April 18, 2006

Not worth the paper

Why is it that the only thing -- let me repeat that, the only thing -- that dam builders in this country do with any dispatch and efficiency is build the dam?

Why is it that for the first 3-4 decades of our Independent existence, we paid no attention to humanely resettling and rehabilitating people who would be displaced by dams, to the extent that this is even acknowledged by dam builders themselves?

I mean, in 1999 I met a man who had been pushed from his home so that the engineers' colony for the Sardar Sarovar dam on the Narmada could be built. He was still trying to get some adequate compensation for what had happened to him -- I mean, compensation apart from being told he had "sacrificed" for the "good of the country". And when had he been pushed from his home, meaning when was that colony built?


Nearly four decades, for this man.

Eventually the apathy towards R&R got noticed and deplored enough that dam builders and governments actually drew up excellent R&R packages and committed them to paper. Among other things, they acknowledged the damage that giving cash compensation -- when that had happened -- did to displaced people, and promised instead to give them "land for land."

But would you be surprised if I told you that:

  • At least one state Government (MP) is trying hard to go back to cash compensation, because they acknowledge there is no land available?

  • That even so, these packages remain on the paper they are printed on, and bear little resemblance to what actually happens to displaced people? Here's what three Central Ministers reported last week, after surveying the progress of R&R in MP:
      The reports [about R&R is] largely paperwork and it has no relevance with the situation on the ground.
    (Report available here).

    What is this "development" we are so intent on that is sanguine about, apathetic about, what it does to so many lives? And is it really development then?
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