Development for The Corporates:

Death and Devastation for the Millions

The year 2006 began with a horrific state-sponsored massacre of tribals in Orissa to make way for the Tata Steel Plant. The tribals continue their struggle against eviction. issues of eviction and displacement have come to the fore, and the paradigm of 'development' favoured by the State must be questioned.

“If you are to suffer, you should suffer in the interest of the country.” This was what Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first Prime Minister, told villagers protesting displacement from the Hirakud dam. That was way back in 1948. Little has changed since then – protesting villagers are still told to pay the price of “development”, while those who demand these sacrifices from them enjoy one endless free lunch. And then, they are left to join the ever-swelling ranks of the displaced. The state does have a word for them though – they are Project Affected People. PAP.
And what does that mean? More often than not - “landlessness, joblessness, homelessness, marginalisation, food insecurity, increased morbidity and mortality, loss of access to common property and social disintegration.” So says Dr. Michael M. Cernea, Senior Advisor to the World Bank. This was his analysis after two decades of research on development-induced displacement. A displaced tribal could have told Dr. Cernea this. And he would also probably appreciate the fact that the United Nations Commission on Human Rights had called his predicament “a gross violation of human rights”. He might have appreciated it even better had the UN made it mandatory for development projects to ensure better rehabilitation. However the well-funded studies put it, for those effected, displacement is like a civil war. It’s a war the state is waging against its own people. And statements like Naveen Patnaik’s “…no one will be allowed to come in the way of Orissa’s industrialisation”, are nothing but clarion calls proclaiming this war.
Just how many people have been displaced? It is a reflection on the priorities of policy makers all over the world that published data on displacement is rarely reliable. It is now well established that underestimation of displacement figures is the rule rather than the exception. So much so, that a report published by the World Commission on Dams (WCD) actually pointed out a “painful irony, and possible design” in the fact that there are no reliable official statistics of the numbers of people displaced. The statistics themselves are revealing enough. Estimates of people displaced worldwide just by reservoirs created by large dams vary from 40 million to as high as 80 million. A World Bank review of 192 projects worldwide for the period between 1986 and 1993 estimated that 4 million people were displaced annually by the average of 300 large dams that entered into construction every year – which translates to 28 millions in 7 years.
In India alone, it is estimated that dams and reservoirs have displaced some 21 million to 42 million people. Overall, it is estimated that about 35-55 million people were displaced in India between 1950 and 1991 by various development projects. And how many of those displaced have been relocated? The government’s own draft National Policy for Rehabilitation stated that almost 75 per cent of those displaced since 1951 “were still awaiting rehabilitation”! Three fourths of the people displaced have not received any sort of rehabilitation.
Analysis of data further reinforces the WCD study’s claims of “… possible design” – 40 per cent of those displaced are tribals. They constitute less than 8 per cent of the country’s population. Another 20 per cent are dalits. In other words, a small proportion of people have to bear the brunt of large-scale displacement.
Displacement is a study in ironies. In 1948, when Nehru was telling villagers in Orissa to suffer for national interest, the Government of India passed the Industrial Policy Resolution, which talked about “… a continuous increase in production by all possible means, side by side with measures to secure its equitable distribution.” But the Indian state continues to conveniently forget, or worse, to even accept, that it has done precious little towards ‘equitable distribution’. The people who are displaced by projects get no share of the “pie” in return - most of the benefits of the so-called development projects that they are violently forced to make way for completely bypass them – be it electricity, employment or infrastructure. They are lucky. After all, they are sacrificing for a noble cause - in “national interest”!
The “development” projects that they sacrifice for, most often are ecologically disastrous. And who pays the price for destroyed forests, polluted rivers and depleting groundwater levels? Not the people whose lifestyles demand an ever-increasing supply of cars, electricity and all the rest, not the people who drive an economic system that has an insatiable appetite for iron ore, bauxite, coal, limestone, trees – just about anything that nature has kindly left for them to exploit. But the people whose lifestyles are the least ecologically damaging. Polluter Pays Principle? For successive governments, this proclaimed ‘principle’ just seems to be a convenient and fashionable phrase to be used during international negotiations on environment. Not at all relevant back in India, while discussing something much more important – how to make the economy ‘grow’. George Bush Sr. walked out of the Kyoto Protocol claiming that the “American lifestyle wasn’t negotiable”. The Indian state would be perfectly happy to rephrase this for dalits and tribals – ‘progress’ of the nation’s elites isn’t negotiable either.
