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Rehab law on the anvil, but may bring little solace on the ground

Rehab law on the anvil, but may bring little solace on the ground
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First Published: Thu, May 08 2008. 01 15 AM IST

Updated: Mon, May 12 2008. 12 33 AM IST
New Delhi: Everyone, including the government, agrees that many people in India have lost their land to factories, special economic zones (SEZs), dams, and other visible signs of development.
The problem is, no one knows for sure how many people.
And, because there is no exact and authoritative measure of the number of displaced, there is no measure of people who have not been paid a compensation.
The numbers, or the lack of them, become significant as protests demanding justice and compensation for the displaced gather momentum across the country, and the government prepares to introduce two Bills—one on land acquisition and the other on resettlement.
Although there is no one source of data, statistics compiled from several studies show that between 1947 and 2000, between 20 million and 60 million Indians lost their land to industrial projects. That number could have increased significantly since then. In 1999-2000, the manufacturing sector, including construction, and gas and water supply contributed Rs4.38 trillion to the economy. In 2006-07, it contributed Rs7.07 trillion.
The introduction of the two Bills in the monsoon session of Parliament—the amendment to the 1894 Land Acquisition Act and the National Rehabilitation and Resettlement Policy, 2007—will mean that a Central legislation on rehabilitation will be debated by lawmakers for the first time in the country’s history. That’s too late, say some experts.
The resettlement Bill will make the process of deciding the quantum of compensation more transparent, and will ensure that payments happen on time. The amendment in the land acquisition Act will ban companies from using government machinery to acquire land, and will bring the price at which land is acquired for industrial projects closer to the market value. And, it will also double the solatium, or consolation money, to 60% over and above the compensation that will be paid for any involuntary takeover of land.
“These are important Bills. We are currently collecting evidences (opinions) of experts and government departments. They will be taken up in the next session,” said Kalyan Singh, Bharatiya Janata Party member of Parliament and chairman of the 28-member standing committee on rural development.
A standing committee is a permanent committee of members of Parliament that considers Bills and issues and passes on its recommendations to Parliament.
Several groups at the forefront of the campaign against forcible land acquisition say the Bills do little for landowners in rural areas who are mostly poor and have very little power to voice opposition when their land is taken away. “We do not want forcible land acquisition. There must be some more option assessment where there is minimum displacement,” said activist Medha Patkar, convenor of the National Alliance of People’s Movements.
Recently, hundreds of people representing around 52 campaign groups gathered in Connaught Place, barely 2km from Parliament. They signed a resolution to step up the campaign to protect the rights of landowners across 15 states next month.
Another group launched a “Parliament march” along the country’s coastline to protest against SEZs and private ports—land has been acquired for both. The National Campaign for Fisherpeople’s Right began its campaign along Gujarat’s coast last week and will end its marathon protest in Kolkata in July, said Harekrishna Debnath, chairperson of the National Fishworkers’ Forum.
Still, for the Bills to help people, the government will have to know who they are and how many.
According to data that appeared in The Administrator dated March 1998 (the publication is from the Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy for Administration, a training institute on public policy), in the previous decades, around 21.3 million people across India have been displaced by mining, dams, industries and wildlife. Only a quarter of them have been rehabilitated.
A more recent study that covers industrial projects, education institutes, firing ranges and river dams that were set up between 1947 and 2000 estimates that the number could be higher, at 60 million—three times the number of people who lost their homes during partition, or 6% of India’s 1.1 billion population.
Titled The Human Cost of Development-Induced Displacement, the report will form part of the Social Development Report 2008, to be published by the Oxford University Press.
Prepared by Walter Fernandes, a former director of Indian Social Institute, and currently head of North Eastern Social Research Centre, which provides a platform for groups in conflict to meet and search for solutions, the report says 19 million people were displaced in six states between 1951 and 1995. The report studied at least 100,000 government filings on land and other documents to arrive at the type of land acquired and kind of people affected. And it interviewed around 900 families in each state.
Between 1951 and 1995, the study adds, only one-third of the 19 million displaced people were resettled. Orissa resettled only about 35.27% of the total oustees, Andhra Pradesh, 28.8%, and Goa, 33.23%. Kerala, ruled for at least part of the period covered by the study by a Communist government, resettled only 13.6%.
Assam and West Bengal—which witnessed violent land protests last year over a proposed chemical hub and Tata Motors Ltd’s small car factory—fared even worse. Between 1947 and 2000, only 9% of the 3.7 million people displaced were resettled in West Bengal, which has been ruled by a Communist government for the past three decades.
Many of these uprooted people live in poverty, says the study. Most of them belong to schedule castes or scheduled tribes, which constitute 16% of the population. About 40% of the land owned by tribals, and around 20% owned by scheduled castes, has been taken away for development.
With updated data until 2006 from states such as Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat, the numbers are staggering, Fernandes said. He added that the study does not take into account the number of people who voluntarily migrated to work in unorganized industries, “which is substantial”.
“We need to question many of these projects, the extent and type of displacement,” said Fernandes. “For example, can we not provide skills to avoid these townships which need more space? With little options, many of them (people from whom land has been acquired) end up as landless workers.”
Observers say much of the countrywide resistance—from preventing an airport expansion in Chennai to protests against a hydel power project in Sikkim—stems from the government’s poor record in paying proper compensation and failure in making alternative housing and livelihood arrangements. Few states, such as Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Karnataka, have rehabilitation laws in place.
Once the two Bills are enacted, a system of accountability for paying compensation will prevail, said a government official who did not wish to be identified. “People have been constantly harassed when it comes to payment for land. The new Act will make it mandatory for the buyer to pay full compensation before taking possession,” he added.
With inflation touching 7.57% and amid growing concerns of food security, lawmakers plan to take a critical look at the sensitive issue of land acquisition. Hannan Mollah, a Communist Party of India (Marxist) member of Parliament, said the standing committee will look at how much land is available for industrial growth and how much of this can be given away, or whether it’s feasible to use wasteland for this.
“In many cases,” Mollah said, “the amount of land that has been currently acquired resembles ‘an invasion by real estate owners’.”
Others worry about the stage when the Bills will finally translate into Acts, and how much attention the administration will pay to treating the landowners humanely, who mostly end up making rounds of the corridors of bureaucracy to claim compensation.
“We have a horrendous record of resettling people, who are usually moved and dumped in trucks in these (resettlement) colonies where no infrastructure exists,” said Miloon Kothari, a housing specialist with the United Nations Human Rights Council.
“Given the past experience, there’s little reason for the people affected by projects and movements that uphold their rights to believe that a new policy will radically change the situation on ground.”
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First Published: Thu, May 08 2008. 01 15 AM IST