Through our Strategic Support Program, Accountability Counsel provided support to communities in the eastern Indian state of Orissa that are concerned about plans to expand a highway from two lanes to four with support of the World Bank. The Orissa State Roads Project (“Project”) threatens agricultural and residential land along 162.5 kilometers of State Highway 10, in an area with a large number of poor and marginalized tribal communities.
Community members have raised concerns about the Project and land acquisition since the initial consultations in late 2010. Local farmers feel that a four-lane road would be more disruptive than helpful, not benefitting the communities, but rather are built for the benefit of large-scale industries in the area, such as mines and steel plants.
Higher volume and faster traffic will cause more accidents for the farmers who must carry ploughs and their harvest across the road at various times during the year, and may kill cattle and other livestock that must cross the road several times a day to reach watering holes. Women cross the road several times a day to reach wells or bathing locations; children must cross the road for school. The accident rate increased when the road was initially expanded to two lanes, and the communities fear that will continue to rise.
Representatives of these communities contacted Accountability Counsel in late 2010 with requests for more information about the Project and for ways to address its potentially adverse impacts. Accountability Counsel helped with some initial research that assisted the communities’ representatives in writing several letters to the World Bank in 2010 and 2011. The Bank’s July 2011 response letter indicated that it had advised authorities to put the land acquisition process for the Project on hold until additional public consultations, the environmental and social impact assessment studies and mitigation plans were finalized.
In January 2012, Accountability Counsel attorneys Sarah Singh and Komala Ramachandra visited the affected villages and heard first-hand the communities’ many concerns about the road expansion project. An additional and continuing concern for farmers along the road is that they have been unable to carry out their normal agricultural activities due to markers placed in their fields. The stone markers indicate the anticipated width of the road. However, they were placed months prior to land acquisition. As the planting season approaches, farmers are angry that they cannot plough their fields, and have not been compensated for their losses. Community representatives recently sent another letter to the World Bank about this problem. To date, the World Bank has not continued to pursue financing of this project.