Development Refugees

In their rush to make development happen, planners and developers some times forget, or push to the side, people who just happen to be in the way.

Rameswar Choudhary points to a mark where the Rapti washed away almost two ropanis of his land. Tourist brochures may call it Asia's best managed park, but to him, it poses a direct threat to his livelihood. So successful was the USAID-sponsored malaria eradication that Chitwan's population jumped from 36,000 in 1950 to about 100,000 in 1960. Today, Chitwan has a population density of 117 persons per sq km.

In 1964, the Land Settlement Com-mission removed 22,000 people from the area to create what is today the Royal Chitwan National Park. They were resettled on the River Rapti's northern bank, which forms the park's natural boundary.

Older Meghauli residents remember the bitterness that was caused by the resettlement. Today, they are only allowed into their onetime home for 15 days a year to collect elephant grass, an indigenous building material. Since they otherwise have no access to fuelwood, villagers admit to entering the park illegally for deadwood and grass. For their extra energy needs, they catch the driftwood which float down the Rapti each monsoon.

Or take the case of Mansabdar Khan. He is a Muslim who was moved to Sagarhawa village 12 years ago because his house came under Lumbini Master Plan Area, a multimillion-rupee plan to develop the environs of Mayadevi's Temple. Mansabdar calls himself a "refugee" because he has never really settled in his new home, with its significantly lower yield, its fuel shortages and because the community is predominantly Hindu.

Meanwhile, closer to the capital at Chobar, Man Man Singh (see Himal prototype issue) and other members of his community were hopeful when they heard a cement plant was going to be set up near their home. Jobs – finally, he thought. And his sons did find employment at the plant. Then, ever hungry for limestone, the plant bought a huge tract of land that included his farm and house. Man Man Singh had no choice but to move further uphill to begin a new life on Chobar Danda, but he had not escaped the painful reminder of his misfortune. Today, as he sleeps, he breathes cement dust.

According to HMG's Environment Impact Study Project, Himal Cement's emissions at the time – before the factory's subsequent expansion – were 450 mg per cubic metre. By comparison, the emission limits for similar factories in West Germany and India are about 120 mg and 250 mg per cubic metre. And rumours are about that the plant may further expand. So Man Man must took for a new place again.

Man Man Singh and the Meghauli villagers share some thing: their problems were caused by development projects aimed at "high social benefits," for the uplifting of someone or other but, apparently, not for them.

These cases are all too familiar in-stances of developers aiming at the "larger good," but in the process, overlooking or undermining those often most directly affected. And there are many such development projects — hydro-projects, roads and wild life parks — that come with a mission to deliver benefits and instead move the lives of people a step or two back, creating "refugees" — people who are physically displaced or whose lives are severely disrupted by the implementation of these projects. Often no adequate compensation – the least that could be done – is even made.

Most development projects need to acquire forest or farm land, villages, towns, rivers and lakes, on which many depend for their livelihood. Thus large numbers of people are displaced from their homes, or their use of resources is markedly curtailed.

If it were only change, it would be understandable. After all, development needs to go on; and there is often no other way but for some to be inconvenienced for the good of many. But what is reprehensible is when these "refugees" – (physical or metaphorical) ¬are inadequately compensated, if at all, or, when they find themselves in far worse straits than before "development" touched them. The result is that a few are made to bear the burden for a sometimes abstract notion of the "larger good." This then is one ugly facet of development.

As far as parks and "refugees" go, the "Rara experience" is a familiar one to most people in the development field. About 200 people were removed from Chapra and Rara villages up in the mountains to establish the proposed park. While that is in itself not bad, they were settled in the sweltering heat of the Nepalgunj plains. No one knows with certainty what happened to them. Some apparently went to work on the highway, others might have succumbed to the heat, malaria, or simply, the pains of such a drastic change. Others are said to have returned to the Rara area, and now continue their broken lives outside their traditional milieus. Even in this day of mega-tragedies, the Rara experience serves to underscore the human distortions caused by well-intentioned attempts to change someone else's environment.

Jamling Tamang, 50, of Dhunche looks despondently at what was once a wheat field. "I thought we would have a sort of a zoo here with animals in cages with the coming of the Langtang Na tional Park. But it's we who have been put behind bars. In cages! Look at that wheat field! It's become a playground for wild boars!" He was referring to the Langtang National Park, an area of 1710 sq km, directly north of Kathmandu.

Dhunche's Pradhan Panch, Chewang Dhingdup, says everyone was a bit fuzzy when rumours started that a national park was going to be established right at their door-step. Nobody knew what one was. And then, three years later, people said, "The national park is set up." But just what was set up, and where, no one knew. Yet another year passed before the park boundary was drawn. And then the Langtang folk knew – because they were in it.