Talking about displacement as a serious problem to be tackled essentially means challenging the entire paradigm and the mainstream definition of development. Governments, almost without exception, are quick to proclaim industrial projects as the unquestionable harbingers of progress. But what kind of progress does it spell for the masses of people who are alienated from the lands that are the backbone of their livelihoods – lands that sustain them? When they are at best offered a pittance as “monetary compensation”, or otherwise inferior land, which most certainly can’t sustain their families? When they are offered “jobs on contract” – in other words, jobs from which they can be removed as per the whims and fancies of contractors, or more specifically, when, like Oliver Twist, they dare to “ask for more”? Or when, as is very often the case, they are just thrown out of their villages without even a semblance of compensation, because, thanks to the pathetic land records in this country, they are trespassers on their own lands? Millions of people obviously are not impressed by this definition of progress!
Displacement has come to exemplify the state’s insensitivity and condescension to marginalized communities – in particular tribals. This insensitivity towards marginalized communities is reflected in every policy that the state makes. After all, the insensitivity is what is responsible for their present state, and is also required to keep them marginalized.
Consider the draft policy on tribals that was brought out in 2004. Replete with terms like “primitive tribes”, the draft says, “tribals involved in shifting cultivation do not seem to have any emotional attachment to the land as an asset or property needing care.” Nothing could be further from the truth, as any tribal would eloquently tell you. Apart from cultural and emotional attachments, the entire economic system of tribal communities is dependent on land and forests. To draw analogies is always tricky – but maybe, for a tribal, land is something like education for an engineer working in an industry, or medical knowledge for a doctor!
Coming to the official policy - India’s first national policy on resettlement came into being only in 2004, more than five decades after industrial and infrastructure development began. After about an estimated 55 million people had been displaced. Known as the National Policy on Resettlement and Rehabilitation, this policy was in the making since 1985. Since then, there have been many debates on the various drafts, and many attempts to get the governments to pass a sensitive policy, which is genuinely in the national interest.
In 1985, a committee was appointed by the ministry of Tribal Affairs, and for the first time a draft policy on rehabilitation of displaced people, including tribals, was prepared. However, the next draft came out only in 1993, this time prepared by the Ministry of Rural Development. Though, it was an improvement on the previous drafts, there were many obvious weaknesses, which were pointed out. Then, thousands of displaced people, researchers and social activists formed an alliance and prepared a new draft from a pro-people perspective. This was finalized in 1995. The government again sat on this draft till 1998, and then came up with yet another draft that accepted only some of the alternative proposals. So, yet again there were dialogues between the ministries involved and various groups.
Yet, when the final draft of the policy was adopted in February 2004, it shockingly ignored most of the suggestions put forward. To begin with, the scope of the policy is itself extremely limited. It applies only to projects that displace 500 or more families in the plains, and 250 in the hills. There are many problems intrinsic in this distinction. For one, most big projects are clever enough to choose common lands, which do not house people (only support their livelihoods!). For example, the Lower Subansiri Dam in Arunachal Pradesh will displace just 38 families. The infamous bauxite mining project in Kashipur takes away only common land – this policy does not cover them! Another loophole - projects can be split up such that each constituent displaces less then 500 families. It’s a loophole that companies will be extremely fast to catch on.
Coming to the part that should be crucial to any rehabilitation programme – compensating land with land. The policy states that “those who lose land will get some land”, and here comes the crunch, “if it is available with the government”! The state has therefore absolved itself of any real responsibility in compensating land that it taken away in the name of development.
