The original page had 2 letters to the editor. The archived page has been edited to remove the letter that is not relevant to the issue.
- Friends of River Narmada
EPW    Letters to Editor November 18-24, 2000

Rights of Oustees

It is estimated that about 100 million people around the world have been displaced over the past decade as a result of large-scale development initiatives such as dam construction, urban development, and transportation programmes. An unknown number have also been uprooted by lower profile forestry, mining, national parks, and land use conversion projects. The total number of people affected is far greater than those affected by war situations and generalised violence. It is not well known that India has one of the highest rates of development-induced displacement in the world. The international dam industry itself has over the last 50 years displaced over 33 million people. Official sources do not give actual figure of displacement but try to underestimate the magnitude.

The adverse impact of mega projects on people and environment has not been analysed seriously by authorities so far. Because of displacement, community in general and individual in particular face impoverishment and marginalisation which induces mass poverty, increased morbidity levels, social disarticulation and the number of homeless people, forcing masses into joblessness, increasing the number of landless, aggravating problem of food security, threat of floods, large-scale deforestation, decrease in rain fall, ecological imbalance, creation of regional imbalance and the loss of wildlife. In this alarming situation, the existing development models and processes need to be questioned. The present model of development considers displacement as an inevitable consequence of the development process. The right of the people to participate in the decisions concerning the projects that displace them should be reasserted. There should be weightage for the consent of the affected people in the process.

The emergency clause in the Land Acquisition Act should be amended in such a way that it could be used only in times of natural calamities, and other genuine emergencies.

Acquisition for the 'public purpose' should be defined restrictively and in favour of the poor. The onus of providing 'public purpose' must rest with the government as a mandatory requirement not only before but also after the implementation of the project. In cases where projects lead to benefits, the displaced persons/ project affected persons must have a proportionate predeterminent share in its ownership as well as benefits. People who have paid and are still paying the price of development must benefit from the project. Displacement and recourse depletion hits women the most. Law and policy must address itself specifically to the gender question, reexamine and redefine concept of family as a unit, emphasise women's presence in it and enunciate their rights.

The trauma and hardship caused by multiple displacements is unjustifiable in any circumstances. This should be avoided. Unless complete justice is first meted out to those who have been ousted, impoverished and marginalised, it would be unethical and against the aspirations and spirit of the Constitution of India to continue with the same pattern of development. The state is under an obligation to do justice and restore the hopes of millions of people who have been the victims of a development paradigm assisted by it. The right to rehabilitation must be recognised as a fundamental right. Project authorities must include the cost of rehabilitation in their project cost. Compensation should be on a 'land for land' basis.

The government must publish an annual report indicating the status of displacement and rehabilitation. A separate institutional mechanism should be created for maintaining such a data on a continuous basis. A strong, reliable, ongoing database is a necessary precondition for formulating policies, laws and for doing complete justice to the affected. If total rehabilitation is practically impossible, we should look for alternative models of development. The guiding principles adopted by United Nations should be made binding as a legal document in dealing with the issue of internal displacement.

Antony Dias, Sara Chanda, Bipin K Jojo, D Sunder Raj, Hemalatha H M, Usha S Sarod, Siby Tharakan (Coordinator) and other participants attending the national seminar on Internally Displaced People in India.

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