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Refugees in their own land

USHA RAI

Displaced in the name of `public purpose', tribals have been at the receiving end for a long time. Monetary compensation has not helped in any way and there are no specific rehabilitation packages.


A protest against the Sardar Sarovar ... displaced tribals are being compensated with cash instead of land.

FOR those displaced by development projects, it is always a long and bitter struggle to get land that the Government offers for resettlement. But in the case of the Sardar Sarovar dam, there is a move to revert to cash compensation for those being displaced, as land is scarce in Madhya Pradesh.

There are several examples of what can go wrong when people are compensated with money.

In Chhoti Kasaravad, Madhya Pradesh, land was needed for a bridge on the Narmada. The villagers opposed the project while the Government was desperate to start work. In 1996, officials of the Narmada Valley Development Authority and local Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders pressured the late Jaswant Singh Tomar, popularly known as Master saab, to sell his land and be compensated with money. Tomar opposed the deal, but his sons, Ranjit, Bharat, Karan and Manohar, were lured into accepting Rs. 30,000. The village has not yet been submerged and they are still there living off their six acres of farmland.

Before it was submerged, 20 families in Kadmal village, Dhar district, received compensation varying from Rs. 2.5 lakhs to Rs. 27 lakhs.

Rich villagers like Budhabhai Patidar, who had a home in addition to land, received Rs. 27 lakhs; Mangilal Diva got Rs. 7 lakhs. On the other hand, the amount the very poor received has been meagre — for instance, Mangilal Jogi got Rs. 3 lakhs and Kisan Harijan Rs. 2.5 lakhs. They bought a tempo and a truck respectively but soon had to sell them after finding themselves in debt. Now they have no land to fall back on.

Seetarambhai Patidar, over 60 years old, a committed leader in the struggle against displacement, recalls how people became rich overnight. They spent all their money on a flashy lifestyle. Soon the villagers realised they would not get any land.

Now they are trying to join the Narmada Bachao Andolan to protest their displacement.

There is a move to amend the Narmada Water Dispute Tribunal (NWDT) award so that as compensation for land acquired, the affected would get only land. Instead, the 43,000 families that have been ousted may have to settle for cash compensation.

Ironically, this move comes at a time when the National Human Rights Commission has taken the stand that "resettlement and rehabilitation of persons displaced by land acquisition should form a part of the Land Acquisition Act".

Estimates of the people displaced in India since Independence vary from 15 million to 56 million; 45 per cent are tribals. According to figures of the Ministry of Rural Development, tribals have been alienated from over 8.5 lakhs acres till November 1999. The percentage of those rehabilitated is insignificant. Monetary compensation is a sure way of pauperising the already marginalised, who have traditionally lived off the land.

According to Sanjay Sangvai of the Narmada Bachao Andolan, the Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra Governments have been trying to dispose of the "problem" of resettlement by awarding cash compensation. Now there is a move to amend the Tribunal's award.

The adivasis in the Satpuda ranges who have been affected by the Sardar Sarovar Project are in a precarious state. Between 1994 and 1996, the Maharashtra Government had distributed between Rs. 25,000 to Rs. 50,000 to some of the oustees in the Akkalkua and Akrani tehsil if they migrated to the resettlement sites. Never had the Adivasis so much money and they spent most of it on liquor. In a few months they had lost all that money and were looking for work.

In the case of other dams in Maharashtra too — the Ukai on the Tapi in Gujarat, the Mahi-Kadana on the Mahi, the Gandhi Sagar on the Chambal in Madhya Pradesh or the Koyna and the Jayakwadi — it is the same story. Displaced in the name of "public purpose", the original inhabitants are compelled to accept whatever compensation is announced.

But then, even where land was promised, few have got land, says Sanjay Sangvai. Maharashtra's Resettlement Act of 1973 provides for cultivable land in the command area of the canals. To date there has not been a single case where the oustee has got land in the command area, he maintains.

The Tawa dam, completed in the 1970s, was the first in the Narmada Valley development plan. The 25,000 adivasis who were displaced have still not been resettled. They had to leave the place where they were relocated because the area was turned into a firing range for the Army. The adivasis would extract the copper from the exploded shells and sell it. Many were killed in the process. Now the Government has announced setting up a tiger reserve in the area.

The people in Singrauli, Sonebhadra district of Uttar Pradesh, too have suffered multiple displacements because of a dam, a powerhouse, mines and factories.

In February 1996, when this correspondent visited the site, the 98 families of Mitihini and Khairi were fighting their second displacement in 30 years.

First ousted because of the Rihand dam project, they were being moved out again for the construction of a 1,500-acre ash dyke of the National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC). (The 1,000-mega watt super thermal power plant was generating 20,000 tonnes of fly ash every day).

In 1960, when the Rihand was constructed, Ram Narayan, secretary of the Gramin Kalyan Sangarsh Samiti, recalled Jawaharlal Nehru saying that the Rihand belt would be the Switzerland of India.

"Only God will move you from your new homes," was what he had said. Since Chainpur, where they were to be settled, was 50 km from their submerged villagers, they opted for Mitihini and Khairi. Those who had 30 acres of land were given seven to 10 acres at the new site.

Ram Nayak Singh said that before the dam was built, his father had 100 cows. There was plenty of milk and ghee (clarified butter) in the village. But at Mitihini they have 30 cows because with so many power and development projects coming up in the area, there was very little pasture land. The NTPC has expressed its inability to give land for land compensation or permanent jobs though its action plan says a maximum of five acres will be given as compensation.

The compensation package included a 40 feet by 60 feet developed plot, an allowance of Rs. 20,000 for shifting and a loan of Rs. 15,000 for a livelihood. Those displaced were assigned job contracts and bank loans for self-employment projects. But the traditional farmers of Mitihini and Khairi were not willing to try out new ventures. They were bargaining for a better compensation for their land and payment in a lump sum so that they could buy land elsewhere.

"They chopped down our mango trees and offered compensation of Rs. 600, which is a fifth of the money earned from the fruits of the tree every year," Ram Narayan lamented. Though the World Bank had insisted that for each unit of power generated, a person could be employed, very few villagers could be accommodated in the 1,100 permanent jobs since they did not have the required skills.

Since 1986, there has been a lot of talk but very little action on formulating and pushing through a national rehabilitation and resettlement policy, says Mr. S.R. Hiremath, convenor of the Jan Vikas Andolan and president of the National Committee for Protection of Natural Resources (NCPNR). For some time now, the NCPNR and 13 other voluntary organisations have been campaigning actively for combining the Land Acquisition Act and the National Rehabilitation and Resettlement Policy into one bill called the Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Bill, 2000. This is to ensure that even while the Government takes away land, it gives a well thought out rehabilitation package.

Pushing through land acquisition without combining key features of rehabilitation, as suggested by voluntary agencies, will mean grave injustice to the tribals and rural poor.

The NCPNR also filed a petition before the National Human Rights Commission. In February last year, the commission said it was desirable to incorporate the rehabilitation and resettlement package into the Land Acquisition Act as India is a party to the International Labour Organisation (ILO) convention that provides for the protection of rights of indigenous and tribal people.

"Incorporation of the package in the law will ensure the rehabilitation and resettlement of those afected in a systemic manner." The commission also noted that in a number of cases, land was acquired in excess of that which was required, adversely affecting the land holders and wasting the resources of the State.

What constitutes "public purposes" has always been a matter of dispute. In the draft of the voluntary organisations, this concept has been clearly stated.

Acquisition of land for private companies, which work for profit, is not permitted or recognised as public purpose.

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