The policy stops short of addressing the issue of common lands and methods of compensating their loss. For tribal as well as other rural communities, individually owned pattas are not necessarily the only land they are attached to and dependent upon. Community owned lands are often lifelines for entire villages. However, in India, land without an individual patta is nobody’s land. It is therefore open to acquisition by any party. Obviously, much of the land that is acquired by projects is public land – that doesn’t belong to individuals, but which is nevertheless used extensively by communities for a variety of purposes. For instance, for grazing cattle. Therefore, not recognizing community ownership means depriving people of compensation due to them, arising from loss of common lands to development projects. The policy is equally silent on how Scheduled lands (demarked by the constitution for specific communities, for instance Schedule V is land that is dominated by tribals) would be acquired – whether gram sabhas would have the right to veto acquisition, in keeping with the spirit of the Samata judgement.
The draft policy had talked about allocating 10 per cent of project costs for resettlement, over and above compensation. The draft had also demanded changes in the Land Acquisition Act of 1894, to incorporate rehabilitation. This was not done. Now, governments have a legal right to acquire land, but no legal duty to rehabilitate the displaced.
The displaced in India have never got justice. Beginning with the first infrastructure projects like the Bhakra Nangal and the Hirakud Dams, the rehabilitation record is appalling. In the present era of displacement, post-liberalization, however, the scale and impact of eviction is much more horrific.
For one, industry is getting increasing automated – which means that employment opportunities for the “unskilled” villagers are severely limited. Consider a study recently done by the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) on the cement sector. This industry is the darling of the stock market – it’s a blue chip industry, it’s making huge profits. Have a look at its employment statistics. To manufacture one million tonnes of cement, in the last five years, the sector on an average employed just 578 people! This number steadily reduced from 671 in 1999-00 to 486 people per million tonnes in 2003-04. The terms of employment are hardly anything to write home about - 37 per cent of the employees are on contract, and another 10 per cent are daily wage labourers.
Also, newer companies tended to employ lesser number of people, thanks to increasing levels of automation. Take for instance Binani Cement. It’s in Sirohi district in Rajasthan – one of the poorest districts there. It was set up in 1997, and employs just 400 people to make a million tonnes of cement. The cement industry has plans to become even more automated – it dreams of becoming completely free of manual labour pretty soon. Considering that this industry takes away many thousands of hectares of land for mining limestone, it’s a scary prospect.
In order to woo investors, adivasis and the environment are paltry costs in the eyes of the Government. Crucial amendments were recently made in the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) regulations. Why? Because a study sponsored by the World Bank, and conducted by Environmental Resources Management (ERM), a well-known management consultant, claimed that delays in environmental clearances were deterring potential investors. Environmentalists all over the country disagreed with this opinion. Nevertheless, the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) immediately decided to act on the recommendations suggested by ERM. Not surprising. After all, the current Secretary of the MoEF is Pradipto Ghosh, who, when he was in the Ministry of Finance before his present posting, was also part of the Govindrajan Committee set up by the NDA government to make the environment more investor friendly! Amongst his previous jobs is also a stint at the Asian Development Bank (ADB).
The MoEF called various “stakeholders” for “consultations” – the stakeholders were mostly representatives from industry and officials from the Ministry of Power and Ministry of Energy. The two NGO representatives who were called walked out of the meeting in protest at the way the “consultations” were being carried out. Finally, the EIA rules were changed. The EIA process was made shorter. Some projects were even exempted from the entire environmental clearance process. But, most importantly, the new recommendations gave projects an option to completely do away with the crucial public hearing process - if “local conditions are not conducive”! The public hearing process, with all its inherent weaknesses, is the only, though extremely limited, space that governments give villagers to express their opinions, their problems with the project, and to be part of the decision making process. It is the only part of decision making that has a semblance of democratic functioning. It’s another story that there are umpteen cases of deliberate misinformation and heavy police presence during these meetings. Instead of strengthening this process, and making it more meaningful, the government is now trying to scrap it!
With increasing globalization, India’s already poor rehabilitation track record is all set to become even worse. With the New Economic Policy in place, state governments are falling over each other in their attempts to become more ‘investor friendly’. The Orissa Industrial Infrastructure Development Corporation’s (IDCO) proud statement saying “Land procured …. either by acquisition or alienation …. is absolutely free from litigation/ encumbrances/future risk” is being echoed by almost all state governments! Unless India determines to set up a new industrial as well as a new resettlement policy that is pro-people, ‘development’ for the corporates and elites will continue to spell death for the millions.

-- Radhika Krishnan