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Report of the seminar of social movements and the CADTM network of South Asia held at Vagamon (State of Kerala, India ) on the 14th and 15th of March, 2007
by Eric Toussaint , Denise Comanne
3 April 2007

VAK, an organisation from Mumbai, India and a member of the CADTM international network, organised a two day meeting with 40 participants from three different states of India [1] (Kerala - population : 32 million, Maharashtra - population : 97 million and Tamil Nadu - population : 62 millions), a Union Territory (Pondicherry - population : 1 million), Sri Lanka and Belgium. The meeting had several objectives:

 - To take stock of the social struggles in which the participants are directly involved, reinforcing synergies.

 - To situate these struggles in the international context by analyzing the problematic of the public debt of the Southern countries and the impacts of the policies of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund as well as the other international actors (governments of the big powers, WTO, Paris Club, the transnational corporations).... The discussions took place in English, Tamil and in Malayalam. The participant supposed to come from Pakistan could not obtain the visa. [2]

The first day sessions started with a round table with each participant presenting the nature of the struggles wherein they are personally and organisationally engaged. Thereafter, Eric Toussaint did a general description of the global situation in the course of which he explained how a massive degradation of the conditions of life of a large section of the global population has taken place during the last 30 years marked by the neoliberal offensive.

The background of World Bank’s action in the global international framework and future perspectives

The nationalist, populists, even socialist experiments that followed the World War II and the independences of the colonies had deeply blamed the domination of the big industrial capitalist powers. The intervention of the World Bank and the IMF, in particular thanks to their weapon of the foreign debt, was used by the most industrialised capitalist countries (who were old colonial powers as well) to put them back crawling, especially, the countries which had gained - in their eyes - a too great autonomy. Eric Toussaint quickly presented the history of the World Bank and the geostrategic stakes which marked its intervention in the countries of the South. He showed how the crisis of the debt at the beginning 1980s was used to put an end of attempts to carry out a new and just world economic order. He indicated how the Indian government, from the end of 1950s, joined the politics of the United States government which wanted to prevent the United Nations in being equipped with a financial institution for development that would have been able to compete with the World Bank. [3] He also explained how the “green revolution” in India that was harmful for the majority of the Indian peasants, was introduced by the World Bank and the Ford Foundation starting from the mid 1960s. [4] The “green revolution”, as well as the introduction of the Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) which followed 30 years later (end of 1990s), enforced a strong dependence of the 600 million rural inhabitants on the transnational GM seed producers (Monsanto, Cargill, Syngenta). Eric noted that just like in Brazil, today, the public debt is mostly an internal debt and in the Indian context, it accounts for 80% of the GDP. Lastly, he analyzed the new international economic situation, particularly the accumulation of huge foreign currency reserves of the central banks [5] which could be used to initiate policies cold shouldering neo-liberalism. However, it is imperative that the governments have the political will for it which is not the case for a majority of them. The Indian and Sri Lankan governments belong to those which look further into the neo-liberal course by accentuating the economic opening and while privatizing still a little more, all that within the framework of a brutal global offensive against the workers and the small and medium peasantry, as well as a recourse to military aggressions by the governments of the principal imperialist powers, beginning with the G.W. Bush administration. A counter-tendency, certainly weak and especially localised in Latin America, is developing: increase in popular resistances and left governmental experiments in countries like Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador.

Discussion following Eric’s presentation

The presentation was followed by a very rich discussion of more than four hours during which about fifteen delegates intervened by connecting their questions and comments to local realities. For example, the participants from Kerala indicated that the Left Democratic Front government consisting of two Communist Parties (CPI and CPM) systematically resort to the loans of the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and carry out a policy of active privatisation. A participant from Pondicherry proposed that the Southern governments prohibit transnational corporations from controlling their natural resources. Several participants considered the barter agreements between Venezuela, Cuba and Bolivia as an example to be emulated by other Third World countries which aspire to set up an alternative to neo-liberal policies.

