The demand for a Rehabilitation and Resettlement Bill was based on the understanding that it is better to have a law since statute rights defined (or denied) in law are binding, while a R&R Policy would only have persuasive value that can be ignored by both the Government and Courts. Seen in this light, the present Bill is an important step towards recognizing rehabilitation and resettlement rights of displaced persons.
Unfortunately, however, the proposed Rehabilitation and Resettlement Bill, 2007 is toothless as it is full of platitudes without any binding provisions. The several conditions associated with rehabilitation and resettlement and the un-enforceability of different provisions render the proposed legislation ineffective. It focuses more on form and governance framework with a multitude of Committees and processes rather than granting substantive rights beyond recognition of status.
1. Extension to Entire Country:
In the present form of the R&R Bill, the Government can bring the legislation into force at different points in time in different parts of the country.
Suggestion: The R&R Act must come into force in the entire country upon its notification.
2. Numerical Restrictions on the Number of Displaced Families:
Presently, there are numerical restrictions of the number of displaced families for the applicability of the R&R Bill. Clause 20(1) suggests that an area would be declared as an affected area only in case of “involuntary displacement of four hundred or more families en masse in plain areas, or two hundred or more families en masse in tribal or hilly areas, DDP blocks or areas mentioned in the Fifth Schedule or Sixth Schedule to the Constitution”. These numerical restrictions are arbitrary.
Suggestion: These restrictions must be removed. All en masse displacements should come under the purview of the R&R Act. There can be some minimum number of displaced families (which must be lower than the present provision of 400 for plain areas and 200 for hilly areas) for the applicability of the provision for a Social Impact Assessment, but the provision of rehabilitation and resettlement should apply to displaced families in all cases.
3. Definition Of Affected Families And Areas:
a. The current definitions neglect common property resources on land from which people derive private income (like fish, weeds, minor forest produce, etc.) as well as sustain livelihoods (fodder, fuel, water, etc). Nor does it include habitats that go beyond private land use through cultivation or labour (farm and off-farm).
Suggestion: Common Property Resources and users must be included in the definitions.
b. The definition of “family” is seriously deficient from a gender perspective, since it subsumes adult unmarried women and unmarried dependent sisters within the natal family instead of treating them as independent families as in the case of all adult sons and brothers (married or single).
Suggestion: Adult unmarried women and unmarried dependent sisters should be treated at par with their male counterparts.
c. The current definitions limit the applicability of the R&R Act to “involuntary” acquisitions, implying thereby that market-based displacement shall be treated as “voluntary” displacement. However, market-based displacements are often distress-driven or forced.
Suggestion: All displacement, whether involuntary or voluntary, should be covered by the R&R Act.
d. The insistence on ‘continuous’ residence for a period of five years for being eligible will exclude several migrants workers who work away from their residences. Tribals who practice traditional modes of agriculture, involving temporary shifting from one place to another place every two-three years for cultivation of crops, and other nomadic forms of life, and other seasonal migrants may not be residing continuously for the required period in a particular place and hence not qualify as an “affected family”.
Suggestion: The criteria should be changed to residence for at least half the year for the past three years.
e. The R&R Bill repeatedly refers to Scheduled Tribes in occupation of forest land from prior to 2005, except in section 49(11), which refers to Other Traditional Forest Dwellers as well.
Suggestion: It should refer to all holders of forest rights under The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006.
f. The definition of ‘affected area’ is narrow and restrictive, limited to the following three conditions:
(i) involuntary displacement due to acquisition of land
(ii) displacement of four hundred or more families en masse in plain areas, or two hundred or more families en masse in tribal or hilly areas, DDP blocks or areas in the Fifth Schedule and Sixth Schedule to the Constitution,
(iii) area of village or locality
When fewer persons are displaced, or when displacement is not ‘en masse’ but dispersed in time and space, or when the amended LAA permits 70 per cent acquisition through market purchases, or when the lands involved are outside the village or locality, the RRB will not come into operation. The definition of agricultural land too is flawed, as it does not include fallows, wasteland, culturable wasteland and land under agro-silvi-pastoral plants and agro-forestry. The exclusion of ‘land used for cutting of wood only’ is inexplicable.
Suggestion: “Affected Area” must include all areas of displacement irrespective of the cause, extent and frequency. The requirement of number of affected families for notification of affected areas is too high. This should be reduced to… families in case of plain areas and …families in case of tribal or hilly areas. All Blocks covered by the Drought Prone Areas Programme should be included.
g. There is only a top-down procedure for identification and verification of Project Affected Persons (PAPs). At the moment, the Administrator is required to conduct a Survey to identify PAPs, and allows for objections after completion of Survey.
