Development-induced Displacement

Development-induced Displacement

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John Ahni Schertow
June 10, 2007

The following is the concluding section of a paper titled “Development-induced Displacement,’ from the Center for Education and Documentation (CED) website. I think it is particularly useful in reference to my recent post about the Olympics.

Right to development as a human right was declared in 1986,123 however, was acknowledged in the Second UN World Conference on Human Rights in 1993 in Vienna integrating the economic social and cultural rights with the civil and political rights; it articulated an amalgamation of the two sets of human rights as an essential fore condition for the `right to opportunities for development’ to take effect.124

Nonetheless, Development remains a mere hollow emotional assertion in the absence of Participatory Democracy; where one has no say in determination of policies and decisions that affect him, rather the system in place is marred with fundamental follies in the very policy formulation; where despite the growth in the economy, opportunities do not expand; where the benefits belong to the rich and burden and costs for millions of those on the periphery; where the growth of economy in no way endures to see participation or empowerment; where loss of cultural identity as collateral damage is a non issue. In such a scenario `development’ amounts to be self defeating, serving to further accentuate and perpetuate social and economic inequities and thereby rendering meaningless its own avowed ‘telos’ (‘end’).

The empirical perspective on the worldwide and most definitely in the Indian context reveals a bias in the development discourse; one which has posited the individual and the investor at its helm and on account of which development as we know it, is inherently ill suited to promote human and social development, as was and is being envisaged. Thus we face a paradox wherein endeavours to promote the one human right (Development) gives rise to the violation (displacement) of another.

“Development-induced displacement is the forcing of communities and individuals out of their homes, often also their homelands, for the ostensible purpose of social and human development, but which is actually nothing more than “economic growth” and the benefits accruing from such almost never if ever percolate down to the one’s that bear its costs. It is a subset of forced migration.” 125 From, historically, being associated with the construction of dams for hydroelectric power and irrigation purposes it now also appears in many other forms, some of which have been discussed above; and almost of all which invariably result in some sort of displacement. So much so that displacement and development have almost become synonymous. It is time the disparity between the theory and praxis of development was considered in the light of its flawed metaphysical underpinnings rather than facilely blaming only ineffectual implementation. And what has compounded the problem is that such flawed notion was uncritically accepted as a template and applied across different spatial and temporal milieus disingenuously disregarding the accompanying socio-political and cultural sensibilities. If people are the means and end of all development — there’s no refuting that I think — then it logically follows that all development policy should be inclusive of culture and tradition, keeping in mind that it’s avowed object is the ‘preferred futures’ of people. How then can one justify the (cultural) disorientation that most development applications result in?

To steer pass this impasse we need to rethink rather un-think the established perceptions and ask ourselves a certain set of new questions, shifting the focus from after-project impacts to pre-emptive pre-project scrutiny interrogating the inevitability of the thesis of development; the relevant question being: is displacement always inevitable? If yes can the quantum be reduced to the critical minimum and how? What legal, administrative, cultural measures may be taken to minimise the social, cultural and environmental costs? In the process we need to look for better alternatives, as an optimal response to predictable impoverishment risks, which could eliminate altogether the need to displace people, or could at least reduce the number of displacees’. In other words, the first goal should be to find alternatives that cause minimal displacement, in those instances where displacement is inevitable, it is imperative that the full costs of rehabilitation be internalized into the project cost.

Most of the problems connected with displacement, resettlement and rehabilitation can be traced to the “Unbalanced growth strategy”. Development, which has entailed many large-scale forced evictions of vulnerable populations, without the countervailing presence of policies to assist them to rebuild their lives, has only accentuated the negative aspects of displacement, such as lack of information, failure to prepare in advance a comprehensive plan for rehabilitation, the undervaluation of compensation and its payment in cash, failure to restore lost assets or livelihoods, traumatic and delayed relocation, problems at relocation sites, multiple displacement, and neglect of the special vulnerabilities of the most disadvantaged groups.126

It is incumbent upon the operators of the wheel of development to seek the participation of those displaced or to be displaced. It can be done directly or through their formal and informal leaders, representatives and even the Non-Governmental Organizations. It would help in understanding the needs and preferences, prevent costly mistakes and reduces the sense of insecurity among the displaced lot. We have already waited too long to challenge the development model that is biased to certain perceptions and class of society; alternatives for power generation, irrigation, means of production, etc., that do not exert such an enormous toll on human suffering, are now available and which might well be followed to reduce forced displacement.

