Developmental Consequences: Causing displacement, violating human rights!


The consequences of almost all developmental projects lead to forced displacement of millions from their roots thereby denigrating them from their culture, customs and languages. Hence the process of displacement and rehabilitation ought to be executed as a last resort in a more humanistic way.



Indeed, all developmental or infrastructural projects being carried out by developing states are major forces of displacement in the world, particularly in South Asia. They cause an adverse impact on millions of people as they deprive them of their livelihood, their shelters that stand in the way of dams, highways, or other large-scale construction projects and also their social and cultural systems besides pushing them mostly into abject poverty. In fact, land acquisition has destroyed their life style and social setting and has violated their basic human rights. Although, as in some cases, the project affected population have protested tooth and nail against their displacement, others have simply acquiesced while expecting huge rehabilitation packages which they rarely receive. As a consequence, people’s responses against infrastructural development have become a prominent phenomenon on the socio-cultural and political scene of our times. The anti-infrastructure development movement, comprising displaced people has given a boost by the active support of diverse groups creating an atmosphere more receptive to displacement and rehabilitation issues. The resistance against land acquisition has become organised and sustained and has had a profound influence on the entire discourse of displacement and rehabilitation leading to marginalization. Evidently, all these require the urgent attention of states to systematically address the displacement consequences of development because as Alphonso Alvares, Claude and Ramesh Billorey comment: “No trauma could be more painful for a family than to be uprooted from a place where it has lived for generations. Yet, the uprooting has to be done, because the land occupied by the family is required for development projects which hold the promise of progress and prosperity for the country and people in general. The family getting displaced thus makes a sacrifice so that others may live in happiness and be economically better off.”

In fact, development is needed for progress and to meet the emerging requirements of the people at large. Since development process involves huge expenditure of money, it lets to emerge several immoral and corrupt nexus among policy makers, executioners and middlemen operating between the plan executioners and the local people affected by the development planning. As development planning in itself is a policy matter that opens many doors of dissenting voices during the framing of policy decisions, it diverts the overall focus on redress of grievances of the local people. As a result, several forces representing various kinds of interests operate at different levels of plan formulation, execution and redress of grievances of the victims so affected. While policy formulators are guided by their own political interests- selfish or otherwise- plan executioners focus only on their target and they mostly remain unconcerned with the local complaints of the development site, the local residents of that area become the worst sufferers of the development plan being carried out because they are to be uprooted from their ancestral homes and such other belongings. It is therefore necessary that they be involved in the policy formulation of plans so that their concerns may be properly discussed and understood and so be properly addressed. Their prior involvement will considerably help in resolution of many of the local level problems and better reconciliation of diverse interests of the natives.

This paper is about the very painful and traumatic consequences which befell upon millions of people all over the world who are forcibly displaced from their ancestral homes and lands in order to facilitate the process of urbanisation and development. While the introduction of the paper discusses the issues involved, the second part deals with the extent and impact of displacement caused by development projects along with Michael Cernea’s eight interlinked potential risks intrinsic to displacement. The third part describes the disproportionately affected indigenous people & ethnic minorities and the next analyses the challenges of displacement and rehabilitation. Afterwards, it details the narratives about Human rights Law and development-induced displacement along with details about Development induced-displacement in the Guiding Principles. Thereafter it elaborates the provisions pertaining to Protection of affected people by development projects. Lastly, it comes about with conclusion and suggestions in favour of resorting to displacement only as a last option and that too with utmost care and in a well-planned manner so that number of affected people be least and they must also be duly consulted. Further, suitable policies and development paradigms must be framed which may minimise the loss of fertile land for farming purposes and other sources of water along with flora and fauna. The tendency to grab extra land must be curbed while stopping displacement for non-priority issues besides being sensitive and responsible towards the people so-affected by displacement and also devising different institutional means for their better prospects, thereby protecting their human rights.


