History of Dam Displacement: Dams and Accumulation by Dispossession

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Dams and Accumulation by Dispossession
Social and Cultural Aspects of Displacement
History of Dam Displacement:
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Cash compensation packages, e.g. Tehri Dam in Himachel Pradesh,
James Bay I in Quebec, Aswan Dam in Egypt, Chixoy Dam in Guatemala,
Kariba Dam in Zambia. For people who live off the land, cash compensation
has not enabled them to regain their previous quality of life.
In a majority of dam displacements, the population consists of
indigenous or ‘tribal’ peoples, living mainly by subsistence agriculture, slash
and burn cultivation, and or pastoralism.
All such populations have lacked written recognition of their historical
rights to the land they lived on.
In most such cases:
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displacement …culminates in physical exclusion from a geographic territory and economic and
social exclusion from a set of functioning social networks. The risks associated with
displacement include landlessness, homelessness, economic marginalisation, food insecurity,
increased morbidity, loss of common resources, and the disarticulation of community
networks. The key economic risks to affected people arise from the loss of livelihood and
income sources such as arable land, common property, and decreased access and control of
productive resources. For indigenous or tribal peoples, resettlement has often been
accompanied by lack of consultation, forcible evacuation, dispossession of lands and common
property, human rights violations, inadequate or no compensation, and cultural alienation
(Cernea 1997).
Land for Land Compensation
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Provides the theoretical possibility that the displaced may recover
their previous life-style.
Often portrayed as a ‘development package’, as in the Sardar
Sarovar case.
Sardar Sarovar compensation was one of the first to provide some
land as compensation.
But does it work?
Problems with Resettlement
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NWDT (1979) awarded each household head with 5 acres of irrigated land. Only later were major sons
added, and that after much struggle, in 1987. NWDT award also included the promise of schools,
dispensaries, cremation grounds, gram panchayats, water taps and electricity.
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Widows and daughters were disenfranchised.
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5 acres of land is much less than the total area cultivated in the hills, where they had access to
forested land and brought new lands into cultivation.
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Also, loss of common resources, e.g. wood for housebuilding fuel, and implements, medicinal herbs
and forest fruits and berries, fish from the streams, forest areas for fodder and grazing, all of which were
important supplements to their life-style.
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Many complaints about the quality of land given as compensation, i.e. that it was barren,
rocky, unirrigated, prone to water-logging, saline.
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When I visited 7 resettlement sites in 1997-98, I found that there had been no harvest in
those years, due to the above problems. All households had at least one member working for
wages as an agricultural worker, or had migrated to nearby cities to search for work.
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Food consumption had also decreased, most of the animals had died due to lack of
fodder and disease, women’s silver had been sold off, and some people were going into
serious debt.
1995-1999: People tried to return to submerging villages.
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Rameshwarpuri 1999: 8 displaced adivasis died due to malnutrition and heat exposure.
Agricultural wage work was being sold to them as a ‘development’ package.
Dams are the first step in the privatization of water resources, since they
appropriate local communities’ control over water and place this control in the
hands of governments and corporations.
Food for Thought: If 80 million people worldwide are being displaced by dams,
and the majority have not even received land for land compensation, what is
happening to them?
80 Million Worldwide Have Been Displaced by Dams
over the Past 50 Years
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The picture of so many people being torn from their common resources and forced into wage
work calls to mind Marx’s vivid descriptions of the ‘enclosure of the commons’ in England in
the 18th century; a process which was a forerunner to the rise of capitalism as an economic
system:
‘A multitude of small farmers, who maintained themselves and families by the produce of the ground they occupy and by the
animals kept on a common…and who therefore had little occasion to purchase any of the means of subsistence, were
converted into a body of men who earned their subsistence by working for others, and who are now under a necessity of going
to market for all that they want… Circumstances of the poorer were altered in almost every respect for the worse. From little
occupiers of land, they were reduced to the state of day-labourers and hirelings…(Marx, 1976: 477).
‘Primitive Accumulation’
Also called accumulation by dispossession.
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If this is true, then dam displacement and other failed development projects fit into a familiar neo-liberal
jigsaw: they may fail in their stated goals as development projects, but they do succeed in bringing
capitalism to the periphery. They do this not only by creating consumer markets, but also by creating a
class (a very large class, I might add) of people who have nothing but their capacity to work to sell on the
market-place, people who have become dependent on the market for both wages and consumer articles.
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