The action against the establishment of a civilian and nuclear arms complex at Koodankulam in Tamil Nadu

The evening of the first day was devoted to a meeting in which several participants from Tamil Nadu explained their struggle against the construction of a huge nuclear power plant having 8 Russian reactors. [6] The anti-nuclear activists currently draw their strength from the mobilisations from Tamil Nadu. However, they explained as to why they counted on the solidarity of the activists of Kerala, a state close to Tamil Nadu, and also from Sri Lanka which is separated from Tamil Nadu by a very narrow marine corridor comparable to the English Channel which separates the United Kingdom from the European continent. And also, the population of Kerala as well as that of Sri Lanka are indeed directly threatened in the event of nuclear catastrophe.

They raised the issues of several additional negative effects owing to the selection of the site:

1) Dangers of accidents caused by the seismic activities in this area;

2) The fisher folks would be affected by the activity of the power plant which will consume enormous quantities of sea water, rich with fish and other marine lives as well as discharge into the sea enormous quantities of hot water without any bio-nutrients. This will impoverish the marine animal-life and will reduce fishing. They pointed out that the government of Tamil Nadu informed the people only with bits of information. Their energetic action made it possible to delay the continuation of the project up till now. The government and the media supporting the project portray them as agents of the foreign interests and go further in describing them as CIA agent. This charge is particularly absurd because the project in question is carried out in conformity with the nuclear deal between India and USA negotiated in 2006. [7]

They pointed out that they are supported morally in their actions by the Friends of the Earth while Greenpeace India remains away from the action till date, which is incomprehensible until one considers the fact that this organization wants to avoid a conflict with the central government of Delhi as well as the government of Tamil Nadu. They explained in addition, how the discussions of the morning had helped them to understand an additional dimension of the nuclear power project. Indeed, the first phase of the project including the construction of two reactors will incur a cost of four billion dollars financed by a Russian loan. This debt will constitute a burden for the future generations. Lastly, they explained the possibility of an increase of the production of electricity in India taking recourse to other sources of energy (wind power, solar and others). It should be noted that the development of this nuclear power plant belongs to a vast plan of increase in the nuclear energy production spread out over the period 2007-2012. The Indian government wants indeed to increase six fold the nuclear energy production in this period. The production would increase from current 3,500 MW to more than 20,000 MW in 2012. The cost envisaged in the budget of the Indian public sector company dealing with nuclear energy (NPCIL): 23 billion dollars, will automatically involve an increase in the public foreign debt of India because the majority of the equipment is to be imported. According to opponents of the project, this complex can have a military purpose since starting from nuclear fuel; plutonium can be produced, which is essential for the manufacture of nuclear weapons. The other States concerned with the construction of new nuclear power projects or the extension of the current installations are West Bengal, Gujarat, Orissa and Andhra Pradesh. A strong mobilization is already taking place in West Bengal to oppose and protest against the construction of a nuclear power plant at Haripur.

The second day started with an intervention by Sushovan Dhar of VAK. He explained two important struggles in Western Bengal (capital: Calcutta). The first is taking place at Singur against the proposed small automobile factory by Tata (Indian company) whose construction will involve the eviction of 10,000 peasants. The other relates to the creation of a Special Economic Zone (SEZ). The site chosen for this purpose is occupied by thousands of protesters, mainly the peasants. On the 14th of March, the police force brutally attacked the resistance movement causing death to 14 people and wounding 60 others. The Home Minister, which sent the police force, is a leader of the Communist Party (CPM) which runs the government in coalition with the other Left and Communist parties (CPI, RSP, Forward Bloc, etc). The police force still continued “cleaning” the ground. The activists, assembled at Kerala, wrote a declaration condemning the repression and demanding the resignation of the government. It should be specified that the communist management of the State of West Bengal is regarded as a model by the World Bank and is highly appreciated by the foreign investors (the British media such as The Economist and Financial Times generally approve the strong pro-capitalist policy of the Communists at the power).

