Friday, May 12, 2006

Land for Land?

"Drowned Out" is a documentary about Sardar Sarovar Project on River Narmada of India. It talks about some of the pros of dam which include bringing water to drought stricken villages of Western Gujarat and Rajasthan and one of the largest canal irrigation systems in the world. The cons are the submergence of large number of villages and unfair settlement for displaced people. (Environmental effects of the dam have not been discussed.). Unfair settlement seem to be the heart of the issue. Resettlers were offered good land on paper, but when it came to the efficiency of governments in executing, all the resettlers got were poor weeded lands that had abyssmal returns of crops.

Lets face it. India is a densely populated country. Land is scarce and fair resettlement in land takes extremely efficient and politically willed governments to show any useful results. Keeping the merits and demerits of dam apart for a moment, resettlement of people is a key issue in any mammoth developmental project. It becomes all the more complex, when land is scarce and majority of resettlers are illiterate.

The project's foundation stone was laid in 1961. Planners and builders had two generations of time. Yet, planning seemed to be minimal. Why does resettlement have to be Land for Land? Why not exchange land for vocational skills other than farming? Given a couple of generations of time, people would have smoothly made a transition from agriculture to other occupations. I am sure there would be some such skills that can be learnt in a short time as well. I am wondering if any work has been done in that direction.

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