Involuntary Resettlement and the Dilemma of Development
Finally, the construction of the long cherished Padma Multipupose Bridge is set to begin by this December and has been scheduled to be completed by December 2013. The bridge, with an estimated cost of $ 2.4 billion will connect 19 districts of the southwestern region of Bangladesh to the east of the country including the capital, Dhaka. Travel time will be reduced significantly boosting trade and commerce.
As envisioned in Vision 2021, Bangladesh aspires to become a middle-income country by the year 2020. Currently, Bangladesh's economic growth lies over six percent, and in order to fulfill this vision the economic growth of the country needs to increase by one more percentage point. That requires Bangladesh to expand its infrastructure, which is currently holding back the country's development.
Behind nation building and infrastructure development, there lies a more complex picture of benefits and impacts experienced by local people. It is precisely to address these challenges caused by the involuntary resettlement of the affected people that BRAC Development Institute organised a round table conference. This was in association with the Madaripur Legal Aid Association on June 12 in Madaripur.
“The objective of this round table discussion is to advocate government stakeholders to develop a new national policy that shall result in the rehabilitation and resettlement of the affected populace who are going to lose their land or livelihood as a result of all infrastructure development projects that shall take place in this country,” says Muhammad Jahangir, Executive Director of Centre for Development Communication at the inauguration of the Conference. “ Previously, in co-operation with Prothom Alo, BRAC Development institute has hosted a conference in Dhaka where concerned experts have put forward their suggestions. In this instance we have come to Madaripur to listen to the views of the people affected by the construction of Padma Bridge.”
Ruhul Amin from Bakurugundi, Shiblar Char, literally breaks down as he tries to describe the dire situation his family is in. “We face an uncertain future. It is good that the government is using the land for the development of the nation but we should receive fair compensation.”
Unfortunately, Ruhul Amin's story is not an isolated account; rather it is a reflection of the sufferings of tens of thousands of people who shall be displaced as a result of infrastructure development.
The Round Table Conference organised by BRAC Development Institute.
Syed Ziauddin Ahmed, director of Power and Participation Research Centre (PPRC), a participant at the round table discussion says, “ When there is infrastructure development, the government has to acquire land. For this the government has to compensate and rehabilitate the populace who sacrifice their land, and their livelihood, for the sake of the nation. Unfortunately, the current laws in place are unfair for these people who sacrifice so much for the sake of the development of this nation. There are cases where affected households have not received their compensation in 30 years. Any national policy dealing with the subject would have to have built-in mechanisms for accountability and transparency.”
The Ministry of Land is the concerned authority that deals with the process of land acquisition in accordance with the Acquisition and Requisition of Immovable Property Ordinance 1982 (Ordinance 11 of 1982). The law fails to take into account some of the important ground realities of Bangladesh. Add to that all the bureaucratic complications prevalent in the government institutions and the affected population finds it very difficult to utilise the compensation and recover from the economic uncertainty that results from involuntary resettlement.
“Not only are registered land costs misleading, but in Bangladesh, land is often passed from one generation to another on the basis of the word of mouth. The affected populace cannot often provide evidence on the ownership of their land, which in reality has belonged to them for generations. As a result, many people lose out completely,” continues Syed Ziauddin Ahmed.
Ahmed explains how the most important concerns are also ignored. The sharecroppers, the landless peasants, the fishermen, the ultra poor populace suffer the most from infrastructure projects.
“Often, the displaced populace is settled on land with little economic value or in places where they shall be unable to continue with their former livelihoods,” says Ahmed. “They are separated from their relatives, their friends and neighbours whom they have known throughout their lives. This causes massive socio economic upheavals and ruins the lives of numerous people. Their children are deprived of education. It might seem an impossible undertaking for the government to accomplish the task of resettling the displaced community in the similar conditions as before, but this is achievable. The government has plenty of khas land and ponds that are occupied by influential land robbers. The government should retake these properties from these land robbers and resettle the affected populace in these areas. Our observation is that the people who are in a nexus with the highly placed power circles get more than their fair share when the development projects take place while the poorest suffer the most,” adds Syed Ziauddin Ahmed. “ Those who lose land know what it is like. Others can never realise their agony.”
Another person affected by involuntary resettlement, Gaffar Hossain a schoolteacher from Bakurugundi, Shiblar Char said, “ When have we ever got fair prices from the government?” he cries in despair, trying hard to hold back his tears.
Reliable sources have informed that that most of the affected populace is not very pleased with the resettlement process.
Humaira Latif Panna, VC of Madaripur Sadar Upazila commented, “They are losing land and livelihood but they cannot even raise the price for going to the concerned authorities for compensation.”
There is no debate that infrastructure needs to be developed rapidly. As mentioned earlier Bangladesh aspires to be a middle-income country by the year 2020. One of the greatest challenges of this nation is the development of its infrastructure and at the same time to prevent infrastructure developments from creating more poverty. The needs and concerns of people displaced by development projects have to be given greater priority in any new resettlement policy.
(R) thedailystar.net 2010