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Opposition to Big Dams: Lessons for Policy

    * Even before Independence, there were instances of anti-dam struggles such as the one led by Senapati Bapat in opposition to the Mulshi hydroelectric project in the Western Ghats.

    * The first large river valley project in India, Hirakud, resulted in widespread protests in 1946 after the initial notifications. People also launched a struggle against the Rihand project in 1963-64. However, such early protests could not be sustained, partly because of their failure to attract larger alliances, under the overwhelming influence of the nationalist rhetoric of nation-building that accompanied the construction of large dams in India.

    * The success of the mobilisation against the Silent Valley project, resulting in the decision to shelve the project in 1983, led to a new phase in the history of resistance to big dams in India.

    * Other notable early struggles against big dams were local movements opposed to the Suvarnarekha, Koel Karo and Srisailam projects.

    * The most celebrated protest movement against big dams so far has centred around the mega Sardar Sarovar Project on the river Narmada. A number of protest groups gathered under the leadership of activist Medha Patkar and in 1988, local resistance organisations federated into a common platform known as the Narmada Bachao Andolan (Save the Narmada Movement).

    * A significant development has been the revival of struggles by people displaced by dams completed years ago, such as on the Bargi (completed 1990), Koyna (1964), Tawa (1975) and Mahi-Kadana (1978). We have already noted the success at Bargi and Tawa to secure fishing rights for cooperative societies of oustees in the dam reservoirs.

    * By ensuring that these voices are heard, these movements have succeeded in compelling governments, both central and state, and powerful funding agencies like the World Bank, to rethink their policies on displacement and rehabilitation.

    * Opponents of big dams have argued that big dams are part of a development strategy that intrinsically impoverishes and disempowers the poor. The opponents to big dams in India have also challenged the dominant orthodoxy that development,especially state-induced development, by necessity entails the human costs of displacement or involuntary resettlement.

    * Another important issue in the debate around big dams in India is the question of whether the state should retain the power to compulsorily acquire private land for development projects without the consent of the owner or owners of such land.

    * The next issue in the debate is the nature and extent of state responsibility for the rehabilitation of the displaced. It is chiefly under the impact of people's movements, supported by painstaking empirical social science research, that the state has in recent times acknowledged that its responsibility for rehabilitation to extend beyond the payment of market value for compulsorily acquired assets. However, the state in India has continued to resist the laying down of the nature of its precise responsibilities for rehabilitation in the form of even a comprehensive policy statement, let alone legislating the right to rehabilitation as a legally enforceable right.

Displacement and Rehabilitation: Suggested Directions for Policy

    * Objectives of any just and equitable law and policy dealing with the colossal social and human impacts of big dams cannot be limited only to minimising the trauma of displacement, and ensuring the just resettlement of the victims of displacement. It must incorporate the objective to end, or severely curtail, displacement itself, to no longer accept state-induced involuntary resettlement as an inevitable cost of all development projects. It must enable people to effectively challenge as equal partners, a form of development which takes for granted the inevitability of displacement.

    * It is incumbent upon the government before the launching of the project to justify that in the light of various technical and locational options, this is the least displacing alternative available. This claim should also be justiciable.

    * It is imperative that the population likely to be affected by the acquisition be involved in the process from the time that decisions are sought to be made about where a project is to be located. They should be given full information to help them participate in decisions about whether the stated purpose is a public purpose; to explore options which may be less displacing; to work out the costs it involves for them; ando find out how they may gain from the process of change that the acquisition will bring.

    * Another institutional mechanism to limit displacement is to ensure that in the planning of any project the social and human costs are more accurately assessed and internalised in the cost-benefit analysis of the project.

Compensation, Resettlement and Rehabilitation

    * The policy of rehabilitation must contain safeguards for detailed advance planning for rehabilitation.

    * All persons whose source of livelihood, place of residence or other property is affected notwithstanding the legal status enjoyed by them in relation to the concerned location of the resource base for their livelihood and subsistence, shall be deemed to be project affected persons (PAPs).

    * If the guiding principle of rehabilitation is that displaced persons should become better off than they were in the past, one proviso that needs to be firmly embedded in the law is that compensation must be paid not at market but at replacement value.

