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Displacement in the time of development

By Manshi Asher and Rifat Mumtaz

At a time when hundreds of proposed Special Economic Zones are likely to displace millions more, the ministry of rural development has come up with a toothless draft National Rehabilitation Policy 2006 which only carries forward the weaknesses of earlier drafts

On October 4, 2006, the ministry of rural development (MoRD) issued a notice in an English daily that the draft National Rehabilitation Policy 2006 had been put up on the ministry website for comments before October 11, 2006. Precisely seven days were provided for responses from the public, as against the normal practice of providing at least 30 days for comments by the public and affected parties. With huge planned projects -- both public and private - likely to cause large-scale displacement in several states, it is obvious that the central government is now in a hurry to put the rehabilitation policy in place.

This is not the first time that the government has hurriedly introduced a rehabilitation and resettlement (R&R) policy. In the past 20 years, several ministries and government committees have put together repeated drafts of the R&R policy. Alternatives have also been consistently proposed by voluntary organisations and people's groups working with the rights of displaced people. But every time a new draft is introduced it has the same set of weaknesses as the earlier ones.

In March 2006, the United Progressive Alliance government's National Advisory Council (NAC) prepared and proposed an alternative rehabilitation policy. But even as the number of people displaced by development projects reportedly crosses 80 million (of which over 75% are awaiting rehabilitation), the government still has not accepted any of the proposed drafts.

Two decades of drafting

The rural development ministry came up with the first draft of a rehabilitation policy way back in 1993. The draft clearly stated that it had been drawn up in view of the new economic policy and the expected rise in demand for more land, hence displacement. In 1994 this draft was revised, but it did not accept rehabilitation as a right of the displaced. The draft was widely debated amongst various groups, and an alternative draft was proposed. Civil society came up with an alternative draft endorsed by more than 1,500 people. But the government still did not push the policy.

In 1998, the ministry for rural development proposed a draft Land Acquisition Bill as well as a draft National Rehabilitation and Resettlement Policy for displaced persons. This met with severe opposition from affected people and voluntary groups, and another set of meetings was organised to discuss the draft. In 2000, after several consultations, an alternative civil society draft -- the Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Bill -- was formulated.

After nearly two decades of discussions and alternative drafts, the government, in February 2004, once again announced its new National Policy on Rehabilitation and Resettlement for Project Affected Families. This draft policy too met with criticism, on the following grounds:

  • It was pushed through in secrecy.
  • It did not address issues raised in the policy draft prepared by civil society groups in 1995 and 2000.
  • It continued to accept displacement as a given.
  • It was poor on details and specific provisions for rehabilitation and resettlement.
  • It had a welfarist approach rather than a rights approach.
  • It continued to have a cash-based component.
  • It contained no provision to address second-generation problems.

The biggest problem with the 2004 policy was that it ignored the issue of land acquisition and the intrinsic problems therein. These have been discussed widely at consultations of people's groups and CSOs, which gave their inputs to the National Advisory Council of the UPA government on the proposed policy. In March 2006, the National Advisory Council put up the draft National Development, Displacement and Rehabilitation Policy (December 2005) on its website.

The NAC draft was positive on several counts. It had a set of guiding principles for rehabilitation, which state that justice is the most important component of the policy. The critical features of the draft included:

  • Prior informed consent in the land acquisition process.
  • Amendment of the Land Acquisition Act 1894, to challenge the claim of 'public purpose'.
  • Compensation of land for land.
  • Importance of a timeframe determined by the people in rehabilitation.
  • Making rehabilitation available to any number of displaced people.

The NAC draft outlined a detailed rehabilitation package with around 73 points that specified all kinds of rehabilitation, with a specific focus on tribals who constitute 40% of the total displaced people, and dalits who account for 25% of the displaced population. The draft also made another very important point: "All rights and entitlements of the PAFs (project-affected families) should be legally re-enforceable by having a contract between the requiring body and the PAF based on the Gazette notification."

The experiences of failed rehabilitation in this country have shown that there is a desperate need for a legally binding policy. The NAC draft proposed the setting up of a National Commission on Rehabilitation, to be created under an act of Parliament, to look into project assessments (necessity and extent of displacement), grievances and other matters related to the plan's implementation.

The NAC draft turned out to be not only a comprehensive one but one whose founding principles took into account the ground realities of development-induced displacement in India. The draft was prepared in consultation with several people's groups engaged in issues related to the rights of the displaced.