Suggestion: There must instead be a procedure for application and verification of claims by people who claim to be affected. The verification process must involve the Gram Sabha. There must be a proper appeals process against faulty exclusion. The information of likely displacement in the declaration should be served as a notice on all ‘interested persons’ under Sec 4 of the LAA. In the case of land situated in or around a village, the declaration should be displayed on the notice board at the office of the panchayat within whose jurisdiction the land lies, and a notice board specially erected for this purpose on the land to be acquired. Affected areas must also include commons, habitats and forests.
4. Social Impact Assessment (SIA)
The provision for a Social Impact Assessment is welcome. But the process needs to be further strengthened in terms of scope, institutions and methodology.
Suggestion: SIA should be done by an Expert Committee comprising official, elected representatives, representatives of affected persons and non-official experts. It should be done in all cases of displacement involving… or more families. It should cover all categories of land acquisition permitted under the LAA either directly or as an adjunct. There should be no exemptions, in the name of defence or national security. It should examine the Project proposal on the basis of (i) public purpose, (ii) least displacing option (iii) costs and benefits. The SIA must cover any rights / activities covered by The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006. The Rehabilitation and Resettlement requirements too must form a part of the consultations and requirements and expectations must be discussed. There must be consultations with the persons likely to be affected, the gram sabha (if the entire or substantial part of a gram panchayat is affected) or assembly of affected persons (if a small part of a gram panchayat is affected) after proactively providing relevant information. The SIA and the clearance must apply to the project as a whole and piecemeal clearance of applications should not be permitted.
The present R&R Bill also proposes to include a representative of the requiring body (i.e. the entity causing displacement) on the SIA expert group. This is an obvious conflict of interest, since they end up assessing their own project, and should therefore be removed.
5. Rehabilitation and Resettlement Authorities
The role and functions of the National Monitoring Committee proposed in the R&R Bill are in violation of the federal principles and structure. There are far too many Committees – seven from Project to Centre - which are needlessly dominated by officials and give a consultative role to the requiring body. This is undesirable. It is not at all clear who the Ombudsman is: an official or a non-official?
Suggestion: The R&R committees at various levels must not be dominated by officials and there must be a strong presence of elected representatives and of the affected families. The ‘formulation, execution and monitoring of the rehabilitation and resettlement Plan’ must be done in consultation with the affected persons and the final package must have their prior informed consent. Affected persons must be clearly informed about the extent to which the costs of R&R shall be realized from their compensation package under the LAA. The post-implementation social audits must be carried out by the gram sabha (if the entire or substantial part of a gram panchayat is affected) or assembly of affected persons (if a small part of a gram panchayat is affected).
6. R&R Package
The present R&R package does not ensure livelihood security for the displaced persons. The emphasis on lump sum cash compensation rather than sharing the benefits of the development process by creating sustainable and decent livelihood opportunities is disappointing. There are all kinds of numerical restrictions for the applicability of its provisions, which must be removed. It actually gives far less than what several Awards and state government policies have given in the past. Moreover, the provisions remain mostly recommendatory in nature rather than being binding.
Suggestions: (i) Employment for the displaced persons in the projects has been linked to the “availability of vacancies and suitability of the affected person for the employment”. If employment for displaced persons cannot be provided in a project, the affected persons must be provided guaranteed employment for 200 days each year at the statutory minimum wages for unskilled rural/urban labour. (ii) The provision which provides for rehabilitation of affected families displaced by linear acquisitions, says that they would only be provided if they become “landless or is reduced to the status of a ‘small’ or ‘marginal’ farmer”, failing which only ex-gratia payment which is not less than Rs 20,000 will be given. This is unduly restrictive and should be removed. (iii) References at several points to limiting certain types of compensation to only those below the poverty line (BPL) should be removed. (iv) Complete and not ‘adequate’ rehabilitation must precede displacement. (v) Fishing rights must be provided to PAPs in case of reservoirs. (vi) All assets/compensation must be in the joint name of spouses. (vii) The provision of land in irrigation projects should be compulsory. (viii) The option of lump sum payment in lieu of all entitlements must be deleted since it is effectively a nullifying clause.
7. Grievance Redressal
Besides banning access to Courts, the R&R Bill does very little by way of addressing grievances. The same officials who are acquiring the land and carrying out R&R are supposed to hear appeals against themselves. The R&R administration is all-powerful, with civil courts barred from admitting suits on matters that are the responsibility of the R&R administration, which include (1) Identification of “affected families”, (2) the resettlement plan and (3) the implementation of the plan. Thus, right-holders and their benefits are determined solely by the Government except if the process is violated.
Suggestion: The designated judicial bench that hears appeals in the LAA Bill must also have jurisdiction over the R&R Bill.