The action of the World Bank short-circuits democracy

Sandeep Pendse of VAK explained the negative effect of the World Bank’s action on democracy. He showed that the conditions imposed by the World Bank seriously reduced the citizens’ right to exercise democratic freedoms and short-circuited the action of the legislative and executive powers of the countries concerned. He cited the example of the programmes of structural adjustment whose conditions are currently more complex and larger, strongly eroding the sovereignty of the States. He devoted a part of his presentation to the privatisation of the water distribution system of Mumbai (14 million inhabitants) where, as of now, the distribution is still under the Municipal Corporation’s control. [8] The public company which manages Mumbai’s water has been earning profits since 1974. The World Bank appointed the French transnational firm Castalia to carry out an audit of the system of water distribution under the municipal authorities. They came to know of it only later, from the press. The French transnational company announced its findings in August 2006 but nothing was made public yet. But it is clear that in case of disputes, the governments are careful enough not to take notice of the popular protests, to even resort to repression, considering the agreements they have with the World Bank. The privatisation of Mumbai’s water would imply that the “illegal” slum-dwellers would be denied the right to water. The World Bank failed in its attempt to privatise the system of water distribution in New Delhi, the capital of the country. It set its sight on that of Mumbai.

Another consequence of the conditions fixed by the World Bank: the low-interest loans to the peasants strongly dropped since 1996 because the State of Maharashtra withdrew its guarantee on the loans granted by the public bank; it is thus the private sector which lends at a high interest rate, involving the over-indebtedness of the small farmers, an increasing number of whom have been facing death. On the entire Indian scale, according to statements made by the Minister for Agriculture in the Indian Parliament in June 2006, more than 100,000 peasants committed suicide during the period 1998-2003. That implies, that on an average, daily 45 peasants commit suicide in India. [9]

The second part of the day was devoted to the discussions on various struggles which the delegates from Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka presented in details.

Kerala’s campaign against the loans of the Asian Development Bank (ADB)

The participants from Kerala campaigned against the loans granted by the ADB (the action of the Asian Development Bank, just like that of the African Development Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank (IADB), supplements the action of the World Bank). Already, the consultants ADB demand important remunerations for their work and a consequent part of the money intended for the project slips by in their pockets. The activists explained that the loans of ADB were mainly used to implement the privatisation of the public sector of production and distribution of electricity (ADB requires to double the tariffs in a phase known as transition, which precedes privatisation) as well as general public transport. The loans of ABD are also used to build highways within the framework of a private- public partnership. The action of Kerala’s activists greatly reverberates. It is also very badly taken by the government of Kerala, composed of two Communist Parties (the CPIM and CPI are in the government just like in West Bengal), since the last elections. When they were in the opposition, they had actively conducted a campaign against privatisations, which they apply today, and particularly against the loans of ADB. A great number of social organizations, dissidents of the CPIM (they were expelled from it recently, following their opposition to privatisations) and the young people of CPI support the campaign against privatisations. Other radical left parties also support it.

Kerala (continued) [10]: The fight against Coca-Cola

A factory of Coca Cola was established in Kerala in 1999, permitted by a leftwing government, and then supported by the right wing after its rise to power. Hitherto, the region had not faced a problem of access and water supply. However, to carry out the production of four drinks for South India (Coke, Fanta, etc), the company dug six wells from which it taps, PER DAY, a million and half of litres of water gradually draining the ground water. Soon after the launch of the company, the problems were specified: non-drinkable water, rice stinking of cadmium, food rotting very quickly, skin allergies, diarrhoeas, vomiting, hair loss, eye problems, increase in the salinity of water, drying up of the well of the peasants leading to a drastic fall of the production of rice and coconut. More than 20,000 agricultural workers and small farmers are affected. Coca Cola prevents the population from having access to water... in order to sell water bottles to them (Kinley). The mobilisations, based especially on the resistance of the adivasi women, extended to whole of Kerala, the neighbouring States and even internationally, which involved a court order against the transnational company. 11 Coca-Cola had been ordered by the court not only to close the factory, but especially to carry out damage controls and pay compensations, which it did not. The factory has thus been closed for three years. It is positive: on one hand, the action paid off.