Extent and impact of the displacement caused by development projects

While an estimated 25 million people are displaced worldwide by conflict as mentioned in a report entitled “Development-induced displacement” prepared by Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) and Norwegian Refugee Council, the number of people uprooted by development projects is thought to be much higher. In 1994, a study of all World Bank-assisted development projects from 1986-1993 that entailed population displacement found that just over half were in the transportation, water supply and urban infrastructure sectors according to the same report . Extrapolating from World Bank data to derive estimates of global figures, the study concluded that, in the early 1990s, the construction of 300 high dams (above 15 metres) each year had displaced four million people. Urban and transportation infrastructure projects accounted for six million more displaced each year. On-going industrialisation, electrification and urbanisation processes are likely to increase, rather than reduce, the number of programmes causing involuntary population displacement. Causes or categories of development-induced displacement include the following: water supply (dams, reservoirs, irrigation); urban infrastructure; transportation (roads, highway, canals); energy (mining, power plants, oil exploration and extraction, pipelines); agriculture expansion; parks and forest reserves; and population redistribution schemes. The consequent sufferings of the displaced people generally aggravate due to lack of transparency and accountability of agencies responsible for resettlement. Other factors that contribute to the feeling of helplessness among displaced people include-partial and delayed information, weak efforts to ensure participation of affected communities and non-responsiveness to grievances. As a result, a number of socio-economic and occupational changes do occur in the social structure of the affected region. Evidently, there is growing consensus in rehabilitation and resettlement literature that the displacement process leads to a decline in living standards and heightens impoverishment. A renowned social anthropologist Michael Cernea’s Impoverishment Risk and Reconstruction Model (Cernea, Michael and Hari Mohan Mathur (Eds.) 2000; Can Compensation Prevent Impoverishment, New Delhi: Oxford University Press, pp 208-26.) is a significant approach in displacement and resettlement research which shows how displacement goes hand in hand with physical, social, and economic exclusion, culminating in a broad range of impoverishment risks. His findings on development-induced displacement and resettlement research for the World Bank, point out that being forcibly ousted from one’s land and habitat carries with it the risk of becoming poorer than before displacement, since a significant portion of people displaced do not receive the adequate compensation for their lost assets, and effective assistance to re-establish themselves productively. Michael Cernea1999, “Why Economic Analysis is Essential to Resettlement: A Sociologist’s View.” In Michael Cernea (ed) The Economics of Involuntary Resettlement: Questions and Challenges (Washington, DC: World Bank) has identified eight interlinked potential risks intrinsic to displacement. These are put hereunder as key impoverishment risks with their implications for the so-affected people:

  1. Landlessness: Expropriation of land removes the main foundation upon which people’s productive systems, commercial activities, and livelihoods are constructed. This is the principle form of pauperisation of the displaced people. Once people lose their land to development projects, it becomes very difficult for them to own land again due to scarcity of agricultural land for resettlement and inadequate compensation to replace the lost land. Landlessness brings about changes in occupation, reduce ability to hold assets (livestock) and lessens food supply and resource base for securing other necessities. For those who succeed in getting land for land, the average size of the land holding decreases, the land quality changes for the worse and livestock holding is also reduced. Unless the land basis of the productive system is reconstructed elsewhere or replaced with steady income-generating employment, affected families become impoverished.
  2. Joblessness: The risk of losing wage employment is very high both in urban and rural displacements for those employed in enterprises, services or agriculture. When landowners lose their land, landless agricultural labourers working for them also lose their source of income and employment to support their families. Small enterprise, traditional artisans and wage labourers are also adversely affected. Similarly, tribal people living in and around forests also depend on shifting cultivation and forest produce collections. When forestland is also taken over for industrial purposes along with plain lands, people lose their traditional rights over forest products apart from occasional agricultural work. In fact, competition with host communities in new set-ups forces displaced people to take-up non-traditional jobs at relocation sites. The impoverishing effects of unemployment or underemployment among resettled people last for quite long time and mostly compel them to opt for seasonal and interstate migration and to work as bonded labour or child labour for minors. Lacking other income sources, women, children and even adult men engage in menial activities such as collecting firewood from forests near to their homes. Yet creating new jobs is difficult and requires substantial investment.
  3. Homelessness: Loss of home or shelter leads to the deprivation of cultural identity and space and, ultimately, paves way towards cultural impoverishment. It tends to be only temporary for many people being resettled; but, for some, homelessness or a worsening in their housing standards remains a lingering condition. In fact, home gives a sense of belonging, social and psychological security and an assurance of togetherness. It enshrines and enriches life and provides psychological and spiritual attachment with ancestors. The feeling of oneness and attachment to one’s birthplace and kin members is a binding force in the social structure.

