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A valuable study of

Big Dams, Displaced People: Rivers of Sorrow, Rivers of Change Edited by Enakshi Ganguly Thukral Publisher: Sage Publications, Delhi Price: Rs 120

By Adil
Last Updated: Saturday 04 July 2015

-- (Credit: Rustam Vania)WITH THE national rehabilitation policy on the anvil, this timely book raises important questions regarding humans displaced by development projects. After citing acquisition of land for development projects as the most visible cause of displacement, the book surveys big dams as they, more than other development projects, cause the maximum displacement.'This book is a valuable documentation of struggles against forced displacement and it underlines what to avoid to minimise the distress of displacement.

The book's major case studies of dams and displacement - Hirakud in Orissa, Nagarjunasagar in Andhra Pradesh, Pong in Himachal Pradesh and Ukai in Gujarat - explore the problems faced by oustees, and the policies evolved to resettle and rehabilitate them in other parts of the country at different points of time. The studies highlight the abysmal lack of information about the affected people, the ignorance of the displaced about the project and their future, the apathy and the negligence of project officials, and the total lack of people's involvement.

of people's involvement. The processes of As an alternate model, the exdmple pre- sented is that of the Baliraja dam in Maharashtra's Sangli dis- trict, which was con- structed by the people tbemselves.

The study of the Hirakud project concludes that the government rehabilitation efforts failed because displamment was not perceived in its totality but oustees. Big dams such as Subarnarekha, Kuthu, Bargi and Tawa. The processes of implementation of the various rehabilitation packages might look different, there being no uniform policy, but the net result of these schemes is that instead of maintaining the previous living standard of the oustees, they are reduced to away authority. Such a policy, the book recommends, has to be flexible enough to "accommodate... circumstances peculiar to a particular project, or the conditions existing in a given region." By raising the issue of displacement and rehabilitation, the book forces the reader to think about the very process of development in deprivation and despair.

On the other hand, the book labels Baliraja a ray of hope because it demonstrates how people's participation in decision-making can lead to equity without displacement. The authors, however, warn, "It is not to say that small dams like Baliraja are always the solution. The solutions have to be location-and solution-specific. What is important is that the solution must be based on people's needs and involve their participation."

The book argues the need for a holistic national policy on reha- bilitation of oustees, who are the victims of a project drawn up by a farIndia by listing anecdotes, the perceptions of outsiders and official figures and documents.

But somewhere along the line, there is a feeling of being left high and dry. The explicitness of the need for rehabilitation policies to involve the people stops short of its logical end, which is that local communities be empowered to have total control over their environment and resources and the freedom to choose-their own models of development. To achieve this requires a drastic change in the process of governance and the authors featured in the book - all experienced academics and activists - seem to hesitate in spelling this out clearly. Is this because they are optimistic that the present system can accommodate the very level of decentralised decision-making that they advocate?

---Adil Ali works at the Society for Participatory Research in Asia (PRIA), New Delhi.

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