Economic & Political
march 15, 2008
Accumulatn y Dspssssnn inda
here is a rich intellectual traditiono engaged scholarship, where re-search is sparked by the issuesand concerns o ordinary people and in-ormed by a commitment to their strug-gles. This slim volume brought out by Perspectives, a non-unded independentresearch group started by some studentsand teachers in Delhi University, belongsto this tradition.
It is a thoughtul andprovocative critique o the dominantparadigm that shapes developmentalpolicy in India. Displacement has beenan integral constitutive component o the process o development in India. ThePerspectives Team (hereinater Perspec-tives) seeks to address and reute thepremise that development necessarily and inevitably involves costs in termso displacement.To do this, the group explores the way in which the process o developmentsystematically expropriated sections o the population even as others – thepowerul and dominant section – cor-nered the gains and benets. The pro-cess is ostered through orest laws, inthe name o preser vation o wildliesanctuaries, the rush to exploit mineralresources, the large dams, the jugger-naut o urbanisation and more recently through the promotion o special eco-nomic zones. As part o this investigationthey also visited a resettlement colony in Delhi, coal mines and the villages where land acquisition is imminent in Asansol and Durgapur, the Chandil damsite, sites or the proposed iron andsteel actories in Tentoposi, villagesaected by Turamidih uranium mines,and the Dalma elephant sanctuary inJharkhand. So the analysis is rmly rooted in an attempt to comprehend theactual experiences o the people on whom sacrices are imposed in the nameo “development”, peoples at the margino society or whom it is a matter o lieand livelihood.The book begins by reuting the argu-ment that the link between developmentand displacement is an outcome o aulty legal structures. Beginning with a discus-sion o the legal ramework, Perspectiveslooks at a whole range o laws rom theForest (Conservation) Act and the Wild-lie (Protection) Act, to the Panchayats(Extension to the Scheduled Areas) Act,and the Special Economic Zones Act (the
s Act, in short) to show how thesocial context o the enactment and im-plementation o laws leads to the in-ringements o the rights and interests o already marginalised people – landlesslabourers, small peasants, tribals anddalits. At the same time, legal saeguardsand protections or these sections are inpractice subverted.One o the most powerul legal princi-ples that have been deployed to eect thedisplacement o people is that o “eminentdomain”. The principle enshrined in thecolonial Land Acquisition Act o 1894 was used to take over land or mines,plantations and railways while cement-ing the strategic position o the Indiancolony as a supplier or cheap raw mate-rials or the British industrial revolution.The law allows the state to acquire landor “public purpose” by executive at while disregarding considerations o thelie and livelihood o those dependent onthese lands. It was deployed in the pursuito the goals o developmental planningthat was to realise the Nehruvian visiono a modern industrial India. The law con-tinues to enjoy legitimacy and sanction inthe period o liberalisation where it isused to make land resources available tocorporate capital. It is or instance at theheart o land acquisition under the
s Act. Public purpose in this Act is stretchedto include real estate development, leisureand entertainment, and a vaguely denedsocial inrastructure.One o the most pressing issues raisedby Perspectives is the need to critiquethis colonial relic. Through this principlethe power o the state is pitted againstinterests o the people not or wider pub-lic good but to acilitate the pursuit o private prots. It is the lever that enablesthe dispossession and displacement o the labouring poor, turning over landand the common property resources thathave ormed the basis o their livelihoodto industrialists and corporations. Themagnitude o the problem o displace-ment, the abysmal record o rehabilita-tion, especially in the context o theprotests around the Narmada Valley project, orced the issue into public de-bates. But even the recently notiedNational Rehabilitation and Resettle-ment Policy o 2007 – meant to saeguardthe interests o those displaced by the de- velopment projects – is built around thesanctity o the principle o eminent do-main (and the amended Land Acquisition Act that urther extends the meaning o “public purpose”).The 1894 Act was the product o acolonial state that had wrought its ownindustrial revolution through the enclo-sure o the commons – a process thatthrew masses o the peasantry out o itstraditional lands, creating the industrial working class. The enclosure movement was an integral part o the historicalprocess o plunder and expropriation –“primitive accumulation” – that orgedcapitalist relations.
From the account o India‘s developmental process presentedby the Perspectives team, it would appearthat the spirit o this Act has beenpreserved and is now being deployed topromote the neoliberal agenda thathas drawn India more securely into theembrace o global corporate capitalism.
Accumulation by Dispossession
has argued that imperialism inthe age o neoliberalism has rediscovered“the original sin o simple robbery”. Globalcapitalism continues to recreate, preserveand extend itsel through an ongoingprocess o primitive accumulation. InHarvey’s exposition this process o “accumulation by dispossession” is actively
Abandoned: Development and Displacement
by The Perspectives Team;
Perspectives, New Delhi, 2007; pp 196, Rs 50.