Water sector projects sans resettlement policy

By Zulfiqar Halepoto

Often development projects involving lands have a cost which sometimes results in a massive voluntary and forced mass migration of displaced people who are not among the intended beneficiaries of the uplift programme.

Physical assets, livelihood means and cultural roots may be the first victims. At best, the stakeholders apply resettlement policy for compensation and rehabilitation.

Unfortunately, there is no policy or legal framework for addressing resettlement issues holistically, which may keep in view the enormous problems and issues faced by displaced persons.

Realising the need, a visionary development practitioner and economist late Omer Asghar Khan has initiated a consultation to develop a draft `national resettlement policy’ during his stay in the Musharraf cabinet as minister for environment, local bodies and rural development in 2002. But after his tragic death, it was not approved by the government.

Resettlement policy is used through a water-tight box approach of Land Acquisition Act (LAA), which only compensates land owning. On the contrary the latest definition of displacement says that people are not deprived of their physical belongings during migration or displacement but the indigenous communities are deprived of the moral, emotional, cultural and psychological assets and identities.

Keeping in view the current definitions and changing demands, almost all development agencies have defined their policies of intervention through prescribed safeguard policies and social security nets. But unfortunately, successive governments launched ambitious mega projects in both urban and rural areas without any comprehensive rehabilitation and resettlement plan. One of the document of the World Bank says: “Bank experience has shown that resettlement of indigenous peoples with traditional land-based modes of production is particularly complex and may have significant adverse impacts on their cultural survival.”

Last week Pakistan Network of Rivers, Dams and People (PNRDP), a network of organisations and forums working on water rights and resettlement issues of mega dam affected people organised a conference in Islamabad titled: ‘Draft National Resettlement Policy, Affected communities and a way Forward’.

Besides concerned officials of ministry of environment, water experts, parliamentarians, donors and media persons representatives of affected communities of various projects including Mangla dam (Mirpur, Kashmir), Tarbella dam (Khyber Pukhtoonkhwa), Ghazi Barotha (Khyber Pukhtoonkhwa), Bhasha (Gilgit-Baltistan), Chotiari dam (Sanghar, Sindh), Indus Delta (Karachi, Sindh), Manchar Lack (Thatta, Sindh), Nelum Jehlum Hydro-Electric Project (Muzafrabad, Kashmir) and Right Bank Outfall Drainage (RBOD) and Left Bank Outfall Drainage (LBOD) Sindh participated. The consultation was mainly aimed to draw attention of policy makers and bring about the desired policy changes in the outdated draft of resettlement policy.

Participants and the directly the affected people of water related projects resolved that the development is inevitable and necessary but it caused huge displacement particularly the construction of big dams, water reservoirs, link canals, drainage schemes and other water related mega development projects. On the other hand, various developmental projects are in the planning phase, like expressways, highways, roads and fly-overs which will cause a huge forced displacement. Our record on evicted people, proper compensation, delayed payments, relocations and integration of dislocated communities is quite disappointing.

Representatives of the affected communities argue that Land Acquisition Act (LAA) of 1894 requires consultation and appropriate compensation as it does not cover resettlement, relocation, loss of livelihood, or the rights of affected persons without a land title or those with usufruct rights. The second session on Social and Resettlement Policies and Practices and experts asked the government to kick off a new discussion and public hearing on social issues related to public sector investment projects including land acquisition, social and resettlement policies, and implementation problems.

The conference recommended adoption of an inclusive, enabling, and participative resettlement policy covering all types of losses with clear guidance in the planning and implementation of involuntary resettlement. Participants stressed the need to identify and include all stakeholders, particularly the vulnerable groups including women, peasants, and labour and establish an efficient, accessible, and transparent grievance, redressal mechanism by mega projects in public sector.

Participants said that resettlement of displaced persons is widely recognised as the most critical challenge faced by governments. In many developing countries there exist comprehensive resettlement policies and laws for addressing the issues and problems faced by the development-induced displaced persons. In the absence of any policy and legal framework, the resettlement issues are getting deteriorated and causing social tension and unrest.

Participants further said that the National Resettlement Policy was drafted after wide consultation with relevant stakeholders. Many member organisations of PNRDP were actively involved in the consultation process but even after eight years the government has failed to announce it. The house demanded a quick official launch of the report and immediate adaptation for the future projects.

Construction of Tarbella Dam was the first project in which the policy of resettlement with development was translated into practice. Affected people have shared their horrific stories of the broken promises and false claims of the governments and development agencies. The restoration of livelihoods in the event of involuntary resettlement is commonly based on providing compensation to those who are displaced. This policy has led to a series of horror stories. For this reason, it is proposed that by conducting resettlement as a development project in its own right, the performance of resettlements can be improved and the benefits will accrue to the local population.

Representatives of the affected communities and experts resolved that:

Draft resettlement Policy 2002 is an outdated document and it should be reviewed critically and holistically keeping in view both physical and non-physical assets of displaced people.

Fresh round of public hearing and consultation with communities and stakeholders should be done.

Pending cases of delay payments, compensation package, rehabilitation and replacement costs of the affected communities of Mangla, Tarbella, Ghazi Barotha, Chotiari dams, Indus delta, Manchar Lack, Nelum Jehlum Hydro-Electric Project, RBOD) and LBOD should be settled on priority basis.

Participants rejected the ambitious hydropower projects of Wapda: ‘Vision 2025’, which includes various dams, water reservoirs, improvement of existing dams, drainage schemes, link canals and which is likely to add to a great number of displaced.

Sindh and Pakhtoonkhwa opposed the land acquisition and resettlement plans for the Kalabagh, Bhasha, Akhori and other dams.

Monday, 14 Jun, 2010

Courtesy: http://www.dawn.com/wps/wcm/connect/dawn-content-library/dawn/in-paper-magazine/economic-and-business/water-sector-projects-sans-resettlement-policy-460

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