    * The second guiding principle for assessment and payment of compensation should be that it is not only the loss of assets but also, far more significantly, the loss of livelihoods that must be compensated.

    * A third guiding principle is that any displaced person must be fully compensated before displacement from land, house or livelihood is executed.

    * If the objectives of rehabilitation of persons displaced as a result of large dams is to ensure that they are not only better off, but are direct project beneficiaries, then at the heart of such a strategy must be a policy of replacing agricultural land and agriculture-based livelihoods with alternate agricultural land of viable size and productivity and with appropriate complements of credit and input assistance.

    * Simultaneously, the scope for complementary non land-based livelihoods should also be explored along with land-based strategies. One such livelihood opportunity that is always created as a by-product of any large dam project is fresh-water fishing in the large reservoir.

    * The resettlement sites for displaced tribal families should be selected with great care and in consultation with the traditional/elected leaders or representatives of the displaced families as well as host populations, and established local NGOs. Efforts should be made to ensure that all tribal families of ousted villages are resettled together in a particular area.

    * Women headed households or single women should not be discriminated against in eligibility for benefits.

    * Still we are left with the most difficult issue of displaced persons from older dams. It has been estimated that as many as 3 out of every 4 persons displaced by big dams in India have been rendered worse off than they were before. Some reparation must be made, some attempt to rebuild so many millions of broken lives.

The study titled Environment of Land Diversion, Displacement and Rehabilitation: A Study of Indian SEZs, http://www.mse.ac.in/Frontier/w23%20Verma.pdf show:

    * India has adopted the policy of promoting the Special Economic Zones (SEZs) for faster industrial development. It needs about 50,000 hectares of agricultural land for SEZs and 1.49 lakh hectares for all projects which include also industrial, mining, irrigation and infrastructural projects.

    * Farmers in many parts of the country are resisting for land diversion and acquisition for these purposes.

    * Land especially agricultural land in India, is a very delicate subject and has been an emotional issue ever since the Zamindari days. Land is livelihood of millions of people. Not only the immediate owners of the land are affected because of land shifting, but also share-croppers or daily wage labourers who forgo their living through a scant, but reasonably reliable source of income.

    * While acquiring the land the government agency normally fixes the market value of land much below the prevailing rate in the open market.

    * India ratified the ILO Indigenous and Tribal Populations Convention, 1957 in 1958. This Convention deals primarily with the protection and integration of indigenous, tribal and semi-tribal groups. The Convention provides that where as an exceptional measure tribal groups are removed from their land they should be provided with lands of quality at least equal to that of the lands previously occupied by them. It goes on to provide that they should be compensated for any "resulting injury or loss".

    * The UN Guiding Principles on Internally Displaced Persons, 1998 is meant to serve as an international standard to guide governments as well as international humanitarian and development agencies in providing assistance and protection to IDPs. They provide protection against arbitrary displacement, offer a basis for protection and assistance during displacement, and set forth guarantees for safe return, resettlement and reintegration.

    * The Land Acquisition Act, 1894 of India is the primary legislation that provides for acquisition of land. But this Act has been criticized "for considering land only as a commodity generating income". However, when a family is settled on a piece of land not only does it earn its livelihood from it but it also has a whole social network.

    * The Rehabilitation and Resettlement Bill, 2007 puts provisions for "rehabilitation and resettlement of persons affected by acquisition of land under the Land Acquisition Act, 1894" or due to any other legislation by the Central or State governments or involuntary displacement due to any other reason. The Bill was introduced in the Lok Sabha on 6 December 2007 and has since been referred to the Standing Committee on Rural Development.

    * National Rehabilitation and Resettlement Policy, 2007 came in order to solve issues arising out of policies of economic liberalization/de-regularization. The NRRP, 2007 has come into force from Oct. 2007. The new policy is applicable to all affected persons and families whose land, property or livelihood are adversely affected by land acquisition or by involuntary displacement of a permanent nature due to any other reason.

