Sunday, February 20, 2011

National Rehabilitation Policy : As Good As Dead

 After almost two decades of threadbare discussions over various draft policies, the Government of India finally announced National Rehabilitation Policy (NRP) for Project Affected Families (PAP) in February 2004. The NRP was pushed forward in near secrecy without allowing little debate or discussion prior to its approval. But as several analysts, experts and human right groups pointed out, the NRP was more about legitimising displacement in the name of development projects than rehabilitating displaced people. The policy though very noble in principles, as highlighted in its preamble, is hollow in reality and regressive in comparison to previous drafts and also some of the existing State or project resettlement and rehabilitation policies. The policy did not accommodate even the Government’s own experience of resettlement and rehabilitation in the past 50 years of dealing with displacement caused by development projects, disaster and ethnicity conflicts. It does very little to address the issues raised in an alternative draft policy submitted on October 5, 1995 in response to the proposed draft policy document prepared by the Ministry of Rural Development in 1994. 
The alternative policy draft prepared by thousands of displaced persons, PAFs, social movements, civil society organisations and researchers advocated land based settlement as key to restoration of livelihood, participation of PAFs in project planning, resettlement and rehabilitation process and other measures for making it sustainable. However, the NRP deviated quite asunder from the alternative draft policy and it rather has a strong cash-based component and has provision only for consultation with PAFs and has no provisions for addressing second generation problems and making the livelihood sustainable. At the best, the NRP has provision for settlement or relocation but attempts no rehabilitation though it has been accepted world wide that displacement entails other traumatic psychological and socio-cultural negative impacts. Ultimately, the policy proved nothing more than a document to appease the guidelines laid down by various loan/aid-giving international financial institutions which would ultimately provide legitimacy to the Government’s power to acquire land browbeating all opposition and resistance and hand it over to big multinational companies. Interestingly, all these anti-people activities are done with a morally acceptable but misleading rhetoric of ‘development’ and ‘public interest’. A deeper analysis would revealed that the NRP is not aimed at ensuring prompt relocation and resettlement or opening development opportunities to displaced persons or PAFs who have nothing to gain in the game of development but have to pay heavy price for it.
As rightly pointed out by W Courtland Robinson in Risks and Rights : The Causes, Consequences, and Challenges of Development-Induced Displacement, even as the NRP covers its mandate to include landless workers, forest dwellers, tenants and artisans in its definition of PAFs, but on the whole remains gender blind. Contrary to the centrality of the idea that ‘avoidance of involuntary settlement where feasible or minimising it by exploring all alternatives should be an integral part of any rehabilitation and resettlement policy, the policy accepts displacement and then appoints the administrator for resettlement and rehabilitation who will work to minimise displacement of persons and identify non-displacing or least displacing alternatives in consultation with the requiring body. By perusing the details and documents of the policy, one will find that the overall policy is poor in details and specificity of provisions of resettlement and rehabilitation and rich only in ambiguities and probableness, leaving much to the interpretation of officials concerned.
In reality, the NRP has a very restricted mandate and covers only development induced displacement in rural areas and has no provisions for disaster induced or conflict induced displacement. The whole vocabulary of the document is one of welfare and relief rather than of promoting rights of resettlement of PAFs, and create a situation for their empowerment and a better standard of living. Ironically, it fails to introduce provisions which would allow participation of displaced persons and civil society in the process of planning of the project, seeking non-displacing alternatives or in sharing intended benefits out of the project.
Displacement and Misplaced NRP
Displacement in India has been caused by various kinds of development projects, ethnic conflicts and natural disasters such as earthquake, cyclone, flood, riverbank erosion, drought, landslide, desertification, etc. The displacement by dams is only one kind which contributes around 50 per cent of the total displaced persons. But the provisions of the National Rehabilitation Policy drafted by the Ministry of Rural Development are in no way appropriate to address all kinds of displacement and subtle differential impacts of displacement in each of the cases. The policy draws heavily from the existing rehabilitation policies for water resources PAFs of Gujarat, Orissa, Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Karnataka and covers only development projects and leaves others without looking into the specificities of each cases which are never uniform but specific to each other. The policy privileges the displacement by dams and fails to address the issues arising out of other kinds of displacement-related cases. The policy makes no provisions for dealing with urbanisation and semi-urban situation arising out of projects such as railways, highways, mines, industrial townships etc. It mentions, “In case of projects relating to Railway Lines, Highways, Transmission Lines and laying pipelines wherein only a narrow stretch of land extending over several kilometres is being acquired, the Project Affected Families will be offered an ex-gratia amount of Rs 10,000 per family and no other resettlement and rehabilitation benefits shall be available to them”. The policy gives no guidelines of calculating the cost or damage to a family but arbitrarily fixes an amount which given the past experiences would ultimately ruin the interests of the affected family.
On the other hand, any resistance to the displacement was treated as a ‘law and order’ problem. Guided by such misplaced notion, the issue of rehabilitation and resettlement was never a priority with the power centres. Land was acquired by the draconian provisions of Land Acquisition Act 1894 of the colonial era and the same Act is still in practice with some amendments in 1967 and 1984. This Act has become a very convenient and effective weapon in the hand of independent Indian State for acquiring land from its citizens. Here, we may recall Jawaharlal Nehru’s remark on displacement caused by Hirakud Dam. In a speech to the displaced families, he stated in 1948, “If you are to suffer, you should suffer in the interest of the nation”. The National Rehabilitation Policy, formulated decades later was not independent creation of the Indian State. Rather it was also a consequence of a conditionality of the World Bank or/and other multilateral financial institutions in order to facilitate the processes of corporate take over of the country’s resources. The Government of India’s refusal to discuss the report of the World Commission on Dams, Supreme Court judgement on the Narmada and the proposed interlinking of rivers are clear pointers that the NRP was not formulated with any genuine concern to rehabilitate displaced persons.
NRP and Human Rights
Displacement from one’s habitual residence and the loss of property without fair compensation is a serious form of human rights violation. In addition to violating economic and social rights, arbitrary displacement can also lead to violations of civil and political rights, including arbitrary arrest, degrading treatment or punishment, temporary or permanent disenfranchisement and the loss of one’s political voice. Ironically, the NRP makes no attempt at addressing various rights violations which are common in these circumstances, specially that of vulnerable groups whole vulnerability increases manifold in these situations. It uses the word ‘Right’ in two instances, once to give cash compensation to tribals in lieu of loss of their customary rights over forest produce and secondly to grant fishing rights in the reservoir, in the case of large dams. This shows the true nature of NRP and the respect shown by the Government to fundamental rights of its citizens (Madhuresh Kumar 2005, Globalisation, State Policies and Sustainability of Rights) .

