Economic development raises the quality and standard of living of the people of a country. Development projects are planned to bring benefits to the society. However in the process of development, very often there is over- exploitation of natural resources and degradation of the environment. Besides this quite often the native people of the project site are directly affected.
These native people are generally the poorest of the poor, underprivileged people. Various types of projects result in the displacement of the native people who undergo tremendous economic and psychological pressure and base of the local community is disturbed.
(a) Displacement problem due to dams: The big river valley projects have one of the most serious socioeconomic impacts due to large scale displacement of local people from their ancestral home and loss of their traditional profession. In last 50 years more than 20 million people are estimated to have been directly or indirectly affected during dam construction.
The Hirakund Dam has displaced more than 20,000 people residing in about 250 villages. The Bhakra Nagal Dam was constructed during 1950 s and till now it has not been possible to rehabilitate even half the displaced persons. Same is the case with Tehri Dam on the river Bhagirathi, construction of which has been signaled after three decades of long campaign against the project by the noted activist Sunderlal Bahuguna the propagator of Chipko Movement.
The immediate impact of the Tehri Dam would be on 10,000 residents of the Tehri town. While displacement is looming large over the people, rehabilitation has become a burning issue the much debates Sardar Sarovar Project which planning to build 30 big, 135 medium and 3,000 minor dams on the Narmada River and its tributaries is estimated to submerge almost as much area as is meant to irrigate.
A total of 573 villages, consisting of three lakhs people are going to be affected due to submergence under water. As a result of the big dams the community rights of the tribals is breached.
It is a traumatic experience to get uprooted from one native place where its generations have lived and move to a new place as a total stranger. It is a big price that the tribals have to pay for a big dam project which is supposed to bring happiness and prosperity to the country. In return of this big sacrifice the tribals must be given adequate compensation.
(b) Displacement due to mining: Mining is another developmental activity which causes displacement of the native people. Several thousands of hectares of land area are covered in mining operation and the native people are displaced.
Sometimes displacement of local people is due to accidents occurring in mined areas like subsidence of land that often leads to shifting of people.
Jharia coal fields, Jharkhand have been posing a big problem to the local residents due to underground fires; they are asked to vacate the area.
The proposal of large scale evacuation of about 0.3 million population of Jharia immediately raises the question of their relocation and rehabilitation for which proper planning is required, some 115 crores of rupees have been spent to put out the fires since 1976, still the problem persists.
The people of Jharia are being asked to evacuate the area, but till now there is no alternative land and rehabilitation package prepared. As a result of it, the local people have formed a “Jharia coalfied Bachao Samiti”.
They have apprehensions that they are going to be left in lurch. The latest estimates show that about Rs. 18,000 crore will be spent for shifting the Jharia population while the cost for extinguishing the fire would be around 8,000 crore. Perhaps scientific fire fighting will prevent the Jharia residents from undergoing the hardship of displacement.
(c) Displacement due to creation of national parks: When some forest area is covered under a National Park, it is a welcome step for conservation of the natural resources. A major portion of the forest is declared as core-area, where the entry of local dwellers or tribal is prohibited.
When these villagers are deprived of their ancestral right or access to the forests, they usually retaliate by starting destructive activities. There is a need to look into their problems and provide them some employment.
The tribals belonging to Tharu Community in 142 villages in the Valmiki Tiger Reserve area in the district of West Champaran (Bihar) feel that they have been deprived of their legitimate ancestral rights to collect firewood and fodder from the forest. Their employment is also lost due to the ‘Project Tiger’ initiative.
The jobless villagers feel cheated and are found to indulge in destruction of forest and forest wealth in connivance with foreign agents who supply those arms and ammunition for illegal logging and poaching. In order to stop the local tribals from becoming criminals the foremost effort of the planners should be to compensate or the loss to locals by providing them job opportunities.
The Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary in Kerala has caused displacement of 53,472 tribal families. At the time of its initiation it was decides to transfer land to these tribal families in order to settle them. However, till 2003 only 843 families could get the land.
As a result of this the tribals felt cheated and in January, 2003 they encroached into the forest in large numbers, cut down the trees, started constructing huts and digging wells causing a violent encounter with the forest officials ultimately causing injuries and death to the people.
The United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights [Article 25(1)] has declared that right to housing is a basic human right. In India most of the displacements have resulted due to land acquisition by the government for various reasons.
For this purpose the government has the Land Acquisition Act, 1894 which empowers it to serve notice to the people to vacate their lands if there is need as per government planning. Provision of cash compensation in lieu of the land vacated exists in Section 16 of the Act. The major issues related to displacement and rehabilitation is as follows:
(i) Tribals are usually the most affected amongst the displaced who are already poor. Displacement further increased their poverty due to loss of land, home, jobs, food insecurity, loss of access to common property assets, increased mobility and mortality and social isolation.
(ii) Break up of families is an important social issue arising due to displacement, of which the women are the worst affected and they are not given cash/ land compensation.
(iii) The tribals are not familiar with the market policies and trends. Even if they get cash compensation, they get alienated in the modern economic set up.
(iv) The land acquisition laws ignore the communal ownership of property, which is an inbuilt system amongst the tribals.
(v) Loss of identity and loss of intimate link between the people and the environment is one of the biggest losses. The age-long indigenous knowledge, which has been inherited and experienced by them about the flora, fauna, their uses etc. get lost.
(vi) Social and cultural functions like kinship systems, marriages, songs, dances and other activities vanish with their displacement.