A critical analysis of NRP 2006

The draft NRP 2006, which has now been introduced by the ministry of rural development, is not even close to the NAC draft. While some ideas and concepts have been borrowed, the current proposed policy appears to have discarded the key principles and components that were repeatedly raised in drafts laid down by social action groups and the NAC in 2006.

The draft NRP 2006 is sketchy and lacks detail in all aspects.

  • It turns away from the principle of justice and avoiding displacement to adopt the principle of "eminent domain" of the state in land acquisition, and puts forward "minimising" displacement as its objective.
  • The policy repeatedly speaks of acquisition for public purposes or "any other reasons" and makes no mention (as in the NAC draft) of the need to amend the Land Acquisition Act to define "public purpose". The Land Acquisition Act 1894 continues to be the basis for this policy.
  • One of the critical unresolved issues remains "prior informed consent", a point that was put forward in the NAC draft (2005). There is no mention of this in the current draft.
  • The policy has no teeth whatsoever. As against what was proposed in the NAC draft, no legislative framework has been proposed to bring to account either state governments or the "requiring body" in the acquisition and rehabilitation process.
  • Knowing that the forest bill is pending in Parliament, the policy continues to use 1980 as the cut-off date for forestland and makes no mention of the fact that the date may be reviewed in view of constant demands from the people and people's movements to extend the cut-off date.
  • Unlike the NAC draft, which considers any displacement for rehabilitation, the NRP 2006 will be applied only in cases where there are more than 400 project-affected families.

Some positive features of the policy are that it recognises that monetary compensation is not effective and provides for land-for-land. The policy also introduces three mechanisms to improve and make the rehabilitation process more effective -- social impact assessment, the tribal development plan, and the grievance redressal mechanism. However, a look at the details reveals that they lack concrete implementation guidelines.

The policy appears to be very clear about timeframes for survey and publication of the resettlement and rehabilitation plan. But it offers no timeframe for its implementation.

The biggest problem is that the entire process has been put in the hands of the "administrator" (an officer not below the rank of district collector). No team or multi-sectoral body, made up of local representatives and social scientists, has been set up for the purpose.

Another possible loophole is Section 6.2 of the policy that provides for a fast-track exercise for land acquisition, on behalf of the "requiring body", in which the land acquisition process will happen concurrently with the survey, record updation and compensation. This implies that the survey and rehabilitation and resettlement plan/procedures have little or no significance in the overall scheme of things.

Although in the draft, bodies for review, monitoring and grievance redressal have been proposed at the state and central levels, their functions and powers are extremely broad and sketchy. All three bodies will look into rehabilitation-related grievances alone; none have any parliamentary or legal status. The idea of a National Rehabilitation Commission, as proposed in the NAC draft, has been dropped.

While the latest draft from the ministry of rural development clearly avoids the important concerns of displaced people, expressed several times over the past 20 years, it appears emphatic about voicing the inevitability of displacement and land acquisition. In a scenario where projects like Special Economic Zones (SEZs) have been given clear legislative backing, with a central act in place, a toothless National Rehabilitation Policy 2006, combined with the colonial Land Acquisition Act 1894 will do little to address the huge problems arising out of development-induced displacement.

Social Impact Assessment (SIA)

Section 4 of the policy gives details of the SIA process, which is a critical part of the policy but has been dealt with extremely poorly.

  • The SIA has to be carried out by the "requiring body" (company) and not the government.
  • In case of projects that require an Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) and clearance from the Centre, the SIA will be done with the EIA. The EIA is generally conducted by a consulting agency for the "requiring body" and is mostly inadequate on the environmental side. How can such consultants carry out an SI
  • The policy says that the public hearing (PH) for environment clearance will include SIA issues. In the event that no public hearing is required, a separate public hearing will be conducted to share the SIA. In cases of an environment clearance process where there is a legislative framework in place and a public hearing is carried out under notification, implementation has been weak and farcical. It would be a lot to expect that in the absence of any legal backing for the SIA, a public hearing will be carried out at all!
  • Further, the SIA is an assessment of the social impact of the project. However, no details have been provided on what the components covered in the SIA should be. Also, the public hearing for the SIA is only for the purpose of "sharing of information"; it will not be a consultation where objections are recorded.
  • The SIA has been mentioned in one section of the entire policy. In the entire process outlined for acquisition and formulation of the rehabilitation and resettlement plan there is no mention of the SIA and the role it will play. This seems to be a mere formality that the "requiring body" has to complete. Nowhere does the policy state that if the SIA is not done the rest of the proceedings will not go on.

(Manshi Asher and Rifat Mumtaz work with the National Centre for Advocacy Studies, Pune)

InfoChange News & Features, November 2006