HYDERABAD: Polavaram project is creating heated debate among people from various walks of life ranging from intellectuals, politicians, news analysts, employees and common man. During these debates importance should be given to the basic question - ‘’Who are going to be adversely affected?’’
Tribals are going to be displaced from their homes. The displacement problem is a very serious problem. According to ‘’Displacement And Rehabilitation Of People Due To Developmental Projects,’’ a document from Lok Sabha secretariat members reference note, around 50 million people have been displaced due to developmental projects over the last 50 years. The situation of the tribes is of special concern as they constitute 40 to 50 per cent of the displaced population.
The need to avoid largescale displacement is felt by all those who are concerned with human rights and who empathise with the problems of tribals. This project is going to displace lakhs of tribals from their homes. Shifting of urban poor from one house to another vastly differs from shifting tribes from their locality. Tribes may not possess the knowledge to adjust to their new locality and even if they are shifted to another forest or other part of the same forest the produce of such a place may not resemble their natural habitat.
The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 recognised the difference between tribes and others. The government recognised tribal rights like right to live in the forest, self-cultivation, and access to collect; use and dispose of minor forest produce, etc. It is important to note that tribes’ connection to forest penetrates deeper than mere question of livelihood and it includes social, cultural, traditional and psychological relation. Whenever government or private sector starts so- called developmental projects they do not consider all these factors.
The existence of common property differs from urban to rural to forest regions. Studies conducted by Chatrapati Singh, a famous environmentalist proved that decrease in common property is one of the causes for common poverty. As tribes mostly live on common property they will suffer from unbearable common poverty. This makes dislocating and integrating tribes in a new locality far more complex than it appears and simply giving them some money does not suffice.
It is a known fact that rehabilitation programmes are not successful. The unsuccessful rehabilitation programmes may lead to unrest among tribes which may attract them towards extremists who promise Jal, Jameen and Jungle to tribes. This may lead to law and order problems and mere use of force will not solve the purpose as long as the rights of tribes are not protected. This unrest is not good for society. Habermas, a German sociologist and philosopher, arguing in favour of deliberative democracy stated that all parties to a dispute should be brought on table and through meaningful discourse controversies should be solved.
The parties to the dispute of Polavaram project are Telangana, Odisha and Chhattisgarh and the tribes against state of Andhra Pradesh. As the axe of developmental projects is heavily falling on tribes in India it is imperative to form a common forum for all tribes so that they can exchange their ideas to strengthen their position through unity which will force governments to start meaningful dialogue with them.
Another important concern is environment. When China constructed Yangtze Three Gorges Project it has been criticised because of the adverse environment impact on forests and wildlife and potential risk due to earthquake. As serious questions on the stability of the Polavaram project are being raised it is imperative that the Centre should answer these questions after proper enquiry.
An ordinary urban dweller may think why should I concern myself with the problems of tribes across India. The reason is simple. Indifference will harm society as a whole. I would like to remind every one the famous poem written by Pastor Martin Niemoller which criticised the cowardice of German intellectuals following the Nazis’ rise to power and purging of their chosen targets group by group.
The poem is as follows:
“First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out - Because I was not a Socialist. Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out - Because I was not a Trade Unionists.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out -
Because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me - and there was no one left to speak for me.’’
Experts have suggested many alternative methods of minimising the displacement of tribes during Polavaram construction. So I implore every one to speak for the rights of tribes and explore the methods of minimum displacement.
(The author is an Assistant Professor at the Nalsar University of Law)