Major projects such as dams, mines, expressways,or the notification of a National Park disrupts the lives of the people who live there and may also require moving them to an alternative site. None of us would like to give up the home we grew up in. Uprooting people is a serious issue. It reduces their ability to subsist on their traditional natural resource base and also creates great psychological pressures. Especially tribal people, whose lives are woven closely around their own natural resources, cannot adapt to a new way of life in a new place. Thus no major project that is likely to displace people can be carried out without the consent of the local people. In India, lakhs of people have been unfairly displaced by thousands of dams created since independence to drive the green revolution.
The dams have been built virtually at the cost of these poor le who have been powerless to resist the Government’s will. The Government is expected to find ‘good’ arable land to resettle displaced persons and provide them with an adequate rehabilitation package to recover from the disruption. This has rarely occurred to the satisfaction of the project affected individuals. In many cases across the country, this has not been implemented satisfactorily for decades.
Resettlement requires alternate land. However, in our overpopulated country, there is no arable high quality land available. Thus most project affected persons are given unusable wasteland. Rehabilitation involves more than just giving land. In most cases this is also not adequately done. The greatest battle to save their own precious land has been carried out by the tribal people of the Narmada River. They have fought to save their lands for decades. The Narmada Bachao Andolan has shown how bitter people can get over this issue.
Resettlement not only puts pressure on the project affected people but also on the people who have been living in the area that has been selected for resettlement. Thus both the communities suffer and conflict over resources is a distinct possibility in future.
The Tehri Project
The Tehri Dam in the outer Himalayas in Uttar Pradesh, when finished will submerge Tehri town and nearly 100 villages. Since the dam was sanctioned in 1972, local people have been opposing the dam and resisting its construction. Scientists, environmentalists and other groups have also opposed this dam. Little is done to ensure proper rehabilitation and compensation for nearly a lakh of people who will be uprooted from their homes as a result of this dam, with little hope of rehabilitation, as no alternative land is available. There is also emotional and psychological trauma caused by forcibly removing people from their homeland where their families have lived for centuries.
It is not flora and fauna alone that is under the threat of extinction. Among the many tribes across the globe, the Jarawa of the Andamans in the Indian Ocean are dwindling. Dispossession of their customary rights over land has put their survival at risk. They have been compelled to give up their traditional lifestyles resulting in rapidly diminishing indigenous population.
There are however situations where communities request for shifting to a new site. This is often observed where people live inside or on the periphery of a National Park or Wildlife Sanctuary. In these situations, such as the Gir in Gujarat, the local people have asked to be given alternate land where they could live peacefully away from lions that kill their cattle, but the Government has been unable to find suitable areas where they can be shifted for decades.