As the title suggests, the book is about the displaced. It brings to the reader stories of those who have given up their land, their livelihood, their families and even their lives for the “greater public good” or “public purpose” or “national interest”. The “greater public good” are “power projects to keep our ACs running, a dam to provide us drinking water, mines to fuel our needs, SEZs to generate jobs, mushrooming townships for luxury homes and just about anything to keep a few of us happy”. The one who has to pay for the “greater public good” is always the rural or urban poor, or tribal.
A Village Awaits Doomsday cites Planning Commission estimates in a 2000 mid-term appraisal report that since 1950 development projects have displaced 25 million people, of whom 40 per cent are tribals. Less than half of them have been rehabilitated; the rest have been pauperised. The report added that those moving out do not get the benefits of the project—and the book shows how.
The displaced are plunged into darkness, they have no drinking water, no home and no livelihood. The carrot of compensation, rehabilitation and jobs dangling at the end of the stick is elusive and the struggle to get it is debilitating.
Jaideep Hardikar, a Nagpur-based journalist, began his career in 1997 and has for over a decade covered the agrarian crisis and farmer suicides in Vidarbha, Maharashtra. The seeds of the book were sown during one of his trips to villages that were to be displaced by a dam being built on the Wainganga river in eastern Maharashtra. The book is a result of his travels to the development sites over the past decade (under the K K Birla Foundation Media Fellowship in 2001).
The book is not exhaustive (because it is impossible to cover all displacement stories in the country in one book) but it exposes how in the power corridors, displacement is relegated to the sidebars of the larger issue of development. The apathy of the government machinery towards those displaced is outrageous. Whether it is in the case of Vinayak Kushalrao Dhude who consumed poison after the sub-divisional magistrate in a fit of rage said “jao maro (go, die)” or in the Uranium Corporation of India Ltd stating “there are no health hazards in and around Jadugoda caused by uranium mines”. Dhude was fighting for those displaced by the construction of the Upper Wardha dam, while activists call Jadugoda “India’s Chernobyl”.
A Village Awaits Doomsday is divided into two parts. The first part documents stories of displacement due to thermal power plants, nuclear projects, dams and mines in Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand and Karnataka.
The book looks Maharashtra-centric (10 of 21 chapters are on Maharashtra; Madhya Pradesh comes a close second). The reason becomes evident in the second half of the book that deals with the laws and policies formulated over the years that have sealed the fate of the oustees. Maharashtra, in 1976, became the first state to enact a statute for rehabilitation and resettlement of project-affected people. Madhya Pradesh and Karnataka followed suit. The author writes that despite having laws they were not applicable to all instances of displacement. The laws are irrational and the policies vague and ambiguous. Those displaced cannot question policy makers and the projects of “national interest”. If questions were raised and protests took place, they were silenced by the gun, nipped in the bud and erased from public memory.
The book is simple, lucid and straightforward. It keeps to conveying what it intended to do. The chapters do tend to get repetitive but then this is an issue that needs drilling even after we’ve struck oil. A Village Awaits Doomsday is a must read especially now that India is patting its back for its growth.
Savvy Soumya Misra is a freelance journalist
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