UK climate strategies are colonising indigenous villages in India

Artwork of a renewable energy land-grab. An image of the UK splits the image in half, with bank notes flowing from it. On the left, satellite image of the land before the solar park, plus a landscape scene of trees, grasses, scrub and a cow on common land. On the right, satellite image with the solar park dominating the area and a landscape image of a series of solar panels. This relates to UK climate finance being used in India

This is the second of a five-part investigation into how UK government climate finance aid is grabbing land, displacing communities, and furthering colonialism in places like India – under the guise of renewable energy like solar. You can read part one here

In part one of this series, the Canary spoke to farmers from a remote village in Neemuch, India, where a new solar park will soon displace the community from their land and homes. The UK government has partially funded the solar project via climate finance, with help from the World Bank. In Badi village, Madhya Pradesh, over 20 families will soon lose their homes to the solar park. The project will also displace a further 202 households from their lands and livelihoods.

The UK is funding the project in the name of its international climate commitments to less-industrialised countries. However, this is simply colonial greenwashing.

In his book, A People’s Green New Deal, Max Ajl argues that:

The new green financing mechanisms rest on the northern capitalist enclosure and evaporation of sovereignty, resubmitting the South to colonization through financial chicanery, in turn relying on a legacy of colonial and neocolonial underdevelopment and de-development, such that the North is the storehouse of financial and technical capacity for a southern shift to renewable energy.

Further to this, the Political Ecology Working Group suggests that land ownership and use is central to the settler colonial project. It states that the appropriation of land is:

justified through appeals to “proper use,” the assertion that native peoples are not using the land efficiently…

Read on...

Climate finance for projects like Neemuch solar park is advancing the violent, capitalist enclosure of shared agricultural commons. It is denying a community sovereignty over its land and livelihood. It is aiding the shift to renewables, but harming a community in the global South in the process. In Badi, the UK and World Bank have decided that the community’s land and livelihoods are inferior to international renewable climate goals. This is egregious, colonial greenwash.

Solar over community sovereignty

Another solar park in central India is exposing the UK government’s gross hypocrisy on climate aid. The project unmasks its overseas climate finance as yet another face of its continuing colonialism.

UK climate aid part-funded the Rewa Ultra Mega Solar Power Project in the central state of Madhya Pradesh, India. It financed the solar park through the Clean Technology Fund (CTF), a multilateral climate fund.

The World Bank set up this fund in 2008 to help less-industrialised nations transition to greener technologies. The funding is part of the UK’s International Climate Finance (ICF) contributions to ‘developing’ nations. It is funding it under the same CTF project as the solar park at Neemuch.

Given the ICF’s aim to strengthen “resilience and response to crises”, to tackle “extreme poverty”, and help “the world’s most vulnerable” – you’d think the UK government would monitor the impact of its aid on marginalised and climate-impacted communities. However, a series of Freedom of Information (FOI) requests made by the Canary concerning grievances raised by communities in Rewa says otherwise.

It shows that the voices of indigenous communities matter no more now to the UK political class than they did during the British colonial exploitation of India. Whether it’s a railway, a coal mine, or a solar park, by imposing British ideals of development, this is just simply another way of plundering resources, expropriating land and exploiting marginalised people. That this project is renewable makes no difference to the communities who lose out.

Out of sight, and out of a colonial mindset

The project developer of Rewa solar park has recorded a number of grievances raised by members of the impacted community. These were submitted to a grievance redressal committee that the company established for people affected by the project.

Villagers have made 29 complaints against the project. A majority of these raised issues over compensation for land lost to the solar park. The developed is Rewa Ultra Mega Solar Ltd (RUMSL). It marked 22 of these grievances as resolved by October 2019, with six further pending court cases. However, an independent report revealed a number of issues remained for the communities living beside the solar project.

Gaurav Dwivedi and Anuradha Munshi are from the Centre for Financial Accountability (CFA) in India. They complete a field visit to the site. Their report stated, for example, that 12 tribal families became landless as a result of the project, and that:

They gave up their land on the promise of compensation and a job in the power project. They got compensation for their land but did not get jobs. Now once the money has been spent, these families are forced to migrate from their villages to nearby places in search of work.

The final outstanding complaint relates to loss of access routes to agricultural lands. It said that the solar park had severed these routes. CFA’s Rewa report also raised this issue raised, which said that:

acres of land belonging to around 20 families have been trapped within the project area. A boundary wall has been constructed around the project site that has effectively blocked the earlier direct paths to reach their agricultural lands.

UK government departments say…

The Canary made a series of Freedom of Information (FOI) requests to various government departments. We sent them to the Foreign and Commonwealth Development Office (FCDO); the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA). All these departments confirmed that they held no information regarding the 29 grievances. This is despite village community members submitting these to the Grievance Redress Committee that was set up by RUMSL.

In response to the Canary‘s allegations, an FCDO spokesperson said:

Since 2011 we have supported over 95 million people cope with the effects of climate change, provided over 58 million people with improved access to clean energy and reduced or avoided over 68 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions.

All UK International Climate Finance investments are closely scrutinised to make sure they adhere to our high standards for Official Development Assistance (ODA) and remain firmly committed to helping the world’s poorest and help build resilience against the effects of climate change.

The lack of knowledge on these grievances suggests that the UK government is financing climate projects with no follow up. It has failed to find out the impact that projects are having on the local communities hosting them. In other words, there is no accountability to the marginalised communities affected.

