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How and when to displace

THE DAM AND THE NATION DISPLACEMENT AND RESETTLEMENT IN THE NARMADA VALLEY·Jean Dreze, Meera Samson and Satyajit Singh·Oxford University Press

 
Last Updated: Saturday 04 July 2015

-- this book could not have come at a more opportune time when the Narmada and Sardar Sarovar debate is high on the priority list of the nation and the general issue of development versus displacement is nowhere near being resolved or even reaching a consensus.

From the mid 1980s the Sardar Sarovar controversy has focused largely on the problems of the 100,000 oustees. Questions have been raised about the economic viability and the environmental impact of the project. However, what is important is the politics of the resettlement. While the economic and environmental critics have only strengthened support among the masses of anti-dam movement, it is resettlement which is the dominant concern of the people in the valley. This movement has also helped to put tribal concerns on the national agenda and into mainstream politics. Altogether millions of people have been displaced by development projects since the year 1950.What is shocking is that less than 25 per cent of the displaced people have been rehabilitated. Inherent social and econo-mic inequalities embedded in Indian society, along with the type of laws for land acquisition and compensation payment have curtailed the capacity of the displaced to organise themselves and demand better rehabilitation provisions.

Most of the papers appearing in this book were originally presented at the 'Narmada Forum' a workshop hosted in December 1993 by Centre for Development Economics and the Institute of Economic Growth on the Narmada Valley Projects. The workshop had discussed threadbare the various issues and controversies of the projects with scholars, activists and government officials opining from both sides of the debate. This book, however, has identified displacement and resettlement of the people as a focal point and has examined in detail these factors along with other related issues. Despite a plethora of published work on the Narmada project, most students, activists, environmentalists, policy makers and analysts will find this book instructive and engaging owing to its specific focus and the depth of its investigations.

The book is introduced by Satyajit Singh who is a visi-ting Fellow at the Centre for Comparative Studies in Culture, Development and the Environment, University of Sussex, uk , wherein he argues for better and more comprehensive compensation for the displaced people and for an explicit national policy on resettlement and rehabilitation. Cash compensation, land for land policy, employment based compensation have all proved to be full of lacunae. Singh has suggested a novel idea of voluntary resettlement through which collective bargaining between displaced persons and project authorities may be decided on a mutually acceptable compensation.

Then there is a paper on the anti-dam movement and rehabilitation by S Parsuraman who heads the Unit for Rural Studies, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bombay. In an exhaustive study of the history of the anti-dam movement against the Narmada Valley project and the Gujarat government's resettlement and rehabilitation policy, the author has demanded an appropriate government machinery to carry on resettlement, parti-cipation of affected people at each stage, including the rehabilitation and compensation component into the main project appraisal right from the beginning and active participation of ngos in planning and implementing of resettlement programmes. Parsuraman has pointed out that the unity between various advocacy groups which has built up around the Narmada Valley Projects will consolidate further and will force the government and project autho-rities to concede greater concessions to displaced people.

A short chapter by Vidyut Joshi, vice-chancellor of Bhavnagar University, Gujarat makes very relevant suggestions.He highlights the need of a national policy on rehabilitation and the linking of every rehabilitation programme to human rights. The scope of rehabilitation ought to be broadened to include all developmental projects affected people instead of the present narrow definition of only those affected by reservoir project.

The subject chapters on resettlement politics and tribal interests, the ngo movements in the Narmada Valley, displacement of the Bhilala tribals on the valley, experiences with resettlement in Maharashtra, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh and forced evictions in the Narmada Valley, all painstakingly examine the vexing issues and offer logical solutions. If only the government heeds it will be beneficial.

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