Bhubaneshwar, WFS - The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) says that in the state of Orissa, recently in the news due to the tribal agitation, 100,000 families have been displaced since independence and about two million have been affected in varied degrees on account of development projects.

As most of Orissa's natural resources lie in the hilly and forest areas, a majority of the development projects come up here. These forests are home to indigenous tribes, one of the most disadvantaged of Orissa's population.

Women are the worst affected during displacement, because they are rarely land owners. However, the lack of formal legal title to land will not be a bar to entitlements under the new draft policy.

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In the last decade, each development project in Orissa has encountered stiff resistance from affected people. Every study on displaced people shows that communities have been reduced to abject poverty. Women, these studies show, have been the worst affected.

Orissa currently resorts to 11 different Rehabilitation and Resettlement (R&R) policies for various sectors.

In June 2005, almost six months before the violent tribal protest in Kalinganagar (January 2006), a draft for a comprehensive Resettled and Rehabilitation (R&R) for project-affected people was finalised by the state government, UNDP and the India branch of the UK Government's Department for International Development (DFID). The draft policy is likely to be implemented by March 2006.

The new policy will be applicable to all development projects - public, private and joint sectors. It will cover displacement resulting from dams, canals, flood control works, power stations, industries, mining, urban housing and shopping complexes, slums clearance, roads, railways, airports, seaports, conservation, parks/bio-reserves/sanctuaries, sports complexes, amusement parks, and defence establishments.

The draft policy has strongly recommended that all R&R need to take into cognizance the needs of women affected by displacement.

In Orissa, among forest gatherers and farming societies, women are equal contributors to the family income and its dynamics. However, rehabilitation packages have always ignored this aspect. In fact, gender disparities in rehabilitation policies are glaring, according to a 2005 study by sociologist Dr Rita Ray and Vikramaditya of UNDP. The compensation money goes to the head of the family - usually a male. The Land Acquisition Act 1894, amended in 1984, which is the core law regarding acquisition and compensation rules, recognises only male ownership of land. Since land is rarely registered in a woman's name, she is out of the race from the start.

However, the lack of formal legal title to land will not be a bar to entitlements under the new draft policy. This makes every woman a potential beneficiary.

Currently, jobs-for-land types of benefits go to the married and unmarried sons; rarely to the unmarried daughters, never to the married ones. Families themselves want their sons to get the jobs. Families with only one or more daughters lose out; women-headed families with only daughters are completely invisible.

For women, life after displacement is full of endless hurdles. Something as crucial but often-ignored, are facilities like toilets. If no toilets are provided or toilets are there but there is no water, women are left with the option of using the forestland and common grazing land. However, they are not allowed by the usually hostile host community to use such places.

Loss of access to forest and cash-for-land compensation results in complete loss of income for women. This, combined with reduced access to water and fuel wood, are the most common problems faced by women who are relocated.

In Harabhangi Irrigation Project of Gajapati district, the 25 displaced families of Bebri were resettled in Kantaharu village in 1996. Forty-five per cent of the women, against 33 per cent of men, were engaged in shifting cultivation before the project. They had access to nutritious foods such as maize, mango, jackfruit and a sufficient staple rice diet. Collecting and selling non-timber forest products was their family's second source of income.

Today, their new home has no forests nearby. Their principal skill as shifting cultivators is useless after displacement. They earn a meagre amount by scrounging for and selling firewood, or by working as daily wage labourers. Diseases like malaria are common in the village. Their indigenous knowledge of forest herbs is dying. Instead of abundant stream water they now have tube wells as a source of water.

Post-displacement, women and minor girls are often forced to work as daily wage labourers, domestic servants or even as sex workers. The women also have to cope with alcoholism and domestic violence.

In this backdrop, the new draft R&R policy is indeed progressive. It says that "displacement and resettlement will be treated as a development opportunity to improve living conditions of the affected people, especially those of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, Below Poverty Line, women-headed households and other vulnerable groups in ways culturally familiar to them."

The draft, under a sub head of 'vulnerable groups' while defining families eligible for full, even enhanced benefits, brings into its ambit divorced, deserted and widowed (not remarried) women. Such beneficiaries would get three acres of irrigated land or six acres of unirrigated land. This is substantially higher than two acres of irrigated land or four acres of unirrigated land for the general (above poverty line, upper caste) oustees.

The draft also says that unmarried girls, above 18 years of age, would be eligible for jobs like their male siblings.

The draft says that the mandatory project-affected people's committees - formed to decide on the location and facilities of rehabilitation areas - shall comprise of 50 per cent women. Local urban bodies and village committees will be involved in all decisions.

The most important condition the new draft lays down is that as far as possible involuntary displacement must be avoided and when done, land must be compensated by land and not cash, which is the devil in the present R&R practice. (Women's Feature Service)