US Supreme Court to hear fishermen petition against IFC-funded Tata Power project

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Washington, May 22 (IANS) The US Supreme Court has agreed to look into the so-called immunity provided to the International Finance Corporation (IFC) against harm it may cause to environment through its financing, in this case against the IFC-funded Tata Power Plant in Gujarats Kutch district.

The petition has been brought against the plant by local fishermen for environmental violations and destruction of livelihoods. IFC is the private lending arm of the World Bank Group with over 180 member countries.

The petition by local fishermen, represented by Earth Rights International and the Stanford Law School Supreme Court Litigation Clinic, challenges the long held claim of “absolute immunity” of the IFC and other such international organisations from legal scrutiny.

In 2017, the US Court of Appeals for District of Columbia Circuit had held that IFC was immune from such litigation under the 1945 International Organizations Immunity Act.

The petitioner fishermen and farmers, led by Budha Ismail Jam, have alleged that the coal-fired Tata Mundra Power Plant had resulted in widespread environmental damages and destruction of livelihoods.

The Supreme Court’s decision to hear their case means it will look at the immunity provided to international organisations “for their harmful conduct, or whether they enjoy the special status above the law that they claim,” an EarthRights International spokesperson told IANS.

The Washington DC-based IFC Bank has provided financial assistance of $450 million to the project.

The US Court of Appeals had ruled last year that the IFC had “absolute immunity” and could not be sued for its role in the Tata Mundra coal-fired power plant for alleged environmental damages and destruction of livelihoods.

“International organisations like the IFC are not above the law and must be held accountable when their projects harm communities. The notion of ‘absolute immunity’ is inconsistent with Supreme Court precedent, and it is contrary to the IFC’s own mission as an anti-poverty institution. We are glad the Supreme Court has agreed to hear this case and hope it will correct this error,” Richard Herz, Senior Litigation Attorney at EarthRights International stated.

Reacting to the Supreme Court’s admission of the case, Jeff Fisher, head of the Stanford Supreme Court Litigation Clinic, said: “We’re grateful the Court has taken an interest in the case and we look forward to presenting argument going forward.”



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