To achieve the goals of sustainable development and for the Development itself to sustain, it must come from the bottom; which is possible only when the third tier of the governance (is functional in its real sense) has determinative rights of participation in policy framing and decision making when it proposes to affect their interests. Though the structural arrangements in this regard are ensured through 73rd and 74th Amendments of the Constitution and numerous Panchayat Acts in the States, the irony (all too commonplace now) is that the provisions are seldom upheld in practice. A functional grass root democracy and people’s participation in decision making that benefits and harmonises all interests, is probably the best possible way to complete the projects on time and keep the costs from escalating and minimising the miseries of affected. A good deal of authority in this regard ought to be vested with the local bodies; meaning that their decisions and recommendations be regarded of utmost importance, bearing effectively on the very viability of proposed projects.

However, in the modern contexts the complexities of representational politics throws up its own set of problems. Elected representatives, non governmental organizations (NGOs), affected people or their organization, are all addled with their peculiar set of political imperatives, and therefore can rarely if ever act in concert. Political imperatives notwithstanding the initiatives in this regard have to come from the state. Mere lip service such as responding to the popular stress on people’s participation by involving NGOs is not the answer. While non governmental organizations can play an important supportive role they cannot substitute the voice of the affected people, nor can they replace what is the basic responsibility of the State. Many NGOs are funded by the government itself which often puts limits to their independence and the ability to speak in opposition to the government line. In any case, meaningful participation of people is a difficult and complicated process which needs meticulous planning, strong will and respect for people’s voice. Unless there is a conscious effort to create space for genuine participation at different stages, by building into the process, the modalities for participation and consultation, it will not become a reality.127

“Development which cannot provide the basic necessities of life should be shunned” and attempts be made for an alternate mode of development which should aim at providing roads in villages instead of flyovers in cities, schools in all places instead of five star hotels.” Protagonists of development should understand that it is not possible for the multinational companies to ameliorate the plight of the starving millions in the country. All present “development” seems hell-bent on impoverishing people and strengthening the hands of the rich sections of society. It is unfortunate that decision-makers are becoming absolutely insensitive to the needs of agriculturists, fishermen, weavers and so on.128 It is this perception of the marginalised that the state ought to endeavour to reverse and only then can development be imbued with even a semblance of legitimacy. In order to do so, democratisation of the planning process by involving the affected in decisions that so drastically affect their lives seems to be the logical first step. Further, there must also be absolute transparency and accountability at all levels, especially so with regard to the kind of investments made by MNCs, World Bank, IMF, or any other international or national funding agencies, in mega public or private projects.

Even the great Soviet collapsed due to the centralization and concentration of power which made them remote from the aspirations of the people, hence, decentralization of the power and people’s participation in decision making would be ideal for bridging the divide between the present theory and praxis of development. Furthermore this would afford an opportunity for new paradigms to percolate into popular perception and when that happens, we would witness the first steps spawned out of real `paradigm shift’. And only if that comes to pass will there be vindication for all the time, money and intellectual resources that this debate has consumed. Until then the dilemma stands unresolved.

123 Declaration on the Right to Development was adopted by the UN General Assembly, resolution 4/128 on December 4, 1986.

124 Arjun Sengupta, “The Right to Development as a Human Right”, Economic and Political Weekly, Vol-36, No. 27, 2001, at p. 2527. [C.ELDOC.B83.human-rights1.htm]


126 Harsh Mander, “A people savaged and drowned”, Frontline, Vol-20 issue 08, April 12-25, 2003.[C.ELDOC1.E21b.E21bM1067.pdf]

127 Amrita Patwardhan, “Dams and Tribal Peoples in India” contributing paper prepared for thematic review, World Commission for Dams, accessed from

128 Medha Patkar while addressing a rally in South Karnataka. Deccan Herald 10-10-1999.

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