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Abandoned: Development and Displacement Review in EPW

Abandoned: Development and Displacement Review in EPW

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book Review
Economic & Political
march 15, 2008
 Accumulatn y Dspssssnn inda
Ramaa Vasudevan
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 thoughtul 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 (hereinater Perspec-tives) seeks to address and reute 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 – thepowerul and dominant section – cor-nered the gains and benets. The pro-cess is ostered through orest laws, inthe name o preser vation o wildliesanctuaries, 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, villagesaected 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 sacrices are imposed in the nameo “development”, peoples at the margino society or whom it is a matter o lieand livelihood.The book begins by reuting 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-lie (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 saeguardsand protections or these sections are inpractice subverted.One o the most powerul legal princi-ples that have been deployed to eect 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 landor “public purpose” by executive at while disregarding considerations o thelie 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 denedsocial inrastructure.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 prots. 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 notiedNational Rehabilitation and Resettle-ment Policy o 2007 – meant to saeguardthe 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.
book Review
march 15, 2008
Economic & Political
promoted through the neoliberal agenda.In India this process has been driven inparticular through privatisation o re-sources held in common and state redistri-butions in avour o capital (or instance,tax exemptions). The investigations andact ndings o Perspectives are a stark testimony to the process o accumulationby dispossession in India.The book chronicles the various pre-texts by which the Indian state has dis-placed people while serving the interestso corporate capital. Liberalisation hasor instance entailed the active promo-tion o mining interests in the regions o Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Orissa,both through the privatisation o publicsector enterprises and by opening thesesregions to oreign capital (or instance,the Utkal Alumina renery at Kashipurand the
plant at Jagatsighpur). Landis taken over, natural resources, includingorests and rivers, denuded and exploitedby big corporate capital while the ordinary people living in these regions acethe loss o their lands and livelihood.The team’s report o their visit to coalmines around Asansol bears witness tosome o these devastating eects. Themarginalisation o tribals under the orestlaws now subsumed in the recent initia-tives to court industry by granting rightsto degraded orest lands and wastelands– the so-called “multi-stakeholder partner-ship or orestation” that is simply anothermeans o commercialising orests. Again,dams have been one o the major causeso displacement in India. The policy debateon the ecacy, perormance, environmen-tal consequences and cost eectiveness o these large river valley projects continuesin the ace o social movements opposingsuch projects and empirical research dis-puting their benets. What is indisputableis the act o the 40 million people, largely dalits, adivasis, and small and landlesspeasants, displaced due to such projects inIndia. It is equally clear that the biggestbeneciaries are large landowners andorganised industry. Apart rom seizing land to enablecorporate capital to set up mines, dams,inrastructure and other industrialprojects, the state is now deploying the
s Act to takeover vast tracts o land orthe same end o boosting corporate pro-its. As states vie with each other in theiraggressive pursuit o oreign capital,armlands are being handed over toprivate capital or inrastructure deve-lopment in these enclaves with stream-lined procedures, tax breaks and goodinrastructure that aim to lure investors inexport-oriented industries.Even as the state seeks to acilitate theprocedures and concessions or corporatecapital the mechanisms o redress andrehabilitation or those dispossessed by these acquisitions remains opaque, inade-quate and tortuous.Ignoring the recom-mendations o the National Advisory Council, the proposed national rehabilita-tion and relie policy provides or “ast-track exercise or land acquisition” anddoes not incorporate transparent, equi-table and adequate procedures or con-sultation, contestation and compensa-tion. Millions o the labouring poor aredriven out o their lands by this relentlesslogic o accumulation by dispossessionand in the absence o any meaningulrehabilitation policy, seek a livelihood inthe prolierating urban centres. Here too,they bear the brunt o the orces o dis-placement through closures, demolitionsand sealing operations in the name o reashioning the urban landscape into
Essays from
Economic and Political Weekly 
A compilation of essays that were first published in the EPW in a special issue in May 2007. Held together with an introduction by Sekhar Bandyopadhyay,the essays – that range in theme and subject from historiography and military engagements, to the dalit
idealised in traditional songs and the“unconventional protagonists” in mutiny novels – converge on one common goal: to enrich the existing national debates on the 1857 Uprising.The volume has 18 essays by well known historians who include Biswamoy Pati, Dipesh Chakrabarty, Peter Robb and Michael Fisher. The articles are groupedunder five sections: ‘Then and Now’, ‘Sepoys and Soldiers’, ‘The Margins’, ‘Fictional Representations’ and ‘The Arts and 1857’.
Pp viii + 364 2008 Rs 295Available from
Orient Longman Ltd
Mumbai Chennai New Delhi Kolkata Bangalore Bhubaneshwar Ernakulam Guwahati Jaipur LucknowPatna Chandigarh HyderabadContact: info@orientlongman.com

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