Despite the best of intentions on the part of the government, many people hit by land acquisition for projects continue to get a raw deal. One corporate's efforts in this field may serve as a model to follow.

The Government of India had laid down as the objective of the Rehabilitation and Resettlement Bill, 2007, the “rehabilitation and resettlement of persons affected by the acquisition of land for projects of public purpose or involuntary displacement due to any other reason, and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto.”

Yet, as recent communications from the former Minister for Rural Development, Raghuvansh Prasad Singh, to the Prime Minister pointed out, the government's inaction on the Bills concerning land acquisition amendment and rehabilitation and resettlement (R&R) has been striking. He has sought to drive home the point that activists, social scientists and development economists have been making: that there is poor commitment to recognising the role of those who give up their critical assets for the sake of development as key stakeholders in development projects. The apparent urgency in having these bills introduced in the Lok Sabha on February 24, 2009 and passed the next day petered out into nothingness: the bills were not even introduced in the Rajya Sabha.

Understandably, members of the lobby that wants to usher in quick industrialisation will want to ride roughshod as they mount the “efficient use of resources” horse. They will not be overly concerned about brushing off the indigent, on whose way of life, culture and livelihoods they will want to trample. The point is that in a democratic structure — irrespective of the state of dispossession of the poor — it is not quite possible to bypass the legitimate rights of any stakeholder all the time.

For a government that constantly talks of inclusive growth, stakeholder rights become all the more significant if they pertain to the sector that is ‘ excluded' from the substantial development that the country claims. Indeed, there had seemed to be a fair recognition of the plight of the displaced in the proposed Bill, which provided for the “basic minimum requirements that all projects leading to involuntary displacement must address.” The Bill has a saving clause to enable State governments, public sector undertakings, agencies or other bodies to continue to provide or put in place greater benefit levels than those prescribed under the Bill. It seemed to have responded to India's horrific record on the R&R front for those displaced by “planned development” in the post-Independence era, especially in the power, mining, heavy industry and irrigation spaces. Even by conservative estimates some 50 million persons have been displaced and only about 25 per cent of them have been resettled. The reality is grimmer.

Given this perspective and the government's hesitation to put in place an R&R policy, it is imperative that those planning investments in these areas peopled by vulnerable communities take the business of R&R as seriously as they take other commercial calculations. Self-interest, if nothing else, should inform them that the support of a fair and transparent R&R policy, preceded by the establishment of a healthy relationship with the host community, would be critical to the success of any investment.

The contours of what a good R&R plan should be are fairly well-known. There are enlightened corporates in the public and private sectors that have executed fair R&R programmes, as there are many that have ignored them with impunity. But for the Bill, there is no law that seeks to confer on ousted persons the explicit right to rehabilitation.

Some models

It is important, then, to examine some R&R schemes and position them as models that deserve emulation. Tata Steel's “Parivar” concept for those displaced by its development initiatives seeks to provide a protective umbrella for rehabilitated families. The beneficiaries are given a sense of belonging by means of identity cards. More important, the documentation of the promises made to each beneficiary is monitored to ensure that the company delivers on them.

The objective is to ensure that the quality of life of each beneficiary is substantially improved by way of improved civic infrastructure, supported by sound socio-economic and cultural infrastructure. This includes a training programme for skill-upgradation through an initiative called ‘Prerana', under which 373 people have been trained in different trades. Of these, 201 have been absorbed by construction partners and 47 families have found self-employment. In more specific terms, one member of every displaced extended family (there are 1,200 of them) is given employment or one-time assistance in lieu of employment. The company is offering a tenth of an acre (4,356 square feet) of homestead land (developed plots) to each displaced extended family in its rehabilitation colonies at Trijanga, Sansailo and Gobarghati. There is free transportation for those shifting with their belongings; a welcome package comprising 39 utility items, and provision for transit camp accommodation and rented house facilities apart from payment assistance for a temporary shed. Each Tata Steel ‘Parivar' resettlement colony has a free dispensary, all-weather motorable roads, concrete drainage, piped water and electricity connection to each house, street lighting and solid waste and garbage management facilities. The family is given a month's groceries and Rs. 1 lakh as house-building assistance over and above the Rs. 1.5 lakh mentioned in the R&R policy, as well as the extra replacement value of the structures in the original village. Families also get a monthly maintenance allowance of Rs. 2,300 till they are appropriately employed.

Other components of the R&R package are free medical treatment, crop compensation, house structure payment and livestock compensation. Children of the displaced or their nominees get the Tata Parivar Scholarship to pursue engineering, medical or diploma courses. Some 39 families have benefited from this.

The land-owners received the first round of compensation during the period 1992-95. Given the passage of time and the concerns of land-owners, Tata Steel gave an additional ex-gratia equivalent to Rs. 400,000 an acre of acquired land to match the market value. The company is paying for the replacement value of the additional structures constructed on the land. Some government land in the project area was encroached upon by families that were to be displaced and an ex-gratia proportionate to the land encroached is being given. This is done in consultation with the community and the district authorities, to address the concern of loss of tenancy rights.

There are two special initiatives. One is to empower people through Self Help Groups: 22 SHGs with 295 women members are engaged in income-generating programmes such as poultry and goat -rearing, pickle-making, food processing, mushroom cultivation, phenyl making, Saura painting, stone carving, stitching, and nursery and backyard-farming. Besides, 11 SHGs formed by 167 men are engaged in micro-level enterprises. The second initiative is built around educating the children of the displaced through a pre-school education (balwadi) programme that is mainstreamed with government and private schools. Children are also enrolled in residential ashram schools and the Kalinga Institute of Social Science in Bhubaneswar.

The company has internal and external redressal cells that take care of any day-to-day grievances of the relocated persons. The external cell provides third-party checks, helps audit R&R activities and provides independent feedback on stakeholder concerns.

Overall, the idea is for companies to go beyond mere lip service. The per family spend on the rehabilitation package works out to Rs. 16.91 lakh. The total expenditure is around Rs. 213 crore. Does that resolve all issues around displacement? It may not. At least it provides a global benchmark around how companies ought to address the concerns of the key stakeholders in a development process.

(Sujay Nag is a former senior resident representative of Tata International in Bangladesh.)

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