Conceived in 1970, its ….boundaries demarcated six years later, the Langtang National Park was established to protect the habitat of birds and animals such as the snow leopard, musk deer, and boar, among others. It encloses 16 village panchayats of Rasuwa, Nuwakot, and Sindhupal-chowk districts, a population of some 30,000, who depend on the park for fodder and firewood.

"We thought the park would bring in development. Instead, it introduced a lot of new rules. 'Don't touch firewood, don't light medang (a torch made of the inner shavings of pine trees), don't use Pangling wood for roofing, don't kill boars' Just don'ts and don'ts!"

Now, these people are being pestered by bears and boars. "Pestered" is hardly right: there are many "bhalukorey" people (people scarred by bears) in Rasuwa. Boars are regarded as the scourge of crops. And there are many bear-and-boar tales, like the one about the father of the Syabru Pradhan Panch, who was gored to death by a wild boar.

"We are a jungle people. We cannot survive without the jungle," says Gyal-sang Ghaley of Timmurey. "We need a lot of firewood to protect us from the cold, and we need Medang. But the officials put limits on our firewood, and we aren't allowed to cut 'green trees.' Can we get Pangling and Medang from dried wood, I ask you?"

Nima Tamang, another Timmurey resident, complains: "We're told to kill crop-marauding boars, but without guns! That is like trying to kill a tiger by holding onto its tail!"

"When the park was being set up, they went around and destroyed all the baits and traps. Now no one is alive here who knows how to do these things," says Damey Tamang of Bridim.

Now the traps and baits are built by novices. "Instead of boars, buffalo and sheep are trapped," said the RP member. "The traps even got some cows, but the matter had to be hushed up because of legal complications."

Gazing at this "playground of the boars," Jamling Tamang sighs, "This national park has done nothing but cause mischief since it was established."

When they expressed their disgruntlement, the park warden suggested that people build stone walls to keep the boars out, and use GI sheets to replace Gobare Salla as building material. In response, officials visiting the area are often challenged with the question. "Janata pyaro ki janawar pyaro….(Do you care for people or for animals?)"

Director of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation Department, Vishwanath Upreti, sees the problem being rooted in the ignorance and low literacy of the people in the area, but he admits that there is not adequate funding or personnel to spread the conservation message.

Talking to these people, one senses resentment toward what is ostensibly a development effort but one from which they feel they derive no benefit. Many Langtang-bas go as far as wishing they could be relocated elsewhere. As Nima Tamang put it, "What good is this Na-tional Park that is green with trees one cannot cut and teeming with wild boar we cannot hunt?" While not technically so, these people are "refugees" in that they, too, are victims, to some extent, of development.

As important as compensation is – since that is the only remedial measure for people so "touched" by projects- the traumatic experience of a person or community facing such an upheaval cannot be underestimated. More than just being in a new environment, more often than not, these displaced people find themselves significantly worse than before.

As ecologist Tirtha Bahadur Shrestha points out, "The functioning of rural societies and their farming systems have acquired an equilibrium through ages of trial and error. To externalise decision to exert influence in their system one would need careful thought…"

Frequently, development refugees are directly the result of improper implementation. Often compensation is delayed, and peasants are trapped in no-man's land, waiting and unable to find a new livelihood. Complaints about delays as long as a decade have been registered, as in the cases of the Mahendra Rajmarg, Ring Road Plaza at Tinkune in Lalitpur, and housing projects at. Neither has compensation been made to some for land acquired for the Ring Road and the Taragaon Project. This acquisition occurred more than 10 years ago.

Although the Land Acquisition Act (2034-1977) requires that payment of reasonable compensation be made to displaced persons, the experience is otherwise. For instance, the land at Satdobate in Lalitpur district was acquired to develop the Ring Road piazza. Peasants were evicted from their land years ago, but have yet to receive compensation, and it looks doubtful now that the project will be implemented.

What is incredible is that those evicted were compensated Rs.16,000 per ropani (5476 sq feet) for land that would fetch Rs.600,000 or more in the market. Similarly, the evacuees of the Dallu housing project in Kathmandu district, whose land was acquired to build low-cost housing, were compensated Rs.8,000 per ropani against a market value of Rs.300,000. Equally unhappy are the displaced families of Chepawa (Pokhara-Baglung Road Project) and Lamachaur ( Irrigation Project), who feel their land and homes have been snatched away "almost free of cost " – so nominal has been their compensation.

