The phrase ‘reform with a human face’ is so sweet that it can make you smile on a bad day. It assures the neo-liberal while smoothening the dissenter’s feathers. The problem lies in making sense of it. The draft National Policy on Relief and Rehabilitation 2006 is a dire example of failure in this regard. With some 168 SEZs and numerous infrastructure projects set to roll out across the country, the draft offered the government an opportunity to look at the bigger picture and come out with a solution that would give displaced persons a stake in development. Instead, the draft looks like a crafty attempt to circumvent the rulings of the Narmada Water Disputes Tribunal, which were upheld by the Supreme Court, regarding compensation for, and rehabilitation of, evacuees.
The most contentious part of the draft relates to monetary compensation for acquired land. Relief and rehabilitation (R&R) specialists working on various projects have argued for years that monetary compensation for agriculturalists and tribals is inadequate and futile. Once the meagre amount paid is exhausted, the evacuees find themselves without any source of livelihood and little chance of finding employment. So such compensation ends up pauperising the disadvantaged. The draft also fails to mention any change in the archaic Land Acquisition Act, 1894, to make rehabilitation of evacuees a right. It also skips any mention of setting up a statutory National Rehabilitation Committee as recommended by the National Advisory Commission. Are these slip-ups or avoidances?
To attain the avowed objective of reforms — sustainable development — there is need for a clear relief and rehabilitation policy. An effective R&R policy must fulfil some basic criteria: it must recognise evacuees’ right to rehabilitation as an inalienable part of the project concerned; it must provide for advance and well worked-out R&R planning; it must ensure participation of the affected people in the planning process; it should be implemented by trained and sensitised R&R personnel. No one is arguing that liberalisation is evil per se and that it should stop pronto. All one is saying is that development should not be at the cost of people — in the case of most developmental projects, a vulnerable section. Surely, that’s not being an impractical Luddite?