Madhya Pradesh has been one of the laboratories of development projects in India. During the last three decades people have been displaced from their homesteads and lands in the name of development projects, including dams, national parks, sanctuaries, mines, industries, infrastructure projects, and beautification of cities, and this activity is continuing even now.
In Singrauli district recently the government acquired land for the Essar Group to establish a Super Thermal Power Project. Farmers are campaigning against the company and demanding only land for their land. The Essar Group required 1250 acres of land to set up the power project and there is talk of providing compensation. But it is clear that proper rehabilitation is not being done in Singrauli.
The most disheartening factor is now that the state stands with corporate interests and pushes villagers and farmers out from their land or resources. Now policies are framed in such a manner that communities are legally bound to leave their land in most cases. The new Land Acquisition Act and R & R Bill have been the topic of much controversy and debate, both within political circles and among civil society organizations involved with people’s struggles and movements all over India. At the root of the debate lie questions related to the definition of ‘public purpose?and ‘infrastructure?and the need for and extent of involuntary displacement that is caused by the former.
The incongruities in the two bills are disconcerting, as they do not attempt to redress the question of involuntary displacement and work on the ‘Better off Principle?for the dispossessed. Even more threatening is that the new bill writes ‘private corporate interest?into ‘public interest?to facilitate and justify the acquisition of huge chunks of agricultural land.
The R&R Bill is on the other hand not based on the ‘Better Off Principle?or ‘Land-for-Land?entitlement, which is most crucial, as also recognized by the Supreme Court in the Narmada cases. Even provisions for conducting a Social Impact Assessment or an Environmental Impact Assessment are half-hearted measures that do not attempt to study the real effects of the project on people post-displacement, nor are those to be the criteria for decision on the project itself.
The Central and State Governments have evicted tens of millions of people—especially tribals and forest dwellers—from their habitats and having deprived them of their livelihoods and natural resources have also practically finished their cultural identities under the guise of development.
The government presented rosy dreams of health, employment and education through various projects for the displaced, and claimed that only through these would their standard of living improve. But unfortunately they have remained distant dreams, never converted into reality. Projects came up in these many years but all that the people had accumulated was snatched from them.
The struggle going on for the last two and half decades against the dams on the river Narmada is one example. The poor tribal people are being defrauded in the name of development, whether at Sardar Sarover, or at Maheshwar or at Omkareshwer. No solution has been found till today for those who were displaced from the Bargi Dam area, built in 1984. The government has not given information regarding the people displaced by the Tawa Dam built in the 1970s and those displaced by the Banganga Dam built in the 1980s.
In addition to these displaced persons, hundreds of thousands of others are getting displaced due to many other projects like road construction, urban development and establishment of industries. In the name of development, large projects are regularly being finalized which will lead to displacement of a huge number of people. But the government has no clue or information about these displacements. The question here is that if the government has no clue about these people then how is it going to rehabilitate them?
The saddest part of the story is that people once displaced keep getting uprooted repeatedly. They are often displaced in the name of irrigation projects, electricity projects, national parks, wildlife sanctuaries—and the list continues. Once uprooted from their culture and roots they find no permanent place to settle down and have to adjust in inhuman conditions in resettlement shelter homes or other areas where there is no electricity, no school, no primary health centre, and no Anganwadi centre for children. But life continues. It is an awkward situation for both landowners and landless families. Those who have cultivable lands do not receive appropriate and adequate compensation, and are forced to survive on what little they can get in ‘compensation packages? The landless labourers have to commute to nearby areas to work for daily wages, as there might not be enough cultivable land where they are relocated. Male members commute to nearby areas for work while leaving family members behind.
There are no official statistics on the numbers of people displaced by large projects since independence. Also, no department is clearly responsible or accountable for these displaced people. In 2002 the Madhya Pradesh government prepared an Ideal Rehabilitation Policy under which the rehabilitation department of the state has been declared as a nodal department and it has responsibility to coordinate with the department through which displacement is taking place. But the department is warding off its responsibility, saying that it is only responsible for the rehabilitation of refugees to Bangladesh and Pakistan.
The question arises: who is responsible for the tears and pain of millions of displaced people who have sacrificed their lives and livelihoods for so-called national development? What is national development if it is not people’s development?