Issues of Large-scale Dam Resettlement and Rehabilitation: Case of Bilaspur, Himachal Pradesh

Date01 December 2019
AuthorAseem Mishra
Publication Date01 December 2019
Issues of Large-scale
Dam Resettlement
and Rehabilitation:
Case of Bilaspur,
Himachal Pradesh
Aseem Mishra1
Large chunks of land have been acquired in different parts of India for large-
scale infrastructure projects, such as dams, power stations, etc., in the past.
The Bhakra Dam project, being one such large-scale project executed imme-
diately after the Independence, displaced thousands of families without having
any proper rehabilitation mechanism in place. The old Bilaspur town (OBT) was
part of land acquired for construction of the reservoir for Bhakra Dam, known
as Gobind Sagar Lake. The new Bilaspur township was established to rehabili-
tate families originally living in the OBT. Presently, second or third generation
of these families are living on these allotted plots in the new town. This article
is an attempt to unfold the flaws in the undertaken rehabilitation policy which
has led to unplanned and haphazard development in the town as well as created
problems for both oustees and public authorities. These problems continue to
persist in present times also, thereby limiting the citizens to avail benefits of the
recent policy for regularisation of encroachments and the newly launched hous-
ing programme—Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana.
Bhakra Dam, Bilaspur, displacement, oustees, rehabilitation
The construction of large dams has been considered as projects implemented
for public purposes as their creation may lead to an increase in the amount of
Indian Journal of Public
65(4) 848–868, 2019
© 2019 IIPA
Reprints and permissions:
DOI: 10.1177/0019556119873444
1 Urban Planner, ‘Homes in the City’ Programme, Bhuj, Kutch, Gujarat, India.
Corresponding author:
Aseem Mishra, Programme Director, ‘Homes in the City’ Programme, Bhuj, Kutch 370001, Gujarat,
Mishra 849
available energy and lower its price, in turn, contributing to speedier economic
growth of the nation. In addition, these projects may yield other economic bene-
fits such as creation of thousands of new jobs and income from tourism. However,
increased energy security and well-being of urban residents cannot be achieved at
the cost of violation of fundamental rights such as people’s right of land and
resources, thus violating the basic right to dignified life or life with dignity.
Unfortunately, a number of economic development policies of developing states
regard involuntary resettlement as a necessary and unavoidable cost of develop-
ment, and the people affected by it as victims of a just cause (Terminski, 2013).
The notion of ‘sacrifice’ has influenced thinking on displacement considerably
and led to the perception of resettlement and rehabilitation (Bartolome, de Wet,
Mander, & Nagaraj, 2000).
It is estimated that each year during the 1980s and 1990s, development projects
caused the displacement of 10 million people worldwide. In recent years, more
specialists have spoken of approximately 15 million development displacements
per year. In the 1990s, we had already observed an increasing number of people
displaced following the construction of dams in India and China (Terminski, 2013).
The mega dam projects initiated in several regions of the world from the 1940s
and 1950s of the last century onwards has already led to a large increase in the
level of development-induced displacements. Indian independence led to acceler-
ated economic growth, largely based on dam construction. In 1947, dams were
called ‘Temple of Modern India’ by the then Prime Minister Shri Jawaharlal
Nehru. Today, there are nearly 4,000 dams in India alone. Among the projects
launched in the 1940s, it seems worth mentioning the construction of three dams:
Tungabhadra (53,000 people displaced), Hirakud (110,000 displaced) and Gandhi
Sagar (about 51,000–61,000 displaced). A project which became a particularly
important symbol of India’s independence and economic development following
the age of colonialism was the construction of Hirakud Dam, carried out between
1948 and 1957, and strongly supported by Nehru. It led to the forcible resettle-
ment of 22,000 families, the total number of people affected by its construction
being estimated at 150,000 (ibid.). Another period of the intense growth of reset-
tlement in India fell in the first half of the 1970s. Taneja and Thakkar (2000) have
pointed out that the construction of dams could have led to relocation of between
21 and 40 million people in India alone. Among the dams built in India by 1947,
the Pong, Hirakud, Balimela and Sardar Sarovar dams are the noteworthy ones
which led to a high level of involuntary resettlement.
Displacement and resettlement is, however, more than a question of sheer
numbers, though this one is very critical issue in itself. There are several issues
involved such as human rights, governance and accountability, participation
and self-determination in development, the complexities of resettlement goals,
options and strategies and relevant legal and policy instruments; these are but
some of the important ones. Cernea (1995) identifies eight risks—landlessness,
joblessness, homelessness, marginalisation, increased morbidity and mortal-
ity, food insecurity, loss of access to common property and services and social
disarticulation—that emerges due to development-induced displacement. These
risks render resettlement inherently problematic and indeed impoverishment and

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