Unfortunately, on another hand, Coca-Cola opened a factory in another South Indian State as compensation. 15 kms from Plachimada, Pepsi-Cola opened a production factory without resistances. It would be an extremely dangerous precedent because it could wreak the same catastrophes in other States of India or elsewhere.

Struggles in Tamil Nadu

In Tuticorin, a strong opposition movement, comprising several sectors where young students, haul themselves up against the operation of a copper factory called Sterlite Industries. Previously, this factory was situated in the State of Goa. Following popular protests, it had to leave this State and to settle in Tamil Nadu where the authorities welcomed it with open arms. The coalition of the activists succeeded in blocking ships bringing raw materials from Australia for being treated in the factory. The political leaders publicly proclaim their opposition to the project, considering its unpopularity, but actually they support it. Citizens have complained against the company and currently the sentence of the court is awaited. Indeed, one must deplore the death of 9 workers (figures announced by the police), which has already occurred there (the workers of the company come especially from the State of Maharashtra) by diseases caused by the treatment of copper. The highly dangerous nature of the products is proven by the fact that, now, as an aftermath of the blocking of the ships, they are conveyed by road: the convoys are accompanied by ambulance and police cars.

Struggle against the shipping canal of Tamil Nadu

George Gomez, [11] president of the Democratic Fisher and Fishery Workers’ Union of Tuticorin in Tamil Nadu, explained that for two years a strong opposition of the fisher people has been organised regarding the construction of a canal of 274 km of length (12 metres of depth and 300 metres of breadth) so that large ships would be able to bypass the borders of Sri Lanka. This channel must be dug in the natural marine corridor separating the coasts from Tamil Nadu to Sri Lanka. Considering its insufficient depth on a distance of 70 km, this corridor is currently not used by the traffic of large ships. The channel would cross the Gulf of Munnar which is equipped with a particularly rich fauna and a flora (3,268 different species of which 377 are specific to the Gulf and 600 different kinds of fish). Moreover, according to several scientists, the channel will increase the devastating effect of future Tsunamis because the waves will find fewer obstacles on their way. The life of several hundreds of thousands of fisher people and their families will be dramatically affected by the digging of the channel and the marine traffic resulting from it. In their struggle, they must face a united front of both rightwing and left-wing parties (including the two Communist Parties), which support the project. The fishermen who have organised themselves to defend their means of livelihood are nowhere near giving up the fight.

Struggles of Tamil Nadu’s Adivasis

The Adivasi people as well as the tribals are among the sectors of the most oppressed population in India. As history shows that in the majority of the cases, they were expelled from their original territories and were confined to limited spaces. They are on the fringes of the Indian caste system but their situation is no better than that of the untouchables. In many cases, it is even worse. Three adivasi participants from Tamil Nadu are fighting for the recognition of their rights and their dignity. In the community of which they are a part, the women earn their livelihood from the sale of wicker baskets manufactured for the fisher folks. The Tsunami at the end of 2004 terribly impoverished them; as a result they do not find any more buyers, more so as plastic baskets invade the local markets. They do not get any help from the authorities. This increases the obstacles regarding documents giving them access to social services from which they have been excluded till date.

National campaign for the unorganised workers

A large majority of the Indian workers is not integrated in the trade union movement. In various states of India, such as Tamil Nadu, committees of unorganised workers were created. They have organised a great mobilisation in Delhi from 19th to 24th March for the recognition of their rights. For further information contact the National Campaign Committee for Unorganised Sector Workers ( nccusw at


The companies benefit from the free economic zone for production on a five-year term, without paying taxes; after which, they delocalise. The process of delocalisation is done in a chain: for example, Unilever had a highly polluting factory in Mumbai. Following popular protests, they relocated in Pondicherry and Colombo (Sri Lanka). When there was a strike in the Pondicherry unit, the raw materials were sent to Colombo to continue the production.

