Faulty rehabilitation policy

Faulty rehabilitation policy on february 26, yet another full-page advertisement appeared in national dailies as a part of the ruling coalition's feel-good blitz in the build-up to the April-May general elections. It trumpeted that the Union government's recent nod to the first national rehabilitation policy was "one more landmark decision'. The "worries' of "families dislocated due to implementation of development projects' are "over', declared the ad. Notwithstanding the shouting from the rooftops, experts assert that the new plan hardly provides any grounds for optimism.

The National Policy on Resettlement and Rehabilitation for Project Affected Families, 2003, has been sent for gazette notification by the Union ministry of rural development. So far as its implementation is concerned, the authorities have their work cut out. According to estimates, about 35-55 million people were displaced between 1950 and 1991. And 75 per cent of them have still not been resettled.

Such a daunting task apart, apprehensions are being expressed over the very substance of the policy and the manner in which it has been cleared. "It does not inspire confidence. Rather, it raises doubts,' says Himanshu Thakkar of New Delhi-based non-governmental organisation (ngo) Centre for Water Policy. "Why hasn't the entire policy been made public (only the main features are mentioned in the ad)? The government is not serious about people's participation,' adds Thakkar.

Even Guwahati-based North Eastern Social Research Centre's director, Walter Fernandes, who participated in the early stages of policy formulation, is shocked at the end result: "The policy has been in the making for nearly two decades. Changes were made on the basis of discussions with local people and officials. Yet the final product is a disappointment to say the least.'

Indeed, the salient features of the 2003 policy (see box: Sketchy info) are contrary to what the people had sought. "The policy has excluded all the key details which we had included in our draft,' points out N C Saxena, former secretary, Planning Commission. In 1998, Saxena had prepared an alternative policy after consultations with civil society representatives and affected groups. He explains: "(In the draft), rehabilitation was defined as a process that would bring the people above the poverty line. We had proposed that a minimum of 10 per cent of the project cost be spent on resettlement, and that this amount should not include compensation. But these suggestions have not been incorporated.'

Another flaw pertains to the number of families to be relocated. "The policy applies to projects displacing 500 or more families in the plains. Does this mean that displaced families will not qualify for rehabilitation benefits if they number 499?' asks Thakkar. The government has also introduced an escape clause. As per this, alternative land would be provided "subject to the availability of government land'. Saxena is emphatic: "We had demanded a mandatory land-for-land clause for tribals and those displaced due to irrigation projects. But this, too, has been dropped.'

There are more missing links. Sunita Dubey of New Delhi-based ngo Environmental Justice Initiative says: "The policy is silent on common lands, forests, places of worship and cremation grounds. These are important for tribal and rural communities.' No terms have been spelt out for Schedule v (tribal) and Schedule vi (northeast) areas of the Constitution either. "The consent of gram sabhas for any project should be mandatory in such areas,' avers Saxena.

On the enforcement front, too, the policy lacks validity. Experts had mooted that the Land Acquisition Act of 1894

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