Current Public Administration Magazine (July - 2016) - Displacement Due To Dams in India The Pangs of Displacement and Rehabilitation

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Disaster Management

Displacement Due To Dams in India The Pangs of Displacement and Rehabilitation

The displaced persons suffer on various counts, especially social, economic, psychological, cultural, spiritual deprivation.

First most of the large dams are built at agricultural lands, hence the displaced families lose their permanent sources of livelihood forever. People also lose various varieties of seeds and techniques of cultivation.

Second, loss of land is ultimately loss of social security in case of natural calamities or other contingent situations. Further a displaced person being landless cannot get loan from banks or traditional moneylenders.

Third, due to displacement people lose common property resources like forests, rivers, fields, grazing grounds, ponds, etc. hence their supplementary source is lost and they cannot do fish-catching or cow, camel, sheep and goat-rearing or rope-making. This is not compensated in any way (by payment or providing alternative).

Fourth, displacement destroys their educational institutions which were also used for other community purposes like meeting, stay of marriage party, festivals, feasts, etc. but these losses are not compensated and simply money is not sufficient.

Fifth, due to micro climatic changes in the level of humidity and temperature at the sites of relocation they are unable to adjust and are unable to get their preferred foods. So this results into malnutrition and morbidity among them. Moreover, they are not provided adequate hospital/ health centre at new places.

Sixth, at new sites the previous neighbourhood set is not maintained, nor previous sizes of houses and homestead lands are given. Therefore, there often arise individual and group conflicts between the newcomers and hosts or between the newcomers themselves. Moreover, the collective identity lost is not replaceable.

Seventh, due to displacement people lose their age-old religious places like temples, mosques, gurudwaras, churches and ‘Sarnas’ (of Jharkhand tribes). They are not given compensation for these. Again the graves, tombs, burial grounds, etc. are also lost and many festivals and rituals revolving around agriculture are also lost. This uprooting from their ancestors often becomes a bone of contention between the local people and the administration. At new places, either sites for religious structures are not provided or given only symbolically.

Eighth, in most of the cases, only cash is given, in some cases house sites are also given, in very few cases built houses as well as agricultural land are given and only in rare cases all these cash, house sites, houses and agricultural lands are provided. Wherever cash for home is paid, it is too meagre to construct a house. For instance, in Majalgaon, Warna and Hirakud rates were Rs. 105, Rs. 500 and Rs. 3000 per house.27 Even if so-called agricultural land is provided, it is usually barren, unirrigated, waste, degraded or desert land which is of not much use. In Suvarnarekha Multipurpose Project (two dams constructed at Icha and Chandel in West Singhbhum, Jharkhand) revised rehabilitation package provided that every oustee of 18 years or more owning less than five acres of land was to get two acres of land or Rs. 10,000/= for buying land and in addition Rs. 15000 was given for preparing the land and Rs. 20,000/= was given for house construction.28 In case of Maithon dam (Jharkhand) even for paddy lands only Rs. 600/- per acre was paid.

Ninth, for rehabilitation purpose family is the unit but ‘family’ is defined in the way suitable to the project management. In some cases, all the persons living under one roof or kitchen are considered as only one family (e.g. in upper Kolab), thus many adults in joint family are at a disadvantage. In other cases, only the male head of the family, in whose name land is recorded, is considered (Tehri), thus it is against females. In third category, only married males (Lok Tak) or adult males only (Almatti, Srisailam) are considered, hence it is anti-women. In fourth category, all adult sons and only unmarried adult daughters are considered, hence married daughters, widows, and divorcees suffer. Yet this category is best available option.

Tenth, in almost all cases there is lack of information and transparency, leading to various kinds of rumours and malpractices. Therefore, the oustees are unable to participate at various stages from land acquisition to rehabilitation, hence a sense of alienation prevails there.

There was communication gap about the submergence, displacement and rehabilitation. The Koel Karo jan Ssangathan, backed by Jharkhand Mukti Morcha, put forth 18 demands which were not considered by the government. So the local people imposed ‘Janata curfew’ and ploughed the roads to prevent the project officials. Hence the National Hydel Power Corporation withdrew from it and ultimately government of Bihar had no alternative but to close it in November 1997, though by that time it had spent about 18 crore of rupees.30 Thus from above, following points of departure emerge as policy implications: First; Small dams, especially earthen ones, as in China (87000 dams in total) are more economically useful, people-friendly, egalitarian as well as ecologically sustainable sound, because there is no question of mass displacement, nor soil erosion, nor siltation, nor deforestation and nor desertification. It clearly implies that local people actually need water conservation, not large concrete dams.

Hence the so-called development model conceptualised and ‘planned from above’ and market- driven should give way to an alternative model of developing need-based ecologically sustainable agriculture, with water and soil conservation to be ‘planned from below’ where the local community should be fully involved at all stages of works. Second, displacement should be avoided in the first place, only in the rarest of the rare cases minimum displacement should be tolerated and the oustees should be fully rehabilitated with equal quantity and quality of land, houses with necessary amenities, suitable jobs for oustees as well as adequate infrastructure development at the new sites of relocation and resettlement be provided as a human right. Third the multilateral agencies like World Bank, Asian Development Bank , etc. should not finance large dams which are ‘in the ultimate analysis’ anti-people.

Actually, Sardar Sarovar Project on Narmada river was initially financed by the World Bank but when its own Morses Committee submitted an adverse report, the Bank withdrew from it. But this lesson should be learnt by all financial institutions while financing large dams. Fourth the hide and seek tendency of development projects, especially dams, leads to all kinds of rumours, misinformation and disinformation . This lack of transparency gives birth to distrust by the people on the one hand and malpractices by staff on the other. Therefore for any development project the community concerned should be treated on equal footing with other stakeholders, especially at par with the concerned authorities, sharing all relevant information including the experiences of other schemes/ projects of similar type and magnitude.

This will ensure that the assumed, potential and real unequal and exclusive power relationship will finally give way to the egalitarian and inclusive process of decision-making at various stages of formulation, planning, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of development schemes/projects. It requires scrapping of the age-old colonial law, namely, Official Secrets Act, 1923. Finally, in the present age of globalisation, privatisation and liberalisation, market has cornered the largest space of the civil society, and the State has encroached upon the arena of civil society. State, and its machinery, is withdrawing from its social responsibilities to its citizens’ education, health, employment, and so on. Consequently the cruel hands of the market are ruling the roost. Hence the radical conception of progress of the entire community on the basis of equity, liberty and justice needs to be applied in all development works. This view recognises that the local community has full rights over the lands forests, rivers and other water bodies in real sense. Hence the very principle of ‘eminent domain’ of the State should be derecognised. It is really ludicrous that when the local people, to be adversely affected by the development projects imposed from above, protest against these, the State aggressively fights tooth and nail at various fora of legislature, executive, judiciary and the media. In a parliamentary democracy the so-called ‘representatives’ of the people have unfortunately made and got implemented various laws against the interests of the people, they claim to represent. This hiatus between the people and their representatives ( who often see things from the viewpoint of the power) need to be removed fully, only then real social development could be planned and practised. This will be real self-reliance and empowerment of the community, as Tarun Bharat Sangh, under the leadership of Rajendra Singh has done in parts of Rajasthan by building earthen dams and recharging and ensuring conservation of dried rivers. Such real social development needs to be culturally acceptable, economically viable, ecologically sustainable and socially equitable.

(Source- SUBHASH SHARMA @ IIPA Journal)

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