April 23, 2006

First to benefit

There's been plenty of discussion of late, here and elsewhere, about dams on the Narmada and dealing fairly with people displaced by them. Whether the R&R policy is good, how it should be implemented, how it is implemented, etc.

But I often think of what seems to me a very simple solution to R&R with dams, and wonder why nobody seems to have attempted it. Why not resettle displaced people in the command area of the dam, meaning they get the benefits of the dam that drove them from their homes? In fact, why not make the the first beneficiaries of water and whatever else the dams deliver? Why not tell those who live in the command area, you want all these goodies from the dam? Well, here's the price: you've got to find a way to accept these people whom the dam has displaced.

Seems like a perfectly plausible answer. After all, we're asking these displaced people to "sacrifice" for the "good of the country." Why not treat them as we treat others whom we think are making such sacrifices? I mean, of course, our armed forces. We treat them extraordinarily well: they get housing, quality education and more. Why not these other sacrificers?

Has any dam project anywhere approached R&R this way? Why or why not?

8 comments:

Abi said...

Similar arguments apply to those who sacrifice their land for industrial development as well: make the people stake-holders in the project by giving them (or their family members) jobs in the industry that comes on their land. I don't think these arguments have been implemented well.

Neela said...

D: great idea. Any ideas why this has not been thought of?

n!

scribbles said...

Hmmmm...I don't know if that actually addresses the original injustice. After all, people who join the armed forces have a choice in the matter, formally speaking, they aren't conscripted. They choose to make that particular sacrifice. The oustees of the dam, on the other hand, made no such choice, and however they're resettled, that doesn't change the fact that the very fact of their having to be displaced violates the deepest principles of democracy.
Having said that, your proposal is probably the only way to manage R and R humanely, given the scale of displacement that's already happened. It's a very important proposal. I don't see the state listening to it, though - it would mean acknowledging oustees as real people with real needs, and the Indian state's model of 'development' is premised on refusing to, and being afraid to acknowledge this.

Eswaran B said...

What if displaced people are hunters or forest-dwellers and are not interested in farming (presumably from the dammed water)?

mrajshekhar said...

i will take abi's comment a step further. don't just give the dispossesed jobs -- that is how we end up with tribals being offered grotty, minimal wage jobs in mines. instead, make them shareholders. in andhra, an sez coming up near polavaram is going to displace a lot of, well, us gults. is it a good idea to dispatch a part of the earnings from the sez, as dividends, to the people who made the original sacrifice?
also. if you look at the new hyderabad airport, the govt brought the land at throwaway prices and then sold it at a inflated rate (the numbers escape me now) to the chaps building the new airport. i find this bizarre. instead of trying to ensure that the people get the best deal, the nitwit state is screwing them itself.
that said, easwaran's point is very, very valid. what if they don't want to move?

Amrit said...

Hi Dilip.

A good suggestion, but most people in such scenarios are tribal and relocation for them is not as easy as it often seems. They depend on the surrounding ecosystems.

The best option would be -- yes, politically incorrect statement -- not to have dams. They are not only bad for people (no matter how much capital they generate) they are bad for the ecosystem too. Our planners are too lazy and too greedy to come up with solutions that can provide water to thirsty areas and generate electricity through alternative means. Besides, there is a minor detail that almost everybody looks over -- the dam is situated over extremely active seismic zone. One major earthquake can cause devastation equivalent of tens of earthquakes put together.

Amrit
http://www.writingcave.com

wise donkey said...

yes reasonable

mrajshekhar said...

dilip,
i just read this in the latest epw.

"The union government has been suggesting liberal guidelines for the resettlement of project oustees from time to time. In connection with the Haran reservoir project, the ministry of environment and forests constituted a working group of experts to formulate norms for resettlement programmes. Their recommendations were brought out in the form of a brochure in 1985, and it was circulated to all states. In the annexure, there is a note from the office of the then prime minister which is worth quoting: “The real way the problem can be solved to the satisfaction of those whose lands are likely to be submerged is to create in them an interest in the execution of the project. As suggested earlier, government lands and wastelands in the command area could be assigned to these displaced persons…It might be worthwhile to think of a system in which at least larger landholders in the command area are compelled to part with a part of their lands for the purpose of resettling the displaced persons.” Emphasising that the rehabilitation should be viewed from the socio-economic as well as humanitarian needs, the working group made recommendations on the following lines: (1) Loss of land is to be compensated by allotment of agricultural land in the command area on a pro rata basis as per an agreed formula, (2) Grants should be given to individual families for construction of houses, and cattle sheds, (3) Provision of common facilities like roads, wells, schools, post offices, etc, (4) Appropriate legislation should be passed for acquiring lands in the command area, (5) Compensation for the assets lost should be on the basis of replacement cost at present value, (6) Training has to be provided to help the oustees to adapt themselves to new modes of cultivation, new trades and new jobs, and (7) Tribal oustees should be resettled according to a master plan in consultation with them so that they are accommodated as cohesive groups.

go here...

http://www.epw.org.in/showArticles.php?root=2006&leaf=04&filename=9962&filetype=html

cheers,
shekhar