The workshop opened on 3rd September, 2007 with the release of the report on ‘Development Induced Displacement and Deprivation in West Bengal 1947-2000: A Quantitative and Qualitative Database on its Extent and Impact’. The report prepared by Walter Fernandes, Shanti Chetry, Sherry Joseph and Satyen Lama dealt with the genesis and evolution of the development programme in West Bengal over a time frame of fifty years, from 1947 till 2000. Starting from the recent uproar in Nandigram and Singur, the 1st chapter goes back to explaining why the report came about in the first place. The glaring gap that was found to exist between the provision of Right to Live(Article 21) in the Constitution and the actual scenario, acted as the founding stone for this study and eventually the report. The finding that the development programmes undertaken in West Bengal hardly abide by this Constitutional provision in dealing with displacements and rehabilitation, prompted the researchers to go deep into the matter and eventually come up with a report that was also an eye-opener than just a mere collection of facts and figures.
Beginning with a brief introduction to the various types of displacements, as conflict-induced, natural-disaster induced and development-induced displacements, the chapter moves on to trace the beginning of development programmes and land acquisition system in the state right from colonial times. With its genesis in the Permanent Settlement (1793), the land acquisition programme moved through the draconian Land Acquisition Act(1894), the Welfare State Programme of the 1947 era and finally the Mixed Economy policy of the post independence profit-making economic set-up. Post independence saw the gradual rise of private and public sectors and human utility programmes as Dams.
The report clearly states that the absence of reliable database on the actual number of displaced people made the work difficult for the researchers. Government Gazettes, District land records, archives of various institutions and individual studies of researchers were the main sources of this report. Interviews with the displaced people also helped in the process, though there was dearth of proper representation among the interviewees.
The report gives an insight into the state of West Bengal in terms of its population, area, sex ratio,land holding and land acquisition over a period of 50 years. With details of figures, the report states that though West Bengal has seen prosperous days of land reforms and agricultural advancements during the early years of left rule, the present situation is clearly in a mess. The fact that WB does not have a proper rehabilitation policy makes the already awful condition of rehabilitation all the more painful.
Chapter 2 of the report deals with the ‘Extent and Type of Land Used 1947-2000’, whereby it attempts to specify the amount of land acquired for various purposes in WB within the given timeframe. Land acquiring started with the influx of refugees after the 1947 Partition of Bengal followed by more influx during the Sino-India War (1962) and Bangladesh War (1971). Land was fast acquired for resettling these refugees. Coupled with this was the call for liberalization of economy that included acquiring land for industries and foreign investments.
Water resources including Dams as the DVC, Maithan, Farakka saw a steady growth from 1970s. Agricultural advancements of the 1990s meant better irrigation facilities with more number of dams. In the process of building dams, the tribal areas of Bankura, Bardhaman, Purulia and Midnapore were the worst hit.
Public and private sectors as pharmaceuticals, engineering units, automobiles, chemical units, jute and textile mills, tea factories, printing presses, rice, paper and other large and medium units took up a considerable amount of land from 1950s till 1990s.
Underground coal mining and later open-cast mining together with dolomite, clay and sand mining also took up a fair share of lands, mostly in Bardhaman, Malda and Purulia.Thermal plants, transmission and distribution systems also contributes to the land use.
Land used for environment preservation in the form of Afforestation drives, flood prevention and embankments also take up a huge amount of land, mostly private lands. People are displaced without being properly resettled for the sake of conservation of nature.
West Bengal witnessed the interesting phenomenon of ‘displacement for resettlement’, whereby private lands were taken away by the Refugee Rehabilitation Act of 1948 to resettle the incoming refugees, thus displacing thousands of others. Government organized refugee camps and colonies were mostly built on private lands, displacing a huge number of people.
Human resource development as educational and research institutions, sports facilities also account for large shares of the acquired land.Health sector like hospitals, hygienic facilities, waste disposal facilities also displace a lot of people in order to create good facilities for a few others. The irony being that thousands are denied basic health facilities, like clean drinking water to make way for others.
