ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Are Resettled Oustees from the Sardar Sarovar Dam Project ‘Better Off’ Today?

Three decades after their displacement on account of the Sardar Sarovar Dam, the living conditions of resettled tribals in Gujarat are compared with those living in semi-evacuated villages and in villages within a 15–20 kilometre radius of the project-affected area. Findings on asset ownership, housing and living conditions, occupation, agricultural practices, and awareness and utilisation of government programmes and services are presented in order to determine whether the resettled population is “better off” as compared to the other two groups.

The Sardar Sarovar Dam in Gujarat is arguably the most controversial dam ever built in India, displacing 4,763 families in Gujarat, 4,307 in Maharashtra and 23,614 families in Madhya Pradesh.1 All the oustees hailed from tribal communities. A number of activists have long claimed that, despite land and other forms of compensation, the tribals who were forced to move will be worse off, and will suffer social ostracism and humiliation in the resettlement villages (Patkar 1995, 2017; Baviskar 1995, 1997; Hakim 1997). The Morse Commission set up by the World Bank also expressed concerns that tribal communities engaged in subsistence agriculture in forests would not be able to cope with the shift to market-oriented farming in resettlement areas; that they would get entangled in debt cycles, losing land to moneylenders or local landowners; and that, overall, resettlement would render a serious blow to their tribal customs and ways of life (Morse and Berger 1992).2

Most tribals in Gujarat were resettled in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The Gujarat government promised to offer each male adult above the age of 18 five acres of land regardless of their earlier forest holdings which, from the Forest Department’s viewpoint, were largely encroached and not legally owned lands. Additional compensation was to be given for the loss of houses and livestock. The government identified large expanses of land in the command area of the project where farmers (mostly of the dominant Patel caste) were willing to sell. With the help of non-governmental organisations (NGOs), tribal groups were shown the available areas and given the right to choose compensatory land (Pathak 1991).

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