Poor and poorer

The Development Dilemma

June 4, 1999

My first experience of the displacement of slum and squatter settlements was in Bombay in the 1980s. Many squatters lived for years and even decades on land owned by municipal authorities. This was deemed "illegal" and so they were relocated to the scarcely developed peripheries of the city. Many non-governmental organisations joined forces to argue that the squatters needed to be given reasonable alternatives or the policies would cause further impoverishment of people who were already poor.

In India, population densities keep increasing, and every new major infrastructural programme requires "space" - land that is often inhabited or otherwise in use. While development theories proclaim the goal of poverty reduction, the displacement development causes has generally resulted in the opposite: the impoverishment of those directly affected. Not only have the numbers displaced grown considerably but the displacement operations have generally been handled in a disastrous way, creating unprecedented resistance. The tragic social costs have become a source of deep political and economic tensions.

The book analyses in depth six major cases of development-induced displacement in India. These are the big Durgapur steel plant in West Bengal, the Jawaharlal Nehru Port near Bombay, two irrigation developments in Maharashtra and northern Karnataka, the Bolani iron ore mines in Orissa and the Sardar Sarovar project on the Narmada river. There is an excellent introduction by Michael Cernea, who places India's resettlements in a worldwide perspective.

"Displacement" is not just an economic transaction, a simple substitution of property with monetary compensation. Besides "resettlement", it involves "rehabilitation", the restoration of lost economic and social abilities. In most developing countries, the unfortunate fact is that people can be resettled without being "rehabilitated". Government agencies are more concerned with the physical resettlement than with the socio-economic rehabilitation of oustees and often transfer the social cost of development onto the shoulders of the victimised. All the case studies illustrate this well. This unjust practice exploits the powerlessness of the affected people, especially such vulnerable groups as the landless peasants, the Dalits and tribal people, women (an interesting and valuable chapter in the book) and children.

The Development Dilemma is relevant to students of development studies, geography, economics, political science, aid practititioners, NGOs and private industries promoting development in India or any other developing country. In theory, resettlement and rehabilitation should be consecutive parts of a single continuum, but most often they are not. This book convincingly highlights the discrepancy between development theory and development policy.

Vandana Desai is lecturer in development geography, Royal Holloway College, London.

The Development Dilemma: Displacement in India

Author - S. Parasuraman
ISBN - 0 333 75377 1
Publisher - Macmillan
Price - £45.00
Pages - 299

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