The coordination of the activists “Voices from the Margins” fights primarily against a port, whose construction has numerous negative aspects: the ground water is polluted and so is a lake close by. By digging the port (4 metres deep), salted water infiltrated up to 10 km of the coast. This affects not only water but the lands of the peasants. The cost of construction is very high but the port, when completed, will be put in the hands of a private Indian company. The port will be accompanied by the creation of a new Special Economic Zone and the entire project involves a speculation on the land (the companies buy a piece from the peasants with 500 rupees and resell it at a price 10 times higher). Hotel projects also raise the land prices. The harbour and hotel activity causes great disadvantages to the activities of the peasants, they resell their grounds to survive but that is not always enough: the sale of a body part (kidney...) is sometimes the ultimate recourse found by so many of the desperate people. As a result of the work of the activists, currently the port remains closed and the politicians (the government which accepted the project receives commissions as compensation) pressurise the peasants by making them sign petitions asking for the opening of the port. It is not an easy struggle, because certain confusion reigns among the peasants and the fisher folks who have not come up with a united front.

Sri Lanka

Linus Jayatilake explained the plan of mobilisation in Sri Lanka where the first rounds will begin on May 1, 2007 peaking on November 28, 2007 with the world Congress of the organisations of fisher people. Its organization has moved its centre of activity towards the campaign and, in the next few weeks, will hold meetings with the NGOs and social movements with a view to converge on agendas. The central topics of the plan for mobilisation are the eradication of poverty, the critique of the 10 years’ Plan of the government (a plan negotiated with the World Bank), and the fight for the people’s right to the access to the natural resources of the country and food sovereignty.

Discussion on the strategies

The last part of the seminar was devoted to a discussion on the strategies. Delegates particularly insisted on the need for proposing alternatives during each struggle for resistance. This would make it possible to find a solution for the conflict. We lack space to summarise the debates here.

Working group meeting of the CADTM network

On the 14th and 15th March, after the seminar, VAK, represented by Ajit Muricken, Sandeep Pendse and Sushovan Dhar met Linus Jayatilake of Sri Lanka along with Denise Comanne and Eric Toussaint of the CADTM Belgium. They regretted the absence of the Pakistani delegate of the CADTM network, since his visa was refused. Proceeding from the discussions started in 2006, they agreed to carry out a multi-annual action plan on the debt and the IFI to be developed in South Asia (Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and Nepal). Sushovan Dhar presented a document, which he will further enrich from the discussions of the 14th and 15th March. The objective is to finalise the drafting of this multi-annual plan during May 2007. With this idea, Sushovan will circulate the amended text, within a short time, on a priority basis following this meeting to take account of the opinion and the proposals of the Pakistani members of the CADTM network. The participants present agreed to hold a new meeting on around 28th November in Colombo (Sri Lanka) at the time of the world Congress of the organisations of fishermen which will be the occasion of a great number of activities against the neo-liberal policies. They planned to convene a seminar for South Asia on the topic of the debt and the IFI also in Colombo in 2008. Indeed, the simultaneous presence of the Pakistani and the Indians will be easier (no further insurmountable problem of visas).

Some figures concerning India, drawn from the Indian media

- Every year 46,000 children disappear in India.

- 2/3rd of the old people “live” in absolute poverty.

- Bollywood produced 1091 films in 2006. A historical record.

- 79% of children of less than 3 years of age are anaemic.

- 37% of married women are victims of sexual abuse from their husbands. In 2005, 19 women were daily killed for dowry-related conflicts.

- According to Forbes, India is presently the Asian country with the greatest number of billionaires (36 billionaires with assets worth 191 billion dollars). India thus snatched the first place from Japan (24 billionaires having 64 billion dollars). Lakshmi Mittal holds the 5th position among the world’s 5 richest people.

- Between 1996 and 2003, more than 100,000 small farmers committed suicide, mainly due to extreme debt. That signifies a suicide every 45 seconds.

Sources : The Week, 5th -11th March 2007, The Times of India, 12th March 2007, Hindustan Times, 10th March 2007, Forbes, March 2007, The Indian Agriculture Ministry, India, June 2006.