    Homes of tribal and backward communities often include domestic animals and livestock adds as their supplementary income. While a few “better-off” displaced people spend a sizable proportion of the compensation amount in building a house after relocation, the tribal and other backward classes take more time to do so as they remain busy collecting food from outside or working as labour most of the day and use their homes only for cooking, storing and sleeping. In a broader cultural sense, loss of a family’s individual home and the loss of a group’s cultural space tend to result in alienation and status deprivation.

  1. Marginalisation: Marginalisation occurs when families lose economic power and spiral on a “downward mobility” path. Many individuals cannot use their earlier-acquired skills at the new location; human capital is lost or rendered inactive or obsolete. Displaced people in new locations are often considered “outsiders” and experience identity crises and feel deprived when treated as strangers. They face cultural crises as well as problems of adjustment and lose their self-respect and confidence. In India, the tribal people share a long heritage and accordingly place great value on their culture. And consequent upon a top down decision-making process on relocation, low compensation and the manner in which people are treated, the tribals mostly fail to assert their voice and the resultant low self-perception leads to an acceptance of their subordinate status and thus they do not demand benefits for themselves. Economic marginalisation is often accompanied by social and psychological marginalisation expressed by a drop of in social status, loss of confidence, a feeling of injustice and deepened vulnerability. Also people with low self-esteem then become involved in self-destructive activities like excessive drinking of liquor, petty crimes, destruction of forests etc. Further, displacement pushes them into repetitive, unrewarding seasonal migration for construction and other temporary work and marginalises them and their subsequent generations
  2. Food Insecurity: Forced uprooting increases the risk that people will fall into temporary or chronic undernourishment, defined as calorie-protein intake levels below the minimum necessary for normal growth and work. The rural communities usually collect their food from three sources- their own crops, surrounding forests/water bodies and local markets. Food or nutritional security depends on sustained production, access to forests and water sources, better market availability and the purchasing of the displaced people. In their absence they find scarcity of food at new locations and fall prey into the vicious circle of unemployment, poverty and chronic undernourishment. Further, due change of their native places, the new locations require different kind of cropping pattern with which they happen to unaware and that causes the unfamiliar problem of food insecurity.
  3. Increased Morbidity and Mortality: Displacement-induced psychological and socio-cultural stress, the use of unsafe water supply and improvised sewage systems, increase vulnerability to epidemics and chronic diarrhoea, dysentery, or particularly parasitic and vector-borne diseases such as malaria, dengue and schistosomiasis etc. are the immediate consequences of involuntary resettlement which lead to fast deterioration in health standards. Also, when such displaced people are forced to live for a long time in camps with poor and unhygienic conditions, diseases spread rapidly. Among the groups most vulnerable are women, children and elderly people. In fact, health hazards are the common experiences for resettled people and those with whom they come in contact in the process of resettlement and all these increase the risk of morbidity and mortality.
  4. Loss of Access to Common Property: For poor people, particularly for the landless and asset-less resettled communities, loss of access to the common property assets (pastures, forest lands, water bodies, burial grounds, quarries and so on) result in significant deterioration in income and livelihood levels because the common property resources at resettlement sites are mostly far less than what they earlier have had in their native places. Tribal people depend most on such resources and that they are bound to lose when forced to resettle elsewhere. Also, the quality of facilities also gets worsened after displacement.
  5. Social Disintegration: Displacement causes a profound unravelling of existing patterns of social organisation. This unravelling occurs at many levels. When people are forcibly moved, production systems, life-sustaining informal networks, trade linkages, etc. are dismantled besides addition of other risks such as the loss of access to public services, degradation of environment, loss of access to schooling for school-age children, and the loss of civil rights or abuse of human rights, such as loss of property without fair compensation, or violence from security forces or risks of communal violence in resettlement areas.

