Sunday, February 21, 2010

Eviction Sans Rehabilitation : Another Dimension of Human Rights Violation

Of late, homelessness has become a nightmarish reality to many people, if not a multitude, in Manipur. This is not due to abject poverty though homelessness breeds poverty on the reverse. Unlike other States of India where slums are an ubiquitous urban feature, homelessness in Manipur is not that much apparent in Manipur but to some people it has become a shameful reality. Extensive land holding by landlords or Zamindari system, in short, is not the cause of homelessness in Manipur. Rather it is the accelerated State driven eviction campaign and subsequent displacement that rendered many homeless since the past decade or so.
From peasants to unskilled labourers
While homesteads of hundreds of families were taken over directly by the State overnight for State-sponsored mega projects uprooting the hapless and helpless families from their birth-place, many others are forced to go homeless indirectly. This phenomenon is observed more commonly in rural and sub-urban areas. Just imagine a scenario, when agricultural land of a family wholly dependent on agriculture is usurped by the State in the name of welfare projects. Deprived of their only means of livelihood, these families are compelled to leave their ancestral homesteads in search of alternative livelihoods, most likely in towns and cities, Imphal being the only viable one in the case of Manipur. The Loktak Multipurpose Project did not cause direct displacement of people but it did submerge around 50,000 hectares of cultivable land. This in turn led to loss of livelihood for hundreds of families, ultimately forcing them to move to other places in search of alternative livelihoods. In short, Loktak Multipurpose Project caused indirect displacement to hundreds of families.
These people uprooted and displaced from their homesteads often end up working as cheap, unskilled labourers in urban areas. This is reminiscent of early 20th century eastern India where hordes and hordes of peasants who were cut off from their agricultural lands by Zamindari system flocked to Calcutta (now Kolkata) in search of alternative livelihoods. This ultimately transformed Calcutta into a city of extensive slums from an exuberant imperial city. Although migration from rural to urban areas has not reached any alarming stage in the State, many people are being drawn or pushed toward Imphal, due to some compelling factors unseen 20 years back. In Imphal, these peasant-turned unskilled labourers encounter a fierce competition from non-local labourers who have already dominated the labour market of Imphal. The real threat to the future of Imphal is not internal migration from rural areas to urban areas but cross-border immigration from other States of India and beyond, particularly Nepal and Bangladesh whose numbers are swelling day by day. Both these indigenous and exogenous labourers are victims of the State. Failure to push ahead land reforms in post-independent India uprooted these peasants from their ancestral homesteads and occupation, forcing them to become unskilled labourers in towns and cities. In the case of Manipur, it is primarily eviction and displacement driven and affected by mega infrastructure projects of the Government that is uprooting peasants directly or indirectly. What is inscrutable is that most of these projects are either mis-located or not necessary at all. These projects are shrouded with absurdity, irrationality and dubiousness.
Rehabilitation - the missing part
Even if some of these projects are essential for overall welfare of the State, and eviction and displacement inevitable, the rehabilitation part is missing, much to the misery of affected people. Series of protest rallies and demonstrations by people affected and likely to be affected by Maphou Dam for compensation, not proper rehabilitation, points to the missing part. Again, some projects which entailed massive eviction and displacement like Imphal airport expansion is dubious. People are baffled by the Government of India’s sudden impulse to expand and add night landing facility in Tulihal Airport. What is even more amazing is the State Government’s over-willingness to go ahead with the New Delhi’s design at the cost of massive displacement of local populace.
Mind you, the expansion is not for upgrading Imphal airport to an international airport but facilitate aircraft landing at night or so they say. If that is the case, then how many domestic flights operate during night in the whole country ? Is the day-time air traffic to and from Imphal airport too inadequate? However, looking at the present frequency of landing and take-off, any casual observer would agree that at least one more score of flights can be operated from Imphal airport during day time. Then what is the compelling necessity to expand and upgrade Imphal airport ? We are afraid if it is purely for military purpose.
Newspaper reports suggest that many affected by State sponsored projects have been compensated albeit inadequately whereas many more are yet to be compensated. What is intriguing here is the affected people’s cry for compensation rather than proper rehabilitation. It seems majority of the people have little knowledge about rehabilitation beyond compensation; that compensation is only a part of rehabilitation programme.
It has been reported that all those affected by the Loktak Multipurpose Project have been compensated but we never heard about their rehabilitation. Most recently, families evicted because of expansion of NH-39 and Imphal airport were compensated. Strangely, neither side, that is, the Government and the evicted people, talked of proper rehabilitation. This was documented in the story of man published in a vernacular daily a few days back whose house and plot in Singjamei Yumnam Leikai was completely usurped by the State for NH-39 expansion. He was compensated with Rs one lakh but for lack of any rehabilitation measure, he is now living a miserable, homeless life.
Taking a cue from the Government’s oft-repeated proud claims of giving compensation, Yenning feels safe to derive that the State is taking undue advantage of the people’s misconception between compensation and rehabilitation. Sadly, people affected and likely to be affected by Maphou Dam, railway project, industrial growth centre, et al are crying for compensation, not rehabilitation.
New dimension of human rights violation
According to the UN Basic Principles and Guidelines on Development-based Evictions and Displacements:
"At a minimum, regardless of the circumstances and without discrimination, competent authorities shall ensure that evicted persons or groups, specially those who are unable to provide for themselves, have safe and secure access to; a) essential food, potable drinking water and sanitation; b) basic shelter and housing; c) appropriate clothing; d) essential medical services; e) livelihood sources; f) fodder for livestock and access to common property resources previously depended upon; and g) education for children and childcare facilities."
It further recommended that States should ensure that members of the same extended family are not separated as a result of evictions. But the sad part is, UN level covenants and treaties, leave aside guidelines and recommendations, are never followed sincerely by New Delhi, more so in this part of the dubious republic. In this part of the country, the republic of India is better known for its infatuation with its own military and blatant human rights violation.
Considering the past records, we are at pain to note that despair looms large if the affected people or any family is hoping for proper rehabilitation from the State. A World Commission on Dam (WCD) study revealed that 75 per cent of the people displaced by dams in India have not been rehabilitated. This is a new dimension of human rights violation, not by the military or police but the State itself. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) states under Article 25 (I) that, "Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well being of himself and his family, including food, clothing, housing, medical care and necessary social services, and right to security in the event of employment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.
In conformity to this UN Declaration, the Supreme Court of India has held that the right to adequate housing is a fundamental human right emanating from the right to life protected by Article 21 of the Constitution. However, as per records, more than 50 per cent of the urban population of India are living in slums or inadequate housing. The number of people living in inadequate housing is even greater in rural areas. This implies that nearly 50 per cent of the total population of India are being denied the fundamental right to adequate housing.
In Manipur, it is not the case of denial but violation of right to adequate housing in the form of forced eviction and displacement. At the end, it can be rightly surmised that eviction without rehabilitation is a new dimension of human rights violation by the State which is emerging parallel to the already notorious cases of human rights violation such as extra-judicial killings, fake encounters, forced disappearance, rape, murder etc.
With controversial mega dams and projects already making further inroads into the State, more and more people would be afflicted by the state-sponsored scourge of eviction without rehabilitation. This means greater number of people would be rendered homeless and impoverished and subsequently, drive toward urban areas would become more and more pressing. Social-economic and security implications of this forced evictions would be enormous and far-reaching. Our humble suggestion at this juncture is, fight for right to life as well as right to adequate housing (read proper rehabilitation), not mere compensation.
This article was posted on The Sangai Express on Sunday, February 21, 2010

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