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Steeled for change

The tragic death of 12 people in a clash between the police and a group of tribals, protesting against the setting up of a steel plant in Jajpur district in Orissa, has an important lesson for agencies engaged in rehabilitation projects.

india Updated: Jan 04, 2006 00:47 IST
PTI

The tragic death of 12 people in a clash between the police and a group of tribals, protesting against the setting up of a steel plant in Jajpur district in Orissa, has an important lesson for agencies engaged in rehabilitation projects. This is the second wave of protests against the Tata Steel project, with a core tribal group refusing to sacrifice their land. Development, more often than not, entails the displacement of people and the onus is on the government or rehabilitation agency to integrate the displaced into new habitats and lifestyles. This is not just about doling out compensations and promising jobs. It is about paying attention to the deeper needs of people who are often asked to leave their ancestral lands. This path of rehabilitation was perhaps not treaded with the finesse needed in Jajpur, leading to 12 violent deaths.

The power to displace people for development works is a fundamental right of governments. Orissa’s iron ore, when turned into steel, will have exponentially greater public benefit than the continuance of the land in the tribal community’s hands. But displacement must lead to positive transformation of the tribals’ lives. The purpose of rehabilitation is much more than mere monetary compensation for land acquired. Implicit in it is a holistic approach that takes into account the processes required for a community’s evolution into a different way of life, in a new place. Monetary support has to tie in with education and training, often to convert peasantry into an industrial workforce, with some understanding of their psychology and sociology. Awareness, education and an almost hand-holding approach is what experts suggest for meaningful and sustained rehabilitation of indigenous people.

Curfew has been clamped in Jajpur. Clearly, the tribals feel cornered. Considering the ambitious plans of the Orissa government to set up several such plants in the state, Naveen Patnaik must reflect over the need to manage the process of rehabilitation. People are courting violence to protect their land and lives. Required now are the same skills of interpersonal negotiation that organisations employ to conduct ethical business. At the core of national development is the need to uphold every citizen’s dignity and culture. Effective rehabilitation policies are part of that development.

First Published: Jan 04, 2006 00:47 IST