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'For millions, economic boom spells doom'

According to a report, a large number of indigenous people are stripped of their basic identity and the right to live a fulfilling life in the name of development.

india Updated: Dec 19, 2007 20:29 IST

So what if India is surging at a high economic growth rate? In some of the richest states in the country this very fact, in terms of natural resources, has meant doom for millions who are displaced from their homes, says a latest study.

Released on Wednesday by an international development agency ActionAid, India Social Institute and LAYA, a voluntary organisation in Andhra Pradesh working for tribal issues for the past 25 years, the report "Resource Rich Tribal Poor" says that in the name of development a large number of indigenous people are stripped of their basic identity and the right to live a fulfilling life.

The study was conducted in five districts of four resource-rich states of Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Orissa and Andhra Pradesh.

Joseph Marianus Kujur of the Indian Social Institute, who was the research coordinator for the study, said acceleration of economic reforms has led to exclusion of masses and has widened the gap between the rich and the poor.

"This study looks at the latest government data of the past 10 years in just these four states which unveils the fact that the number of people who have been displaced because of the various development projects is over 1.6 million.

"In the process of conducting the study, 92 percent of the respondents said that they have not received adequate compensation. All of this leads us to ask the question: Is displacement necessary for development?" Kujur told IANS.

According to the report, 749,555 people were displaced for various dam projects, 304,698 for industry, 539,351 for mining, 926 people for electricity generation plants and 22,050 for defence establishments.

Although land acquisition and displacement are two sides of the same coin, the report says that there are no resettlement and rehabilitation policies in place in Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand.

In Orissa and Andhra Pradesh, many of those displaced don't have record of rights over the land that they have been using.

Most of the displaced people haven't been rehabilitated despite records showing otherwise. However, those who have been, a majority being adivasis (tribal), are finding it difficult to cope with the new environment and usually tend to leave for forest cover.

"Pushed to live in the polluted slums, collective histories and indigenous knowledge about plants, medicine and ecological symbiosis which the adivasis have are thus rendered useless.

"Facing competition from the educated lot in the metropolitan cities and towns, they fail to get any industrial job. All that they are left with is menial and unreliable labour under contractors," Kujur said.

The report records the sentiments of a 40-year-old man from Bandhaguda, Orissa, one on the villages under threat from bauxite mining plans of Vedanta Plc., who said that he accepted cash compensation to leave his home under the threat from company touts.

"We cannot eat money, and we know it won't last long. We have lost our land and livelihood. While they make promises of better life for us, we are left only with problems," the report quoted him as saying.

Some of those displaced were not even aware of the rehabilitation policies.

"What we found was that those who were rehabilitated couldn't have led a worse life. Plucked out of their homes, they don't have a job, can't cope with the sudden changes and to add to all of that, the resettlement sites lack basic amenities," said Bratindi Jena of ActionAid said.

The report recommends that there should be strict adherence of the laws existing at the Central and the state level, which prohibits the transfer of tribal land to non-tribal under the cover of land acquisition for development projects.

It also says that in order to protect the cultural identity of the indigenous people, they should never be displaced from their homeland. Also, representative of the local people should be included in the technical committee formed by the government to assess the status of projects to be undertaken.