Legacy Note + Translated!

This file is a legacy note. It might not reflect my current views. Also, this text was originally in Hindi. This is a translation.

Development and Displacement. Two Sides of the Same Coin?

First, let’s see what development means. Development - is the act or process of growing or becoming more advanced. Development is change. And change is extremely important. Change is what keeps us going. Humans have evolved immensely ever since they first arrived on Earth. Just like we did, our institutions, our culture, our methods, everything has to evolve. Change is great. Change is something all of us aim at. Without change, there would be only stagnation. And what does stagnation cause? Decay. Without growth, there is only decay. Growth and change are essential for survival. 

When we look at development, we usually mean economic development or social development. Usually, development is the process that countries undergo to become developed countries. Developing countries depend on agriculture mainly. These economies only deal with basic work and work with raw materials. Developed countries have plenty of jobs and a better economy. But let’s look at this from beyond the perspective of Economics. Developed countries have better healthcare, better job opportunities, longer life expectancy, lower child death rates, etc. 

Development is desirable, it’s something all of us strive towards. Not just desirable, but also inevitable. Development is the reason we have access to modern facilities. Development these days is closely related to globalization. Globalization is a term used to describe how trade and technology have made the world a more connected and interdependent place. It means that we have access to material from USA, and USA has access to material from India.

How To Measure Development

Now that we know what development is, the question is how do you measure development? How do you measure something that is so broad?

Firstly, development is usually measured in terms of - 

  • GDP (Gross Domestic Product) per capita
  • Birth rate
  • Death Rate
  • Literacy Rate
  • Life Expectancy

But these are very narrow indicators. Especially in a country like India where the population is so large. All of this don’t look at the distribution of these statistics. While India is one of the fastest growing economies in the world, it is also one of the most unequal countries.

Also, HDI is a better indicator than all of these to measure human development. 

“Human development, as an approach, is concerned with what I take to be the basic development idea: namely, advancing the richness of human life, rather than the richness of the economy in which human beings live, which is only a part of it.” says Amartya Sen, a famous Indian economist. Mahbub ul-Haq and Amartya Sen played a very important role and helped introduce ethics into economics. They just didn’t look at the numbers but also how the numbers affected human life. I think this is the right definition of development, it should be seen how it advances everyone and not just few.

There are so many more indicators that are important - literacy rate, and in my opinion, the most important is - the rate of inequality. India has a very high rate of inequality.

What is Displacement?

Some people might say that displacement is a “necessary evil”. I disagree. But before I explain why, I want to explain what displacement is. Displacement is when । It is usually seen as a part of the developmental process. It occurs when people are forced to leave their homes in a development-driven form of forced migration. Historically, it has been associated with the construction of dams for hydroelectric power and irrigation, but it can also result from various development projects such as mining, agriculture, the creation of military installations, airports, industrial plants, weapon testing grounds, railways, road developments, urbanization, conservation projects, and forestry.

There are two types of displacements -
a) Primary  b) Secondary

Primary displacement is when displacement occurs when people are moved from their traditional lands to make way for a development project

Secondary displacement is is a result of environmental, geographical and socio-political consequences of the development project. For example, if there is a lot of pollution then the people might be forced to relocate.  

So, is displacement necessary for development? 

I’d love to go a little bit into Philosophy here (which happens to be one of the subjects I really love. I wish there was a combination where Philosophy was included along with English and Psychology). In Philosophy, there is a concept called - “utilitarianism”. It was given by Jeremy Bentham. In a single sentence, it can be defined as “the greatest good for the greatest number”. Which means that if something causes harm to one person but benefits ten, then it is overall a thing to do. 

Keeping that in mind, let’s talk about displacement. Displacement is a huge issue. An issue that most of us city dwellers don’t encounter. Displacement is when people are forced to move or relocate so that development projects can be made. Thinking of the concept I mentioned above, it seems okay to cause inconvenience to some people if it helps a larger group of people right? Wrong. First of all, I personally think that ends do not always justify means. And second, would you be okay if you were one of the people who had to relocate?

It’s not just simple as just moving from one place to another. People usually lose their land, their fields, and their livelihoods. 

Michael Cernea in his book, presents eight potential risks of displacement:

  1. Landlessness
  2. Joblessness
  3. Homelessness
  4. Marginalization
  5. Food insecurity
  6. Increased morbidity and mortality
  7. Loss of access to common property
  8. Social Disarticulation

These are all very serious problems that are life-threatening. People who are displaced  experience psychological stress as well as feelings of helplessness and distrust towards their government. The government is tasked with protecting everyone. Are they not citizens? Are they lesser than people of middle or upper class? 

It has been estimated that fifteen million people each year are forced to leave their homes as a result of development projects and that number continues to increase as countries move from developing to developed nations.

Sardar Sarovar Dam

There are many examples of displacement due to developmental projects. Two of the biggest are -
Three Gorges Dam (China), and  Sardar Sarovar Dam (India). Since we’re in India, let’s talk about the  Sardar Sarovar Dam. 

Sardar Sarovar Dam was a part of the Narmada Valley project which oversaw building of many dams. Jawaharlal Nehru inaugurated the project in 1961. World Bank had granted the project a loan of US$200 million. When activists investigated, they found that adequate preparations hadn’t been done. In 1994, the Indian Government asked the World Bank to take back their offer as the State governments were unable to meet the demands of the loans. 

Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) is a social movement spearheaded by native tribals (adivasis), farmers, environmentalists and human rights activists, They have fought peacefully with methods such as hunger strikes.  Medha Patkar and Baba Amte are two of the leaders of this movement. In 1991, Patkar’s 21-day fast brought her close to death.

In the beginning, the villagers were forced to sign different papers and a sum of money was given in return. They were told that the government needs land and that they would be paid for the loss of crops. The government did not help in rehabilitation, they only gave inadequate sums of money.

And, many of the tribals who were displaced did not legally own the land. Because they are tribals, and they’ve lived their there entire lives. Of course they don’t have papers, but it is their home. The government used this to their advantage and said that they will not pay these tribals as they never owned the land.

Officials sources state that the Sardar Sarovar Dam will submerge 182 villages in Madhya Pradesh, 36 in Maharashtra and 19 in Gujarat. But this is only half the truth. The villages counted are just revenue villages, forest villages are not counted.

  • Loss of agriculture and fertile land
  • Loss of jobs
  • Loss of forest land 

The government did not allocate enough resources to counter these.

So I ask you, is it development even if it causes part of the society to be displaced and without a source of income? Is it really development if only some people are benefitting? We are so passionate about development that we forget the sacrifices we are making.  Let’s look at some numbers - 

  • The top 10% of the Indian population holds 77% of the total national wealth.
    73% of the wealth generated in 2017 went to the richest 1%, while
    67 million Indians who comprise the poorest half of the population saw only a 1% increase in their wealth.
  • India is estimated to produce 70 new millionaires every day.
  • 63 million of them are pushed into poverty because of healthcare costs every year - almost two people every second.

**So development, it seems, is only when cities benefit. Cities and rich people benefit, while the majority suffer. This is the great development we talk about. **

Displacement and development go together, but they don’t have to. They happen only because of exploitation of the poor, the uneducated, the voiceless.