The unacceptable cost of big development

The unacceptable cost of big development

Krishna river

Upper Krishna Project (UKP), touted as a panacea for the drought-prone North Karnataka region is still incomplete, even after 54 years. The two Krishna Water Disputes Tribunals (1976 and 2010) have allocated 303 TMC of water to UKP out of 911 TMC in Krishna river basin allowed for Karnataka.

UKP is being implemented in three stages and three phases. The first two stages comprising Scheme A are more or less completed using 162 TMC of water. Scheme B for utilising 141 TMC is yet to take off. But Land Acquisition (LA), Resettlement and Rehabilitation (R&R) for Scheme B is proving to be a nightmarish challenge to the state government.

From 1964 to 1976, in phase I of stage I, about 40,000 acres of private land in 42 submerging villages was acquired and used. Those who lost their lands got a pittance as compensation and were thrown out soon thereafter. What happened to them, to their subsistence etc., was irrelevant. No resettlement benefits were given as no such policy existed then in the country. Consequently, around 50,000 people who were thrown out during 1964 -1975 from the Narayanpura reservoir area became scapegoats at the altar of planned development!

By 1994, R&R and LA in UKP had become notorious for scandals, huge corruption and suffering of the oustees. Observing these problems, the World Bank suspended the construction of Almatti Dam till the R&R was improved. Around the same time, the validity period of Bachavat Award of the Krishna Water Disputes Tribunal was nearing the end. Non-completion of the Almatti Dam would mean considerable loss of water to Karnataka.

The state government led by chief minister H D Deve Gowda made drastic changes to R&R policies and created a huge organisation for implementation of R&R and LA. Consent Award system was introduced through which more than 90% owners of lands and buildings were happy to receive more than adequate compensation for the lost assets.

Under the revised R&R policy, free housing sites were given to displaced families. As many as 25 types of basic civic facilities were provided in the resettlement centres (RC). Using house construction grant, most of the oustees built houses in the RCs; the transportation grant and subsistence allowance enabled them to shift to the villages; many of the farmers bought replacement lands through land purchase grant and compensation for which stamp duty and capital gains tax were waived; considerable number of displaced families bought some assets using the income generating scheme grant; 5% reservation in C and D group jobs in government has enabled a good number of people to get employment.

Because of all these measures, Almatti dam construction was completed, water was stored in 2002 and nearly three lakh people were shifted from 136 villages and a part of Bagalkot town peacefully.

In any project that involves displacing people, there will be some people who waste monetary benefits for a wrong purpose, lavish lifestyle for a while and suffer for long. In this project, nearly 30% oustees are of that type. Land for land is just not possible anywhere now. Everyone cannot be given employment in the government. Due to such reasons, big projects displacing large populations are now things of the past!

UKP is one such past and lingering project, it has to either face the consequences or remain incomplete forever. Each day of delay only aggravates the situation. 

(The author is former R&R Commissioner, Upper Krishna Project)