Other complications have been triggered by slothful administration. For example, the Land Acquisition Act stipulates that the government must promptly transfer the land from the original owner to the organisation or project, but because it is seldom done promptly the original owner's name remains in the Land Registry. As a result, the displaced person must continue paying the land tax long after the government acquires his property.

Sometimes these lapses provide an easy avenue for fraud. For instance, unscrupulous land owners may succeed in selling their property again to innocent buyers because of delays in the property transfer. Thus, they get away with two payments for the same land. Sometimes the acquired land is not used for the purpose for which it was purchased. Instead of returning the land to the original owner, as the law requires, it is often sold to third parties for a substantial profit. possible because of the differential between the government's compensation and the property's market value.

There are instances when land is acquired from peasants ostensibly for a project, and lies unused long after the acquisition. The Taragaon Development project was one such case. leaving the displacees perplexed over why their land was taken without reasonable compensation but not used. If people are going to be removed from their land, proper resettlement should be ensured, at least. While eviction is prompt and efficient, these traits seem to vanish when the time to compensate or rehabilitate arrives.

Chulachuli village in Ilam district of eastern Nepal is another notorious failure of social and moral responsibility. The "kippat" area of the Limbus, when they ruled the area, entitled them to certain privileges, such as an absolute right in landholding, transfer, and distribution. At one point, they were also exempted from paying land revenue to the covernment. But an afforestation scheme displaced the 1400 families.

Today, the predominantly Rai-Limbu (80 percent) villagers have still not recovered from what befell them.The Government decided to clear the settlements and acquire the whole Chulachuli area which was inhabited by 1400 families of about 45.000 members. To begin with, 3500 rehabilitation settlements were built in 1Q75. Eventually, the whole population was displaced for the stated nurposc of afforesting the Chulaculi area.

About 800, families were issued legal documents entitling them to alternate settlement land. but half of them are still without land. Apparently the land they had deeds for was already staked by Sukkumbassies or landless wanderers. Many are now refusing to accept alternate land or compensation, fixed at Rs.2000 per bigha ( 72900 sq ft )when its market value is about Rs. 40,000.

All along, meanwhile, migrants have been flowing into Chulachuli, whose original inhabitants were ousted from their homes for an afforestation project. Now for a cruel twist: the afforestation scheme has not left the paper stage, while green forests in Charali and Charali Kechana have been felled to rehabilitate Chulachuli's displaced.

The plight of displaced people – physically or in the sense of a radical disfigurement, as in the case of theLangtang bas – raises a key question of development: how to balance public interest – as represented by a development project – against the well-being of the displaced person? It is easy to blame "the project." but solutions are much harder to come by. And if solutions are difficult in the best of circumstances, how many times must they fail if those whose jobs it is to provide solutions are unconcerned, incompetent. and only out for their self interest?

Many development schemes overlook the non-scientific component. That is the human component: others are outright half-baked. Many end in disrupting the ecology of the area, as well as disrupting peoples' lives. In the case of Chulaculi, what was disrupted – perhaps destroyed – was in effect a living organism complete with a living cultural. social, and economic fabric. Families were separated, dispersed like isolated units, and grafted to communities to which they did not belong. Many, who were landless but had managed to earn a livelihood by serving the community, were neither entitled to compensation nor rehabilitated.

As already mentioned.development must – andwill – take place. even if it means. as in the case of the development refugees it befalls a few persons or a community to make sacrifices for the larger good. But governments are responsible for minimising as far as possible these "sacrifices," for it is antithetical to the humanitarian spirit to, ignore, and especially, to penalise a few for a larger good.

Sometimes a project is successful in achieving its goals, bringing benefits to the larger society while perhaps adversely affecting a few. At other times. the whole undertaking fails, and invariably everyone is affected. Whichever is the case, it is too easy to point the finger at the developer just because the agent is from outside. For example, it would be a larger failure if the better developed "outside" did nothing about the mountain community afflicted by goitre or cretinism because of uniodised drinking water. Often the "people" themselves do not have the "whole picture," as much as the developer from outside, having the skills and knowledge. lacks the local knowledge or is unaware of the local interest. What is important is that development – which means an environment and its people is to be "acted on" – be extra carefully thought out and implemented. Too often, it is this "tread carefully" ethos that is missing.

And what happens is that projects result in victimising a few. who more often than not are unable to protect their own rights – and for a "larger good" that is often nebulous, often improperly implemented, and, thus, largely unrealised.

Reported and compiled by Bharat Raj Uprety. Anil Chitrakar, Kedar Sharma. and Kesang Tseten

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