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Narmada R&R: Australia-based researcher finds project affected persons rate NGOs' role better than govt's

Counterview Desk
A recent research paper, “Involuntary displacement: An analysis of the role and contribution of non-government organizations to the Narmada project affected communities in Western India” by Hinal Pandya of the School of Humanities, Faculty of Arts and Sciences, University of New England, Armidale, Australia has found that 56 per cent of respondents were “satisfied” with the NGOs’ assistance in rehabilitating the victims of the project, while only 39 per cent appreciated the government’s assistance.
Calling those affected by Narmada dam’s project as internally displaced persons (IDPs), a new term being use for those who are being displaced from their place of living against their wishes, the researcher says, “A number of NGOs were engaged in the community development activities. To develop basic facilities in the relocation sites is another strategy of NGOs to help the IDPs. Almost all the new habitats, approximately 200, have been adopted by the NGOs under various development schemes.”
Pandya says, “In the study area, it was noticed that NGOs are more successful than the government in resettling the IDPs in the state. The study of the role of NGOs in community development for IDPs in the context of the Narmada Project has assumed greater significance. At the initial stage of evacuation of IDPs, the NGOs and State Government were struggling hard to organize the displaced people through R&R process. The study reveals that almost all NGOs in this area were engaged to develop infrastructure facilities. The state was not entirely successful in improving the status of IDPs; the NGOs’ efforts to settle the IDPs in the new area from the grass-root level were initiated.”
The assessment of NGOs for this study by the investigator revealed that “the issues of IDPs such a land alienation were resolved by the involvement of NGOs. In fact the NGOs role was crucial in this regard. The function of NGOs in monitoring, planning and implementation of R&R is now being recognized.“ According to the researcher, “Without the role of two NGOs, Arch-Vahini and Anand Niketan, the rehabilitation and resettlement (R&R) process of the IDPs would not have been successful. In addition, the Narmada Project experience has evidently established the crucial role NGOs played in forcing the government and project authorities to integrate the human dimensions into infrastructure development projects in the country.”
Others who actively worked included Divya Sewa Trust (DST) which tried improving the IDPs livelihoods, especially displaced women and youth by giving them the training required. “The people displaced by the Narmada project were assisted by the NGOs to resolve their issues. DST adopted nearly 65 rehabilitation sites in Vadodara district for their development. The functions of DST in rural areas involved a facilitation role working with IDPs. For instance, DST trained 300 youths as security guards and as fire safety officers for getting jobs in the government sector.”
Then, Mangal Bharati Sewa Trust had an assignment to conduct extensive participatory development processes in the IDPs colony through giving educational training to the IDPs. Its objectives include: education and providing a rural health programme, improving the status of indigenous women, increasing involvement in local self government and developing women’s capacity to make money. It opened a school of Krishi Vigyan Kendra (Bhartiya Agro Industries Foundation) for the rural poor.”
As for Arch-Vahini, it was actively involved since 1995 and it is now mainly involved in the administration activities of the government in handling the rehabilitation and resettlement of IDPs especially from Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh. “ArchVahini was focused on the tribal development process. Whatever conditions displaced people now enjoy are only due to the involvement of Arch-Vahini. Arch-Vahini fought for indigenous rights and against the alienation of their land. Arch took a very clear stand to uplift the displaced indigenous peoples”, the study says, adding, “Arch Vahini played a vital role in the shaping and Implementation of R&R.”
During interviews, the researcher found, ordinary people, especially women in the relocation sites, believed that the government’s displacement policy did not allow for variety of agencies to work among the displaced people. “They see the policy as a one-size-fits-all model that has the effect of making them accept their status. The respondents believed that providing facilities for education for all school attending children is the sole responsibility of the government”, the study says.
The study quotes a respondent as saying: “Our experience is such that where displacement has occurred because of political insecurity, you will find that the State will always try to protect some of the things that are taking place; they do not want these things to come to the attention of the international community … I am sure you are aware that in northern India we have over 200 camps where there are over 1 million people who have been displaced due to dams in south Gujarat and north India. I think it is the biggest human rights crisis in India and it is absolutely necessary that the engagement of the UN be established through a monitoring and evaluation team.”
An academic has been quoted as saying, “The evolution of resettlement and rehabilitation policy speaks about the role all these agencies have played over the period of the last 15 years. All these NGOs have formed their federation named Sampoorna Punarvasan, meaning complete resettlement. Problems faced by the NGOs during implementation of the Scheme In the Narmada Project in Gujarat where NGOs were engaged with IDPs community development activities, NGOs’ experience with the state government has not been very happy. NGOs have faced some difficulties in monitoring and implementation of R&R.”
NGOs listed following problems while getting involved in R&R: “(i) Leaders of host villages did not cooperate and they discouraged our efforts. (ii) political hurdles. (iii) tribal women did not cooperate due to the fear of their husbands and feeling shy to come forward.” They further explained that, “while NGOs were assisting in preparing the R&R plans; a similar kind of power was not provided during the implementation of R&R in the field. This frequently led in some conflicts between NGOs and the government. In surveyed villages, it seems that due to these clashes, one could observe some excessive delays of implementation of resettlement.”
An interview with the women-based NGO Sahiyar showed that “gender inequalities in reimbursement for involuntary displacement and resettlement resulting from land acquisition in the country may have negative impacts on family well-being. As land titles are mostly held by men, cash compensation for land or other assets is usually given to the male head of household who may not share it equitably with other family members. Women and others with use rights to land may not be compensated for loss of livelihood”.
During interviews, the researcher observed “unanticipated problems during my field-work” which included:
(i) Individuals were not ready to discuss the human rights issues. They did not want to open their mouth against the government may be due to fear or some direct pressure.
(ii) They also suggested to me I ought not to write on human right issues and say anything against government especially as I am doing this research from overseas.
(iii) Academics seemed concerned about this issue but they considered this human rights issue as very sensitive. Whilst they had sympathy for the victims they seem helpless against government power and local influence.
(iv) Respondents were not ready to record their interviews because they had fears and felt insecurity that information may be misused overseas or may be misinterpreted by the investigator. So it was very difficult to memorize and to note down a whole 30 to 40 min of any talk at one time.
(v) After giving an interview, a majority of the respondents were feeling insecure and also feared to discuss further with the investigator, as the researcher was from overseas. After completing the interview, respondents were calling the investigator constantly and telling her to take care of their talk/views and not to misinterpret them at the international level. They were afraid.
(vi) Due to some pressure from the officials, the researcher here analyses some views in a neutral way and could not obtain desired critical results as anticipated.

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