Of late, Manipur has witnessed displacement caused by different factors such as construction of dams, expansion of highways and airport, laying of railway tracks, armed conflict, ethnic conflict etc. Though certain sections of these displaced people have been compensated with cash, we fear if any single displaced family have been rehabilitated or given land for resettlement. This is understandable given the content and spirit of the NRP. Again, the cry of the people displaced by the ethnic conflict of early 1990’s for rehabilitation and justice would always get lost in the wind for there is no specific provision to address displacement caused by ethnic conflict. Unfortunately, anti-dam lobby groups, resistance movements and the general public are either standing opposed to projects that entail displacement or are demanding compensation when they cannot resist the State’s design. But very few people are asking for proper rehabilitation and resettlement. Sadly, this is the missing part in the people’s movement against Government sponsored projects. Perhaps civil society organisations and human rights groups are pre-occupied with the immediate concerns of defending human rights violation by both State armed forces and non-State actors. This is understandable given the prevailing situation in Manipur where all other issues are overshadowed by the armed conflict. Nevertheless, deprivation of ancestral land, displacement and human rights violation entailed therein cannot be overlooked. It demands a sustained and well orchestrated collective struggle, specially for a small and vulnerable people like the Manipuri nation. As for the National Rehabilitation Policy, it is as good as dead.

This article was posted on The Sangai Express on Sunday, January 30, 2011

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