The Context

Mankind always had infinite difficulty with his attempts to understand the reality of man-made development. Development projects (like construction of dams for irrigation and hydroelectric power generation, construction of highways, railways, and irrigation canal networks, construction of transmission lines and other facilities requiring rights-of-way, construction of airports, construction or improvement of urban infrastructure such as sewerage, subways, intra-city roads, and more generally urban systematization etc. etc.) that introduce changes in the patterns of use of land, water, or other natural resources may entail adverse impacts on people who are currently using such resources and associated economic, social, cultural, and religious facilities. Therefore, the need of development being people centered is increasingly recognized.

In some instances considering the positive net benefits to the society, interventions such as a road or a power generation project are deemed necessary, in spite of their potential adverse effects on some people. In such cases, in order to incorporate social dimensions in the project preparation process, the people who may be adversely affected by the development intervention are consulted; compensated for their losses; and assisted to rebuild their homes and communities, reestablish their enterprises, and develop their potentials as productive members of society at a level generally at least equivalent to that which was likely to have prevailed in the absence of the development intervention. Where resettlement is unavoidable, concrete measures are deemed must to protect the lives and welfare of those displaced by the projects, reduce and redress the loss of economic potential incurred by the affected people, and the local and regional economies; and assist in developing the economic, social, and cultural potential of the people and the communities so affected. Attention to such matters is especially deemed important when the people who may be adversely affected are poor and vulnerable, do not have the capacity to absorb such adverse impacts, and cannot remain productive without significant help.

Involuntary resettlement is a sensitive area involving competing economic, social and political interests that may be difficult to balance in the best of circumstances. Because the limited existing knowledge base in the area of resettlement coupled with the crucially felt need to make development people oriented, lessons drawn from the working experiences of experts are valuable for addressing the relevant issues.

The above context plus my experience with many Rehabilitation and Resettlement Studies of highway up gradation projects that made me feel the realities and practicalities of the subject, induced me to put a note for benefit of the profession.

Let me start with a crisp discussion on the various constituent stages of the process of rehabilitation and resettlement of people displaced by developmental projects. Subsequently, an experience based discussion highlighting the realities and practicalities of this process follows.

Initial Social Assessment: An initial social assessment (ISA) identifies the people who may be beneficially and adversely affected by the project and assesses the stage of development of various subgroups, and their needs, demands, and absorptive capacity. It also identifies the institutions to be involved in the project and assess their capacities. The ISA identifies the key social dimensions such as involuntary resettlement, indigenous peoples, poverty reduction and women in development that need to be addressed under the project. The ISA is undertaken as early as possible in the project cycle. If the ISA identifies that resettlement is likely to be involved in the project, a resettlement action plan is prepared, preferably in conjunction with preparation of the project feasibility study.

Resettlement Action Plan: Where population displacement is unavoidable, a detailed Resettlement Action Plan (RAP) with time-bound actions specified and a budget are required. Resettlement Action Plan is to be built around a development strategy; and compensation, resettlement, and rehabilitation packages should be designed to generally improve or at least restore the social and economic base of those to be relocated. Monetary compensation for land alone may not be adequate. Voluntary relocation by some affected persons may form part of a resettlement plan, but measures to address the special circumstances of involuntary resettlers are also included. Preference is given to resettlement of people dislocated from agricultural settings unto similar settings. This is particularly important for indigenous peoples whose degree of acculturation to mainstream society is limited. If suitable land is unavailable, other strategies built around opportunities for wage employment or self-employment may be used.

As is common with all projects, the responsibility for planning and implementing resettlement rests with the government and other project sponsors.

Project Processing and Implementation: Government and other project sponsors are supposed to be aware of the implications and framework for handling the issue of involuntary resettlement optimally. Starting early in the project cycle, need is to assess the policy framework, experiences, institutions, and the legal framework covering resettlement. It is important to ensure that involuntary resettlement is avoided where feasible and minimized if it is unavoidable; that laws and regulations concerning displaced people provide for compensation sufficient to replace all lost assets; and that displaced persons are assisted to relocate and generally at least restore their former living standards, income earning capacity, and production levels.

If the ISA identifies the need for a resettlement plan, appropriate provisions should be made at the project preparatory stage itself to prepare RAP. The RAP should be submitted preferably together with the feasibility study for the project, but in any case, before project appraisal, as the costs and implementation of resettlement are likely to critically affect the overall costs and implementation schedule of the investment project.

Monitoring and Reporting: Staff of the Project Department is supposed to monitor regularly the involuntary resettlement aspects of ongoing projects

The Realities and Practicalities

Now let me have a re-look on the above discussed stages of the rehabilitation and resettlement process and put some questions/points as initiators of a constructive thought process as my perseverance to the profession.

First, let us take the inception stage of the process. After being involved with many studies, I used to ask myself whether the money and time being spent on the field research is sufficient enough to assess the real implications of displacement caused by developmental projects.

Second, how much constructive interaction with the stakeholders takes place in the process of conceptualization, design, construction of the project and thereafter? Does the all claims made in the reports in this regard are cross checked and authenticated? For example, in some exclusive interviews with villagers along various sections of National Highways for which the work of project preparation has been completed, I observed that requisite consultation with the stake holders did not take place and the notice to vacate their immovable assets came as a sad shock to PAPs.

Third, policy framework spells out that displaced households are not only to be resettled but rehabilitated to ensure their well being, at least comparable to without project scenario. In this context, let me express my doubt that the monetary compensation paid to PAPs is hardly aimed at rehabilitating them. The question is how effectively the rehabilitation measures suggested in RAP are implemented on ground.

Fourth, the process of studying the displacement impact, preparation of RAP, itís implementation and monitoring simultaneously with the process of project execution seems to be, sometimes, marked by adhocism. The reason being institutional arrangements made for the effective execution of R&R process. Consultant who studies the impact used to be more interested in squeezing the budget for R&R studies on the cost of quality. In the sequence, the agencies responsible for implementation of RAP, not being involved at the stage of RAP preparation, misses the feel of the quantum and severity of the displacement being caused leading to adhoc implementation of RAP.

Last but not the least, the complexity and incompleteness of revenue records, attitude of personnel with the implementation agencies, red-tapism and inadequacy of the capacity of non governmental organizations involved in the process add vows to the above discussed bottlenecks.

But all is not lost. There are instances of effective implementation by the able professionals and other agents who are really concerned. Let us hope the points raised above will initiate a positive thought process and help in adoption of more effective professional approaches to the RAP preparation and implementation.