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A lesson for the civil servant

Book>> Beyond Relocation, The Imperative of Sustainable Resettlement Edited by Renu Modi Sage Rs 850

By Shefali Kukreti
Published: Wednesday 30 September 2009

-- Book>> Beyond Relocation, The Imperative of Sustainable Resettlement Edited by Renu Modi Sage Rs 850

For the past two decades, the Indian civil society has been demanding a resettlement policy for people displaced by development projects. Rehabilitation is a bugbear of policy makers and civil servants. Many in the government are torn between the imperatives of ensuring economic development and protecting people's means of income. Unfortu-nately, the lives of people displaced to provide the right of way for infrastructure have not changed for the better.

The book under review is a collection of essays on the experiences of people displaced by developmental projects in different parts of the world.For civil servants and policy makers--I am sure, civil society activists as well--such a comparative perspective can help identify effective ways to improve resettlement and reveal the typical causes of failure.

Most international policies and some national policies for resettlement do contain provisions of benefit sharing with the project-affected people as a principle. However, this principle is rarely applied in practice. Economist Michael M Cernea's essay in this volume takes us to areas where this principle has worked.

In Brazil, for example. The country needs large volumes of electrical power for industries created to process its vast natural resources that in turn employ Brazil's large population. That is why in the past 30 years, the country has embarked on one of the world's largest hydropower programmes. Initially, people displaced by the projects were moved anarchically into slums. But in the late 1980s, Brazil began reinvesting a percentage of royalties from the projects in the resettlement areas. The country even amended its constitution to put this benefit-sharing principle in practice.

A distinction was also made between royalties and financial compensation for the project-affected.

In India, the government has assured royalties from hydropower projects in the form of free power to states where such projects are situated. But the Brazilian experience shows the money has flowed down to the municipal level. Cernea could have strengthened his case by including testimonies of the project-affected. But that, I guess, is a sociologist's job.

Armelle Faure does such a job in her essay on people affected by the Tignes Dam in France. The compensation was good and most of the displaced prospered financially. But Faure probed and found the people nurturing ill feelings towards the dam for disrupting community life in the Tignes valley.

Sociologist Florence Padovani's essay on people ousted by the Three Gorges Dam in China also shows good financial compensation is not always enough to heal the wounds of displacement. The resettled took a long time adapting to their new environs.

In another essay, economists Latha Ravindran and Babita Mahapatra show displacement actually increases the workload of women. They have to spend more time collecting water and firewood or wait long hours for the contractor in the scorching heat to find work.

The magnitude of displacement is enormous and as this reader shows it has several facets. With contributions from economists, historians, anthropologists and sociologists, this volume shows what works in resettlement policies and what does not. Just a minor quibble: it could have done with an essay by a civil servant.

The author is in the Indian Administrative Services. The views expressed here are hers

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