Translated by Sushovan Dhar

Footnotes :

[1India is made up of 28 States and 6 Union Territories like Pondicherry. There are 22 principal languages and of the hundreds of dialects.

[2Although a relaxation intervened between Pakistan and India since 2003, the Pakistani citizens have very great difficulties in obtaining a visa to go to India and the reciprocal is valid as well. We may recall that for the 4th world social Forum held in Mumbai at the end of January 2004, exceptionally and after long negotiations, 500 Pakistani delegates (out of the 2500 which had applied for) could obtain an Indian visa. At the time of the 6th polycentric FSM carried out in Karachi in March 2006, much less Indian delegates were able to obtain a Pakistani visa.

[3See Eric Toussaint’s, World Bank, a never-ending Coup d’état, Vikas Adhyayan Kendra, Mumbai, 2006, chapter 3 devoted to the attempt to equip the Special United Nations Fund for Economic Development (SUNFED) with important financial means as an alternative to the World Bank. Finally the World Bank (on a proposal from the government of the USA), via the International Development Agency (IDA) founded in 1960, took a precedence over SUNFED with the decisive support of India.

[4See Vandana Shiva. 1991. The Violence of the Green Revolution, Third World Network, Malaysia, 1993, 264 p.; Vandana Shiva. 1994. Nature under licence or the process of a plundering, CETIM, Geneva, Nov. 1994, 144 p.

[5See Eric Toussaint, Bank of the South, international context and alternatives, August 2006,

[6This project finds its origin in the Rajiv Gandhi -. Gorbatchev pact of 1988, confirmed after the disappearance of the USSR, by the Vajpayee - Putin pact of November 2001.

[7See report of the international seminar which took place with Mumbai on March 10, 2007

[8VAK published a booklet on this question: Arun KUMAR SINGH, Privatization of Water Supply. With Study one the process of privatization in K (East) Mumbai, VAK, Mumbai, 2006, 132pp.

[9See the publication by VAK : From Debt Trap to Death Trap. An Inquiry into Farmers suicide. VAK, Mumbai, 2006, 140 pp. a report of this booklet was published in the review of the CADTM the Other Voices of Planet, n°34, 1st quarter 2007.

[10C.R. Bijoy, Kerala’ S Plachimada Struggle, november 2006

[11George Gomez who will celebrate his 80 years in 2007 was during long years a trade-union leader of the dockers with Mumbai. Retired since 1987, he continues the combat for the emancipation of oppressed in its native area of Tamil Nadu. He is active on several issues: the fight against the nuclear power plant, the fisher people struggle men and also with the struggle of the unorganized workers.

Eric Toussaint

is a historian and political scientist who completed his Ph.D. at the universities of Paris VIII and Liège, is the spokesperson of the CADTM International, and sits on the Scientific Council of ATTAC France.
He is the author of Greece 2015: there was an alternative. London: Resistance Books / IIRE / CADTM, 2020 , Debt System (Haymarket books, Chicago, 2019), Bankocracy (2015); The Life and Crimes of an Exemplary Man (2014); Glance in the Rear View Mirror. Neoliberal Ideology From its Origins to the Present, Haymarket books, Chicago, 2012, etc.
See his bibliography:
He co-authored World debt figures 2015 with Pierre Gottiniaux, Daniel Munevar and Antonio Sanabria (2015); and with Damien Millet Debt, the IMF, and the World Bank: Sixty Questions, Sixty Answers, Monthly Review Books, New York, 2010. He was the scientific coordinator of the Greek Truth Commission on Public Debt from April 2015 to November 2015.

Denise Comanne

Was a militant feminist active in local and international struggles against capitalism, racism and patriarchy. She was one of the founders of CADTM along with Eric Toussaint and others.
A tireless revolutionary, Denise struggled for Human emancipation from all forms of oppression to her last day.
She died suddenly on 28th May 2010 shortly after taking part in a memorial forum for the fifty years independence of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
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