Displacement and the Human Cost of Development

Imagine the entire population of Spain or Australia turned out of their homes- forced to leave the lands that their ancestors owned and adopt an unfamiliar livelihood, or worse, end up without jobs. Seems too far fetched even for fiction? This is what happened to approximately 20 million (and according to some statistics 50 million) people in India.
Imagine if someone landed up at your door with an eviction order and asked you to vacate your house. This is the fate that tribals have to face when development projects force them to leave their traditional surroundings with little benefits as compensation.

The development of dams and other such developmental projects come at a huge cost and this cost, contrary to popular opinion, has a human face. This cost is paid by the tribals and the underprivileged. The tribals are roughly about 8% of India’s population. Yet, 55% of of the total displaced persons due to development projects up to 1990. According to the Ministry of Tribal Affairs (MTA), nearly 85 lakh tribals were displaced until 1990 on account of mega developmental projects like dams, mining, industries and conservation of forests. Around 85 lakh tribals have been uprooted by the developmental projects that do little for their development and take away their lands, identities and leave them with a monetary compensation that is often not provided.

After 1990, such ‘development projects’ surfaced as a result of the new liberalization policies and an alleged preference for industries over the lives of many such tribals.
According to a study conducted by Nalin Negi and Sujata Ganguly for the University of Bielefeld, Germany(2011), around 50 million people have been displaced in India due to development projects in over 50 years. Of these, dams, mines, industrial development and others account for over 21 million development-induced IDP. Many of these tribals depend on state-funded projects and the allotments have been slashed significantly in the last few years. Vanbandhu Kalyan Yojna, a scheme for the education and employment was started in 2014 by the government. The funds for the scheme were 100 crore for 10 states in 2014. It was introduced for 21 states with an allocation for Rs 200 crore to each state for 2015-16. For 2016-17, the budget allotment for the scheme was reduced to 1 crore. According to Down To Earth, funds also decreased for the economic development of tribals, who are in the lowest rung of the economic ladder. About 45 percent of them live Below Poverty Line in rural areas and 24 per cent in urban areas. Funds for Skill Development and Vocational Training (income generation) were slashed by more than 50 per cent in the last four budgets.

Development displacement population forms the single largest part of the Internally Displaced Population(IDP). This statistic leads us to the conclusion that these people were uprooted from the lands that they owned and from the natural surroundings that they preserved. The resources are rich in the areas that they live in and these are resources that they have cherished for hundreds of years. Development is indispensable and land is a crucial part of the development process.Yet to displace people and deprive them of the compensations is unfair in unimaginable ways. In the words of the Australian anthropologist Haimendorf, who had first studied some tribes in the 1940s- “How do you explain the fact that their communities that were self-reliant thirty years ago today need State subsidies? Their women had a high status three decades ago. How have they lost it today?”

During the last 50 years, some 3,300 big dams have been constructed in India. Many of them have led to large-scale forced eviction of vulnerable groups. The situation of the tribal people is of special concern as they constitute 40-50% of the displaced population. The competitive politics of development has vilified the process of development for tribals who aren’t provided their due share as compensation for displacing them at the cost if their livelihood. Despite such alarming statistics there hasn’t been one comprehensive study that accurately represents the cost of the development that the citizens conveniently praise the government for. After all, these tribes are voiceless people who don’t vote. Why wouldn’t the ‘urban’ population be given another opportunity to rejoice even if it is at the cost of the marginalized? The problem lies in the ignorance of governments and apathy of the urban population and in many cases the rural population too.

The problem isn’t essentially the development yet the cost is huge and has many faces. Land acquisition is often portrayed as a necessary evil in movies and there is a certain period of time when it gets coverage yet the issue is largely ignored. There appears to be little or no improvement in the kind of facilities and schemes that are extended to these tribes even in the face of an increasing number of development projects that displace tribals and provide them a token compensation.

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