    * Now, by and large there is unanimity that no development can be accepted at the cost of social equity. Land acquisition needs total reform and rehabilitation package. Land owners, should get adequate compensation of their land.
According to the study titled: Large Dam Projects and Displacement in India, http://www.sandrp.in/dams/Displac_largedams.pdf:

    * The government of India does not have figures of people displaced by large dams. This fact is the biggest sign of the fact that displacement and resettlement of people is the least concern of large dam builders.

    * India is the third largest dam builder country in the world. It now has over 3600 large dams and over 700 more under construction.

    * The large dams are the single largest cause of displacement in India.

    * A World Bank review of the status of displacement and rehabilitation has shown that the displacement of as many as 0.6 million people across 192 projects had not been accounted for in project planning. In at least one instance, the number of people actually displaced was seven times the number stated in the project documents.

    * Often only reservoir displacement is taken into account. Whereas Large dam projects can displace people in a number of ways including due to colonies, due to canals, downstream impacts, catchment area treatment, compensatory afforestation, secondary displacement (at resettlement colonies, for example) and due to related conservation schemes like sanctuaries and national parks.

    * Displacement due to dams in India has been variously estimated. Fernandes, Das & Rao (1989) claimed that Indians displaced by dam projects numbered 21 million.

    * Available estimates of people displaced by large and medium dams in India show that the 140 dams for which such figures are available, have displaced over 4.4 million people.
The study titled Right to displace, but no duty to rehabilitate (A critique of the Rehabilitation and Resettlement Bill, 2007).
http://www.indiatogether.org/2008/jan/law-resettle.htm shows:

    * The bill seems to be based on the premise that the acquiring land for a 'public purpose' is a right by the state under its powers of eminent domain, but it accepts no duty to resettle and rehabilitate all the affected citizens. Instead, rehabilitation is presented as an act of benevolence.

    * The Rehabilitation and Resettlement Bill, 2007 seeks to "provide for the rehabilitation and resettlement of persons affected by the acquisition of land for projects of public purpose or involuntary displacement due to any other reason".

    * The bill came at a time when concerted efforts were about to begin made by both the central and state governments to increase economic activity through the deployment of domestic and foreign private capital on a gigantic scale in new infrastructure and industry.

    * The history of large scale land acquisition and consequent displacement goes back to the 1950s, when the newly independent republic embarked on large state owned projects for irrigation, power, steel and heavy engineering that were meant to occupy the 'towering heights of the economy'.

    * Land for even such gigantic projects was (and continues to be) acquired using the coercive powers provided by the colonial Land Acquisition Act. It narrowly defined persons affected by an acquisition to be either land owners or occupiers (tenants), and limited compensation to purely monetary terms.

    * Even those who were compensated monetarily were hard put to replace their lost land assets and regain their means of livelihood. In the absence of any rehabilitation plan, people displaced by Hirakud dam project occupied whatever open lands they could locate. These lands were not legally theirs, making them vulnerable to constant harassment by officials.

    * The Narmada Sardar Sarovar project is illustrative of how things have changed over the last six decades. Struggle against displacement by the PAPs led by Narmada Bachao Andolan contributed immensely to change the discourse of the development and displacement.

    * But the experience of the Sardar Sarovar and many other projects over the last 60 years reveals the inadequacy of R&R policy - at the project, company, state or even national level- to address the legal neglect of displacement and the rights of the affected people, particularly those without land or tenancy.

    * These are some of the issues that came under debate as the Rehabilitation and Resettlement bill 2007 was introduced.

    * The bill prescribes conditions for project affected families to qualify as beneficiaries and makes the benefits themselves conditional on external circumstances.

    * Under the provisions of the bill, an area will be notified as an 'affected area' "where the appropriate Government is of the opinion that there is likely to be involuntary displacement of four hundred or more families en masse in plain areas" (the number is less for hilly and tribal areas).

    * Thus the opinion of the Government on the scale of the displacement will decide if there will be planned R&R of the displaced.

    * There are many other conditions attached to the benefits.

    * While acquiring land for a 'public purpose', with its attendant displacement and denial of livelihood, is claimed as a right of the state under its powers of eminent domain, the R&R bill does not accept that it is the unconditional duty of the state to resettle and rehabilitate all the affected citizens so that they are able to maintain, if not improve, their current standard of living.

Rural Expert

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