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To not land in trouble

india Updated: Nov 20, 2011 11:41 IST
Ibrahim Hafeezur Rehman

Every year, industrial development projects displace about 10 million people globally. In India alone, involuntary resettlement has affected about 50 million people over the last five decades. Three-fourths of them still face an uncertain future.

People displaced by such projects are prone to being rendered landless, jobless, homeless and marginalised.

Yet, the policies and programmes related to their relocation and rehabilitation are yet to find satisfactory answers to questions like: Is the land acquisition in terms of the quantity and quality of the land acquired justified? Does the process follow the principle of causing minimum displacement?

If it affects the habitat or livelihood or both of the displaced, does the form and content of compensation reflect the current value of the land? Does the compensation package provide sustainable means of livelihood?

The land acquisition processes by the corporates hasn’t moved in tandem with the needs and aspirations of affected communities. The first issue is that of identifying a piece of land based on parameters that depend on intensive assessments of social and environmental aspects.

For instance, while setting up a water-intensive industry, a detailed assessment of current and future estimation of aquifer conditions in the area must be undertaken.

Further, productive and fertile land is often acquired when non-productive land may serve the purpose. At times, even the quantum of land acquired exceeds the immediate and near-future needs.

To begin with, corporates should avoid as much displacement as possible. They should also look beyond the technical requirements and availability of raw materials to focus on social and environmental issues. Once the land to be acquired is identified, it’s critical to determine the number of families that will get affected, as there is always a conflict on the actual number of ‘victims’.

The scenario is further complicated as the process often takes two to three years to get completed. During this period, there is lot of in-migration to the potential site. Consequently, there is often dispute on the residential status of families and the grievance redressal mechanism to resolve such concerns is usually lacking.

It’s desirable that a credible grievance redressal system is in place wherein collective complaints are addressed among people, corporates and the district administration.

The compensation package is usually worked out on the basis of the number of potentially affected families. The problem here is that relocation and rehabilitation packages treat the displaced as an obstacle to be overcome rather than as partners in the process of industrialisation.

Further, neither the Land Acquisition Act, 1894, nor the Land Acquisition (Amendment) Bill, 2007, prescribes an accurate methodology to determine the rate at which land should be acquired. So a scientific process to determine land rates should be devised and an appropriate legal and regulatory framework should be set up.

One-time compensation packages don’t last for long. Therefore, along with a paradigm shift in the compensation packages, we need to devise innovative experiments like giving equity participation as part of compensation or a subsistence allowance along with pension schemes.

On the issue of relocation, corporates often shy away from constructing relocation and rehabilitation colonies. It’s desirable that these colonies provide good quality health and education facilities and reflect, and address, the socio-cultural sensitivities and sensibilities of the displaced communities.

While the livelihood concerns are planned to be addressed by creating employment opportunities, either a detailed analysis of livelihoods and their disruption is not undertaken or the promises made aren’t kept. Further, in case of the acquisition of agricultural land, monetary compensation doesn’t adequately address the concerns of livelihood and economic sustenance of the displaced family.

A subsistence allowance should be given to every affected family till adequate means of livelihood are made available.

The Land Acquisition (Amendment) Bill, 2011, and the Rehabilitation and Resettlement Bill, 2011, will soon be tabled in Parliament. They promise to bring radical changes to the existing process of acquisition. However, acts and regulations alone won’t bring about the real change.

A new thinking and a spirit of inclusion at the level of corporates are equally important.

(Ibrahim Hafeezur Rehman is director with The Energy and Resources Institute, Delhi. The views expressed by the author are personal)