Disproportionately affected indigenous people & ethnic minorities

Studies on the social impact of development projects in South Asia in the earlier mentioned report entitled “Development-induced displacement” prepared by Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) and Norwegian Refugee Council suggest that indigenous people and ethnic minorities are disproportionately affected (same report. Coming from politically marginalised and disadvantaged strata of society, these groups often end up neglected and impoverished. In India, the Adivasi or tribal people, although only representing eight percent of the total population, make up 40-50 per cent of the displaced (same report. In Nepal, indigenous groups displaced by a dam on the Kaligandaki River have lost their land and livelihood and have reportedly been inadequately compensated (same report. The livelihood of an estimated 35,000 indigenous Ibaloi people is threatened by the construction of the San Roque Dam in the Philippines (same report. Mon, Karen and Tavoyans in Myanmar Burma are probably among the worst off, displaced by large infrastructure projects and subject to forced labour and abuses by the military.

Challenges of displacement and rehabilitation

Although challenges of displacement and resultant rehabilitation are multi-fold and they can’t be precisely described, yet a reasonably brief description would be pertinent here to illustrate the gravity of the situation under such circumstances. In fact, the organisation of any society crucially involves the environment as an important factor in determining the relationships between human beings and nature. The adaptations human beings make to adjust to a particular environment are clearly reflected in all such major institutions of society. The displacement and rehabilitation bring forth several changes in the social structure hitherto unknown to the displaced people. In reality, the resettlement entails a new life full of agonising hardships to them. They are forced to struggle to adapt to a new environment and to improvise strategies to meet their basic means of survival. To sustain themselves and for practical considerations they have to make changes in certain social relationships as they stand exploited and marginalised in the new environment and social setup. In terms of survival, the problems they face vary from practical ones such as lack of fuel, water and wood to interpersonal kinds of familial adjustments and the selection of a suitable life partner besides several cultural changes in dress patterns, hairstyles and use of cosmetics etc., which are largely due to contact with other people in the new environment. Their poor economic conditions also force them to depend on moneylenders. Consequent upon all these hardships, the resettled people internalise a sense of helplessness and powerlessness because of encounters with the powerful external world into which they are pushed without adequate preparation. They also do internalise the value system of a formal society that do not recognise their social and economic contribution and culture and, hence, they consider their own society and culture as irrelevant or of little value. Such kind of internalisation makes them considerably incapable of rebuilding their lives, let alone improving their lifestyles. Thus their standards of living, social status and self-esteem also decline. The physical condition of resettlement sites, small landholdings or landlessness and lack of livelihood created a sense of alienation, anger and helplessness among the displaced people due to their inability to change their situation. In host villages where land was purchased by the displaced people who have no kinsmen, mistrust or estrangement over resource sharing (especially common property resources and civic amenities) soon become common and social harmony becomes difficult to achieve. Since village-system gets broken up, a sense of community feeling is lost. One becomes unwanted among hostile strangers that at times openly harass the resettled community. As compared to their past living conditions, the resettled people mostly find themselves to be the biggest losers in the process of development, says Pankaj Kumar. (Kumar, Pankaj 2013; Development, Displacement and Human Rights Violations, World Affairs, New Delhi, Vol. 17 No 3 (July-September) Autumn, pp. 106-33.)


Thus the trauma of displaced people is essentially beyond the purview of any sort of compensation. In fact, this ought to be the guiding principle for a state or an agency seeking displacement of people from their ancestral houses and immovable properties for development projects. In fact, the so displaced people mostly do sacrifice a lot by throwing themselves into a new environment of abject penury and various kinds of hardships so that others may live comfortably. This fact should be seriously sympathetically considered by those entrusted with the task of resettlement of such people, so as to convince them (resettled people) that development is necessary for the whole country and its populace and that they, as responsible citizens, are extending their due for a noble cause of national service. While, on the one hand, the process of displacement should be accomplished as a last resort, with utmost care and in a well-planned manner, the affected people be adequately compensated treated while having mandatory due consultation with them so as to ensure least possible agony for them and also a bright and prosperous future of meaningful life. To lessen the chances of displacement, the suitable policies and development paradigms be framed that may minimise the loss of fertile land for farming purposes and also sources of water and available flora and fauna. The tendency to grab extra land must be curbed and displacement for non-priority issues be totally stopped. The government must remain very responsive and careful towards displaced people and must address their grievances on priority basis by making effective institutional arrangements at the grass root levels.