing, the police turned up in the fishing village of Veldur. Sughanda, the three month pregnant wife of the project resistance leader Baba Bhalekar, was in the bath. Breaking in the bathroom door, the police pulled her out. Her brother Pradeep Bhalekar, a polio victim and mentally ill, was beaten by the police. Two underage girls were beaten until they wet themselves. Clinging on to her mother, Sughanda's one-and-a-half year old daughter was kicked aside.

26 women, including three minors, were arrested. In the police records, the three minors were registered as adults. The women were confined to a small and hot room, with an open sewer in one end. Prior to being thrown into the room along with the others, Sughanda was kicked in the stomach.

In this manner, without sentence, the police and authorities have arrested hundreds of people. The purpose of the police' focuse on "softer" targets - women and children - has been to communicate to the protesters the unequivocal message: stay away!

Prohibition of speech
Based on a fact-finding mission led by the former Bombay High Court judge, S.M. Daud, an AIPRF report concluded as follows: a) Although the authorities are counteracting and attempting to divide the opposition, the opposition in the surrounding area is widespread. In the villages directly affected by the project, the opposition is more or less universal. b) The project enjoys the full support of the authorities. Both administration and police are at the company's disposal. c) The project violates the basic rights of the local population, most importantly the access to a livelihood. A number of villages, however, will not be subjected to forced relocation. Still, the consequences of the resulting socio-cultural damage in these villages are comparable to forced relocation. All this in spite of the massive local resistance against the project.

Since December of 1996, the police has regularly issued bans on "certain acts for prevention of disorder", such as carrying of articles capable of being used to cause physical violence (including sticks or lathis and stones) the public utterance of cries, singing of songs, playing of music, the delivery of harangues, the use of gestures... and the preparation, exhibition or dissemination of pictures, symbols, placards or any other object or thing which may in the opinion of such authority offend against decency or morality or undermine the security of or tend to overthrow the State. The purpose of the bans has been to criminalize demonstrations against the DPP. The 15-day ban has been renewed at a regular basis.

Nevertheless, the enthusiasm for the project is not shared by all representatives of the Indian authorities. In February last year, following his criticism of the ministry's support of the project's 2nd phase, advisor Mohan Guruswamy of the Indian  Ministry of Finance was fired.

Kvaerner in India
A joint venture of Kvaerner Construction and Kvaerner Process was awarded a contract for the expansion of the Dabhol Power Project (DPP) in July 1999. The contract involves design, supply and construction of a LNG offloading jetty, 2 kilometres of pipelines and storage, processing and pumping facilities for the new gas fired power plant. The plant is due to be completed in 2002. Kvaerners contract is worth 1,46 million œ. Kvaerner co-operates with Indian Punj Lloyd and German/British Whessoe LGA.

The Dabhol Power Project
The Dabhol Power Project (DPP) is a 2.450 megawatt gas fired power station, situated on the Indian west coast, south of Bombay. The power station utilises LNG gas which is shipped in. The Phase I production (826 MW) was initiated in May 1999. Phase II is scheduled to start in 2001. With 50% of the shares, Enron is the principal shareholder of the Dabhol Power Corporation (DPC) as well as the operator of the power station. The power station also acts as a distributor of LNG gas for other purposes around the country. Additional owners are General Electric, Bechtel Corp. and the Maharastra State Electricity Board. Total costs for the project are estimated at USD 2.9 billion. An expansion of the LNG terminal, to an annual capacity of 5 million tonnes of gas, was approved in 1997. The gas is procured from Oman and Abu Dabi.

"These women and girls have been subjected to harassment, ill-treatment, arbitrary arrest, preventive detention under ordinary criminal laws and curtailment of their freedom of movement."
From Amnesty International's letter campaign towards Enron, 1997.

"at around 5 in the morning when I was in the bathroom, several male police with batons in their hands forcibly entered the house and started beating members of (my) family who were asleep. ..... Being terrified, I told them from inside the bathroom that I was taking a bath and that I would come out after wearing my clothes. I asked them to call for women police in the meantime and to ask them to wait near the door. But without paying any attention to my requests, the policemen forcibly opened the door and dragged me out of the house into the police van parked on the road. (While dragging me) the police kept beating me on my back with batons. The humiliation meted out to the other members of my family was similar to the way I was humiliated. .. ... my one and a half year old daughter held on to me but the police kicked her away."
Sugandha Vasudev Bhalekar, a 24 year old housewife who was three months pregnant at the time of her arrest on 3 June 1997,  testified to the Judicial Magistrate, on 9 June. Her husband, Baba Bhalekar, was a known leader of the protests

Norwatch Newsletter 3/00