Draft rehabilitation policy charts no new courses

The latest draft on rehabilitation intends to help people, literally

By Walter Fernandes
Published: Saturday 15 July 2006

Draft rehabilitation policy charts no new courses

-- The national policy on resettlement and rehabilitation for Project Affected Families 2003, framed by the National Democratic Alliance government in February 2004, was a wasted effort. A two-decade long process that started in 1985 concluded with a whimper, until the United Progressive Alliance government's National Advisory Council (nac) came up with a fresh draft policy in December 2005.

A leap ahead Although the draft is a positive step and is much better than its predecessors (see 'Dislocated', Down To Earth, June 30, 2006), it could, however, do with a few alterations. Sections 5 and 6 explain "public purpose", "public interest" and "national interest", almost as if they are interchangeable. There is a possibility that they can be easily mixed up for convenience's sake. It is important to define these terms and bring them under one bracket, for example public interests.

Even "replacement value" needs to be defined properly. It is presented as an economic component only. But it should also include loss of social and cultural systems, psychological trauma and cost of replacing displaced persons and project affected persons, along with training programmes to help them start afresh. It accepts that such people should be the first beneficiaries of any project but adds that they "must be helped to do so".

One needs to go beyond and say how. While there have been some suggestions elsewhere -- for example in Article 24, which says they should be trained for jobs -- they need to be more comprehensive. The cost of training them is part of the replacement value but training itself is essential for them to avail of the benefits. Article 20 talks about "qualification". They should be treated as an intrinsic part of the system, which means if they are trained for jobs, there is no reason why the rehabilitation colony should be close to the project or the township. Moreover, as long as they are trained for semi-skilled jobs, they need not have any other qualification. Otherwise, the project can use their lack of academic qualifications as a pretext to deny them any job.

Broaden terms The definition of displaced persons and project affected persons needs to be broadened. Presently, it includes those who have depended on such land a year before the notification. People, espe-cially moneylenders, generally get a whiff of such projects much before the actual notification. They then buy plots and declare themselves displaced after the notification and enjoy the benefits.

Displaced persons should include people who have depended on such land for three years prior to the notification. Indirect displaced persons, such as those of the subsidiary projects, should also be defined. For instance, the environmental impact assessment of the lower Subansiri hydroelectric power project (hep) in Arunachal Pradesh did not mention that it would submerge part of a wildlife sanctuary. When this came to light, the Supreme Court ordered that the dam be built but there should be no other dams on that river and that the reserve forest be turned into a wildlife sanctuary. The proposed wildlife sanctuary would deprive 5,000 people but they are not included among the displaced or the project affected persons.

Then there are victims of environmental degradation, post project completion. Their numbers have never been studied though it is substantial. It is important to identify and include them among displaced persons of the project.

nac suggests the new law to be enacted should be implemented retrospectively over ten years, which means identifying displaced persons over a period of 10 years. It is essential because there has been a substantial rise in land takeover during the last 10 years. Studies reveal that the total number of displaced between 1947 and 2000 all over India is probably 60 million. Besides, the draft is silent on the northeast although much land has been acquired in these areas.

Despite the shortcomings, the draft does not warrant rejection. It recognises the right of every citizen to a life with dignity. It has also incorporated suggestions from a draft prepared by the civil society in 1995. It also ensures gender justice. This is a definitely a step forward in an arduous two-decade history of rehabilitation process fraught with committees, insensitivities and inefficient planning. Surely, the new draft should make a difference.

Walter Fernandes is the director of the North Eastern Social Research Centre, Guwahati

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