Land is not enough for rehabilitation

Eight million traditional artisans in the country are threatened by industrialisation

By B G Verghese
Published: Wednesday 15 September 1993

CIVILISATIONS have grown by clearing jungles, draining swamps and reclaiming deserts to produce more food, build cities, mine the earth, establish a variety of infrastructure and develop industry. This displaces people who must obviously be compensated and resettled.

And nothing displaces as many people as dams. Understandably these have attracted most notice because, apart from their magnitude, dams by definition, must lie in hilly and forested catchments that are home to the vast bulk of India's tribal population and other disadvantaged groups secluded.

A K Daula's book focuses largely on Orissa where he has served for many years and is currently a senior official in the state irrigation department. He writes from experience, and having examined the gradual evolution of rehabilitation policy over the last 10-15 years, goes on to look more closely at the Upper Kolab project.

Orissa has been liberal in awarding land and homestead plots to oustees, but with the passage of the Forest Conservation Act, 1980, there has been a steady scaling down of the compensatory offer. Further, if land is still not available, the allotment may be reduced or cash paid in lieu thereof, the rate having been raised progressively over the years.

This brings out the growing fallacy in the country's rehabilitation policy, which places undue emphasis on making generous land grants where land is increasingly difficult to find. Especially in view of the gestation period involved in water resource projects, land should be merely one option, while the main thrust must be on education, training and employment.

Where cash has been given to the displaced people, especially tribals, these simple people have been dazzled by sudden gifts of wealth, which have been squandered on liquor and trinkets in no time, leaving them in penury. Cash compensation should therefore be kept in trust for these child-like people so that it can be invested and used for their benefit.

The methods of calculation of the value of the land, trees and other assets acquired need to be refined, for which Dalua makes some recommendations. His evaluation of the Upper Kolab project makes sad reading. The reservoir was impounded in 1986, but the shifting of the people was completed only in 1991. Under 17 per cent of the families moved into the resettlement colonies. The remaining made their own arrangements and there is no record of their whereabouts. Irrigation is yet to come. Pattas, without which the settlers find it difficult to get credit, are yet to be given.

Catchment area treatment has been "haphazard", the civic amenities provided are unsatisfactory and the host population hostile. Obviously, the conception and implementation of R&R have been poor. Dalua points out the lessons derived from this experience and suggests a number of guidelines. But his evaluation of environmental impacts are sketchy and his references to experience outside Orissa cursory.

Nevertheless, this is a useful volume and should serve as a guide for the future. Dalua asserts large, multipurpose projects are necessary, but unless a more meaningful national rehabilitation policy emerges, the country will be chasing a chimera.

B G Verghese is a journalist with a keen interest in water-related issues

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