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Mainstream, Vol. XLVII, No 41, September 26, 2009

How to Minimise Displacement through Alternative Patterns of Development

Saturday 26 September 2009, by Bharat Dogra

Displacement has become a leading source of discontent and impoverishment in India and many other developing countries. In the case of some vulnerable groups like tribals, it is perhaps the leading source of poverty and discontent resulting in widespread violence in several places. Thus policies which promote large-scale displacement not only increase poverty, these are also a threat to peace and democracy.

Unfortunately it has been taken for granted by many senior policy-makers that large-scale displacement is unavoidable and necessary in the course of development. It is this myth which is responsible above all for pushing millions towards misery. It is possible to think of several alternative patterns of development which will help to reduce the possibilities of displacement to a very large extent.

Under the existing pattern of development which has been wrongly promoted for too long, it is taken for granted that as with development there will be demand for more diversified and abundant industrial goods, farmers will have to make way for big industries which will be established on land earlier occupied by agricultural fields. Modern technology will make it possible to produce more food on less land. So farmers will have to leave land to somehow get absorbed in the production of those goods and services which are more in demand. This reasoning, which is all too often taken for granted, needs to be questioned at several levels as such a pattern of development is by no means inevitable and more promising, less disruptive alternatives are certainly available.

To start with, it is not at all essential for farmer households to leave their agricultural land in order to become participants in industrial activity. The possibilities for this will increase much more compared to today if the government’s policies start giving genuine and strong support to cottage and small-scale industries in rural and semi-rural areas (kasbas) as well as rural towns. While large-scale production is suitable for some industries, it is equally true that small-scale ventures are more suitable for the production of many other goods, particularly consumer goods. Increasingly the value of environment protection, energy conservation, generation of more employment and protecting various kinds of invaluable but threatened local skills and crafts is being recognised. At the same time it is also being realised that many mega-industries are able to provide cheap goods only because they use money power to gain exemption from having to pay for many huge environmental and social costs. If a proper economic, social and environmental cost-benefit exercise is done, then there is no doubt that the case for producing many consumer goods and several tools and implements in local small and cottage scale units will be very strong. In particular it is most likely that such an exercise will result in a strong case for producing much of our clothes and garments, leather goods, food-processing, herbal medicines and cosmetics, a host of small items of everyday use, several small tools, furniture and much else in the small-scale sector. Particularly by emphasising non-conventional environmental friendly energy sources, villages can also become self-sufficient to a large extent in meeting their energy needs.

If we make some long-due reforms in health, education and nutrition schemes, enormously increasing the resources for these while at the same time integrating these well with the rural communities then again it will be possible to generate a lot of additional livelihoods for which it is not at all necessary to leave farming. Some members of a family can benefit from full-time or part-time employment in these activities, while farming also continues.

Landless families should be provided some land under land reform programmes while at the same time other diversified livelihoods also become available to them. Thus the number of small farmers should increase in India instead of decreasing, although many analysts steeped neck-deep in the existing pattern of development keep saying that the number of farmers has to decrease.

Small and cottage scale industries don’t have to displace farmers, these can co-exist happily with them. Even if some plots of land are needed, as long as huge areas are not being gobbled up, it’ll be possible to make alternative arrangements for two or three households as long as the entire village community is not disturbed.

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However, some persons will still ask: what about huge infrastructure projects? Won’t those cause large-scale displacement?

To answer this question we must ask: why are infrastructure projects becoming increasingly bigger? To some extent this is because the mega city, the very big city has become an integral part of the existing development paradigm. If instead of mega cities you’ve a different model based on more small towns and cities, then the need for huge infrastructure projects too shall diminish. Again the massive increase in the transportation of goods and workers can be avoided to a substantial extent if our villages and small towns near these villages are more self-reliant and have more diversified livelihoods.

The debate on large dams in recent years has clearly revealed how disruptive most of these projects are and how their essentially short-term advantages are highly exaggerated. Also less disruptive, non-displacing alternatives are available. Again, in the case of displacement by wild-life projects, it has been shown how this can be entirely avoided and in fact villagers living near forests need to be involved in the protection of wild life.

No matter which source of displacement is examined, it is possible to reduce the possibilities of displacement very significantly and it is completely wrong to say that displacement is inevitable and unavoidable. To the extent that land for industries is needed, top priority can be given to using the land left by sick or closed industries. Similarly where mining is possible without destroying village communities and their environment, mining can be carried out on a small scale using labour-intensive methods in such a way that rural communities continue their farming and related activities as well. Extraction of the mineral will be much less, but much more welcome is the fact that rural communities and sustainable livelihoods will continue to survive.

Bharat Dogra is a Fellow, Institute of Social Sciences, New Delhi.

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