The U.S. energy conglomerate Enron is complicit in serious human rights abuse in India, Human Rights Watch charges in a report released today.
Enron Power Corporation owns 50 percent of the Dabhol Power Corporation, which employs security forces who routinely beat and harass people demonstrating peacefully against the power plant. The report charges that Dabhol has indirectly benefitted from other repressive government actions aimed at quelling opposition to the plant, which is the largest single foreign investment in India and the largest private power project in the world.?
The project is a joint-venture of three U.S. companies -- the Houston-based Enron Corporation which is the principal shareholder and operator; General Electric; and Bechtel -- and the Maharashtra State Electricity Board.
The report documents how Indian authorities have misused Indian law to charge peaceful demonstrators with serious crimes. Meanwhile, the U.S. government and its Export-Import Bank, which have both vigorously promoted Enron’s investment in India, have failed to address the human rights questions that they are obliged to investigate. The report calls on international financial institutions to take human rights into consideration when financing projects.
"Governments have a primary responsibility to make sure that human rights violations don't take place," said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. "But corporations can't look the other way when protesters are being beaten right outside their front gates. Enron has been shirking its responsibility to behave as a decent global citizen."
Human Rights Watch urged the corporate and political leaders gathered this week at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, to examine the Enron investment in India as part of their focus this year on "Responsible Globality."
The 166-page report is the result of a year-long investigation and provides detailed evidence of the systematic suppression of freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, as well as police use of arbitrary detentions and excessive force against opponents of the Enron project. All of these are violations of international laws and treaties that the Indian government has signed.
Local opposition to the Enron project began in 1992 over concerns about "transparency," corruption, and the hasty negotiations over the terms of Enron’s investment. Since then, protests have erupted over local farmers?complaints that the power plant has unfairly acquired their land and has diverted scarce water for its needs. Fishermen have protested over fears that when power generation begins in March 1999, effluents will cause a rise in seawater temperatures and kill off their fish harvests.
In one instance in June 1997, Maharashtra police raided a fishing village where many residents opposed the power plant. They arbitrarily beat and arrested dozens of villagers, including Sadhana Bhalekar, the wife of a well- known protester against the plant. They broke down the door and window of Bhalekar’s bathroom and dragged her naked out into the street, beating her with batons. Bhalekar was three months pregnant at the time.
In another instance in May 1997, police beat and arrested nearly 180 protesters who were demonstrating peacefully oustide the company gates. In its investigation, Human Rights Watch documented thirty similar incidents and heard allegations of many more.
The Human Rights Watch report also documents how contractors for the Dabhol Power Corporation harassed and attacked individuals opposed to the power plant.?Police refused to investigate complaints, and in several cases, actually arrested the victims on trumped-up charges.?P> Since the project’s inception in 1992, Enron and the government of Maharashtra state have repeatedly ignored public complaints. "Dabhol Power Corporation would not tolerate any human rights abuses by its employees and sub-contractors," the company said in a 1997 statement. "If you have concerns about police actions, we suggest that you take it up with the police or government body that is responsible for their operations."
"Our report clearly establishes that people who opposed the power plant were subjected to human rights abuses," said Roth. "Enron’s responsibilities don’t end at the perimeter of its plant premises. Given the size and impact of its facility, the company must address abuses that aim to silence its opposition."
The Dabhol Power Corporation, under provisions of law, paid the abusive state forces for the security they provided to the company.?These forces, located adjacent to the project site, were stationed there largely for the purpose of dealing with protests. While they report to local police, their expenses are paid by the company.
The U.S. government bears special responsibility because of its aggressive lobbying on behalf of the three U.S.-based companies developing the project, and because it extended hundreds of millions of dollars in public funds for the project while seemingly indifferent to human rights-related policies that apply to such transactions.?P> Human Rights Watch noted that although the Indian press widely reported the human rights troubles around the power plant, U.S. officials failed to investigate the matter. Enron has received between $290 million and $300 million in U.S. government loan guarantees for its investment in Dabhol. The State Department’s entire assessment for one Export-Import Bank loan read, "The State Department has no objection to this case on political grounds or on the basis of human rights issues." U.S. law requires that such an assessment be carried out before loan guarantees can be extended.
The U.S. ambassador to India in the mid-1990's, Frank Wisner, told Human Rights Watch in an interview, "I have never seen any information on human rights violations related to Dabhol." Ambassador Wisner was named to the board of directors of Enron Oil and Gas, a subsidiary of the Enron Corporation, on October 28, 1997, a few months after he left his post in India.