The FCDO’s professed ‘high standards’ do not seem to include ensuring that the project at Rewa isn’t harming the community. The UK government’s failure to maintain oversight of the impacts of a project they have funded, tells a very different story.

Far from ‘helping the world’s poorest’ to ‘build resilience’, it has compounded the effects of climate change for the people of Rewa. The solar project destroyed livelihoods and forced members of the community to migrate for work. Meanwhile the solar park generates power that does not directly benefit these nearby communities.

It begs the question, how ‘high’ can its ODA standards be if it’s inducing the displacement of marginalised families and rendering land-dependent communities, effectively landless?

Repeating the same story?

At the time of the Rewa report’s publication in 2019, Dwivedi and Munshi approached the World Bank and IFC. They requested a dialogue over the findings of their report on the solar park at Rewa. But they are still yet to receive a reply from either institution.

Munshi has also approached the World Bank in the past for other projects. In her experience, she says that they have responded with what she describes as a “colonial mentality”. She told the Canary:

Largely, the push within the World Bank has been in terms of shifting away from investing in fossil fuels to renewables. Now, what happens with investing in large renewables [is that they] are as land intensive as large fossil fuel projects. In the context of agriculturalist and pastoralist societies these projects pose similar challenges of land grab, displacement, loss of livelihood, food and water security. They are going to repeat the same story.

Despite raising concerns regarding the serious environmental and social impacts of large renewables, the response from them has been dismissive and highlighting that the laws (in Indian context) do not require environmental clearance for these projects. They are merely happy about the application of their environmental and social safeguards.

Colonial indifference and a lack of awareness 

It’s a pattern of colonial indifference and dismissal with profound consequences for communities. Munshi highlighted that most of the local people at Rewa were not aware of the project’s connection to the World Bank or UK climate aid:

Awareness of the role of the financiers in the project, there will be hardly any people who would actually know that there is a World bank or there is an IFC connection to this particular project.

The IFC is a global development institution that facilitates the growth of the private sector in developing countries. It’s a member of the World Bank Group. Instead of approaching the international financing organisations like the IFC and World Bank, she says that:

If [local people] have any concerns, they generally go to the local government authorities, that is the first point of contact. There is a general sense of indifference towards such problems from the affected communities. Also accessing legal provisions is cumbersome and requires financial support.

Munshi further stated that:

People may not be aware of the existence of any grievance redressal mechanisms. Then approaching them is another level of a challenge for the local people.

The Canary‘s anonymous source from Badi confirms that the community weren’t aware of the World Bank’s involvement in the Neemuch solar park project. However, he told the Canary the community has raised issues with the local administration. Echoing what Munshi had said about the attitude of other local authorities, the local administration have so far ignored the Badi villagers’ complaints:

We have raised written issues – we wrote all the problems [down] and gave it to the [District] Collector. So we have sent this to him multiple times, but as of now, nothing has happened.

Large numbers of police arrive with local administration employees to acquire a local farmer’s land for the Neemuch solar park, Kawai village (adjacent to Badi), 28 January 2023.


A pattern of dispossession

Leo Saldanha is from the Environment Support Group (ESG), another environmental justice organisation in India. It also investigates the impacts of solar parks on local communities. He told the Canary that from the local administrator, up to the World Bank and foreign government financiers, this dismissive attitude:

Is all part of the pattern of dispossession. It takes different forms, that’s all.

At Rewa, the Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) stated that the project did not trigger the World Bank’s ‘Involuntary Resettlement’ safeguard policy.

However, the CFA’s report detailed how the project displaced twelve tribal families from their land-based livelihoods. The resulting forced migration for work does not fall under the World Bank definition for ‘involuntary’ displacement. Saldanha says that “the World Bank is effectively not even interested” in these issues because “they have their safeguards”. He told the Canary that its consultants are far removed from the communities they impact:

They’re located in Delhi and Washington DC. Their lack of local awareness is appalling.

Climate finance: the new face of colonialism

These are the type of “high standards” in climate investments that the UK has “closely scrutinised’. Saldanha says that the World Bank is “dressing up” exploitative land-grabbing projects with terms like ‘involuntary’ and ‘voluntary’. He argues that:

It’s such a violent phrase to use – your displacement can never be voluntary. You’re displacing them, you have taken a decision to tell them they’re bypassed.

It appears the UK is also ‘dressing up’ its climate finance. As long as the government continues to peddle this colonial greenwash, it will fail communities in India and elsewhere. Importantly, it will also fail in its duty to solve the climate crisis. After all, what’s the point of saving the planet if, by doing so, you devastate and destroy communities along the way? In trying to undo the climate catastrophe, industrialised nations are stripping away resources, sustainability, and livelihoods from those most impacted by the climate crisis. Climate solutions are just the latest in a colonial ‘civilising mission.’

Nations have a duty to address problems of climate change, but they have a bigger duty to the lives of indigenous and marginalised communities.

Feature image via Hannah Sharland

Additional images via Canary sources

We know everyone is suffering under the Tories - but the Canary is a vital weapon in our fight back, and we need your support

The Canary Workers’ Co-op knows life is hard. The Tories are waging a class war against us we’re all having to fight. But like trade unions and community organising, truly independent working-class media is a vital weapon in our armoury.

The Canary doesn’t have the budget of the corporate media. In fact, our income is over 1,000 times less than the Guardian’s. What we do have is a radical agenda that disrupts power and amplifies marginalised communities. But we can only do this with our readers’ support.

So please, help us continue to spread messages of resistance and hope. Even the smallest donation would mean the world to us.

Support us