India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi has attacked the World Bank for trying to stall a massive new energy project in India.
The Sardar Sarovar project, now the world’s second largest concrete dam, has taken an astonishing 60 years to complete. It will provide irrigation water to over 3000 drought-prone villages in Gujarat, while supplying much-needed electricity to three neighbouring states.
Mr Modi made the comments at a ceremony dedicating the dam to the people of India. The World Bank had previously withdrawn a loan for the project, citing environmental concerns. This led Mr Modi to argue that the Bank “did all it could to ensure India does not have such a mega project.”
“But”, he added, “India too had decided that World Bank or no World Bank, it would build the Sardar Sarovar Dam.”
The World Bank’s energy policies have come under increasing scrutiny, with recent figures showing that a UN target of electricity for all by 2030 is likely to be missed.
The Bank has a strong preference for funding wind and solar projects and imposes tight restrictions on loans for fossil fuels. However, India’s influential Coal and Railways Minister Piyush Goyal has ridiculed suggestions that India could rely on intermittent renewables alone:
“Europe and America and Australia have messed up the world and the planet, and they’re saying to us, we’re sorry but you Indians can only have power for eight hours a day. The rest of the time you must live in darkness.”
But while India, one of the world’s fastest growing economies, can afford to go without help from the World Bank, other countries, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, still rely on these international loans to fund big power projects.
Without a change of heart from the Bank, millions will continue to be denied the reliable power they need for a chance to escape poverty.