Transport facilities like bus roads, highways, railway lines, airports, border roads are mostly built by acquiring private lands.’ Defense purpose’ is another easy way of acquiring land by the government. Apart from the land used for police and paramilitary use like training camps, outfits, cantonments and airbases, another huge lot of land is acquired under the very vague term of ‘defense purpose’, the meaning of which mostly remains ambiguous.
Increasing number of districts, expanding offices of the zilla parishads and new staff quarters are also built on private lands.
Social welfare projects like homes for the physically/mentally challenged or land distribution among the landless also use up mostly private lands.
Tourism forms an important factor as far as land acquisition is concerned. Huge plots of private lands are often acquired for building tourist destinations. But often the projects for which land is acquired remains unfinished. Other miscellaneous projects like building temples go unnoticed in land acquisition figures. Absence of a proper definition for the term ‘public purpose’ often makes land acquisition easy for the government and unclear for the displaced ones. Almost 10% of the total acquired land fall under the ‘public purpose’ scheme. People loose their land for ‘purposes’they do not know.official records show that the total land acquired in WB for the above mentioned purposes between 1947 and 1990 is about 36,56,326 hectares.
The 3rd chapter deals with the ‘type and extent of the deprivation’ that the development projects in WB have brought about. This chapter too points to the dearth of proper database. The chapter separately deals with the loss of livelihood that each of the projects bring about, as water resources, non-hydro projects, industry, mining, refugee rehabilitation, human resourse development, health, transport, government administration, farms, fisheries, urban development and social welfare.official records put the total number of displaced people over the given timeframe to 69,44,492. detailed figures of the amount of compensation received by these displaced families have also been provided, detailed analysis of which points to the variation in compensation from ‘advanced’ to ‘backward’ states. The partiality is glaring.
Chapter 4 mainly deals with the impact of the displacements. The researchers tried to get responses from a varied background from tribals, dalits to OBCs and women. Women had the least representation among the respondents due to various reasons. Interaction with the displaced people showed that only the medium-yield farmers could make a profit out of the compensation that they received. Otherwise, compensation in the form of cash hardly helped the displaced lot. Access to education was denied to those displaced, resulting in increasing illiteracy. The development projects naturally brought a change in the occupation of the people displaced. In most cases, they lost their main source of income, lost their land and assets, that led to complete impoverishment. The nature of work also changed, with a shift from agricultural work to that of a daily wage earner as a semi-skilled worker, for example as a bicycle mechanic or agricultural tools mechanic etc. most of these works were of a temporary nature. Loss of land also meant fewer livestock, though in some places, substituting land with livestock, in fact, increased the number of livestock.
The study of the process of land acquisition also brings forth the fact that most of the people who loose their land remain unaware of the acquisition policies and purposes of the government. This is because of lack of government initiative as well as due to illiteracy.
One of the major impacts of land acquisition is seen to be a last minute attempt on the part of the land loosers to grab as much asset as possible, often stealing each other’s assets. Finally, agony and fear results in a feeling of betrayal and complete disillusionment among the displaced lot.
Compensation could have been of use if it was properly and timely paid. Most compensation packages remain mere pen-and-paper contracts that never see the light of the day. Even if they are discharged, they often fail to reach the actual people and get lost somewhere in between. Those that finally reach the people are often so late in coming that by then the people are impoverished to the extent, never to be able to start life afresh. The ones displaced are often unskilled agriculturalists, who can hardly make use of the job prospects that the development projects create, since the industries mostly want skilled people.
Women are the worst victims, who bear the brunt of sexual assault. Lack of proper sanitation is a regular feature in the resettlement camps. Children’s education is hampered.
Chapter 5 ends with a question as to whether it is possible to have development with a humanitarian touch. This chapter suggests alternatives that can be taken into consideration while putting the development projects into force. It suggests that mere cash compensation is not enough. Rehabilitation is necessary. The socio-cultural identity of the displaced people, mostly tribals, should not be allowed to be hampered as that would mean a loss of national integrity. Not just creating jobs but building training centres for the jobs should also form an integral part of the rehabilitation package. Finally, it ends with a demand for new and better rehabilitation schemes and least-displacing projects.