UNVs at the Forefront of IDP's Rights

UNVs at the Forefront of IDP's Rights

VOLUNTEERISM FOR DEVELOPMENT

As India embarks on economic growth, meeting the challenge of a rising internally displaced population is critical to ensure an inclusive development process for all. In Orissa United Nations Volunteers are helping internally displaced communities to be better aware of rehabilitation and resettlement benefits and entitlements available to them. The aim is to create a conducive environment for displaced populations and ensure the maintenance of human, economic and cultural rights.

Ina key role, UNVs in India bring in all stakeholders to ensure IDPs rights in the sensitive context of industrialization and fast economic growth. It was an opportunity that twenty-four-year-old Biranchi Oram from Katarbaga village located in Orissa’s western district of Sambalpur did not want to miss at any cost. For here was a chance to participate in a training programme for community volunteers on Resettlement & Rehabilitation (R&R) at the district headquarters and also interact with senior government officials dealing with the issue.

Highlights

  • Training programmes for community volunteers on Resettlement & Rehabilitation (R&R)
  • Emphasis on capacity building for local administration, project officials and the civil society to implement rehabilitation policies and document the lessons learnt for possible replication
  • Initiated dialogue between displaced families, district administration and project officials
  • Village meetings helped generate awareness about people’s rights

Belonging to the vulnerable community of Scheduled Tribes (STs), Biranchi, along with his family, is about to be displaced from his ancestral land by an industrial project coming up in his area. And had every reason to be anxious. However, taking part in the R&R training workshop not only assuaged the apprehensions of the likes of Biranchi, but also increased their awareness about R&R benefits and entitlements.

Community volunteers play a significant role in areas where people are displaced due to development projects. Apart from generating awareness among community members -- they help government and industrial project officials in conducting surveys, identifying genuine grievances and supervising R&R activities in new settlements.

Facilitating the organization of such meetings of community volunteers is Debendra Samal, a United Nations Volunteer (UNV), working for the DFID-UNDP-Government of Orissa Project, “Capacity Development to operationalise the Orissa R&R Policy, 2006.” Debendra is one among the nine National UNVs posted as district coordinators in the Orissa R&R Project.

Orissa ranks among the backward, under-developed and poverty-stricken regions of India. It has been the endeavor of the Government of Orissa (GoO) to improve the quality of life of the people by promoting rapid industrialization and by adopting a participatory development process. However, the implementation of developmental, industrial, mining, irrigation and other projects resulted in large-scale displacement of people leading to their alienation from their traditional homes, lands, culture and sources of livelihood.

UNDP in partnership with DFID, in 2005, undertook the first phase of Resettlement and Rehabilitation(R&R) Project which studied the best practices under this domain and this study went a long way in providing inputs to the GoO in formulating the Orissa R & R policy of 2006. Once the Policy was finalised, a MoU was signed between UNDP and GoO for the second phase of the Project.

The Project was a first concerted effort to build capacities within the administration, project officials and the civil society to implement rehabilitation policies and to document the lessons learnt to serve as reference material for further application/replication as per the local context.

The major stakeholders for the R&R Project were identified through a consultative process and included key R&R government officials, industrial project officials, local government representatives, NGO/CBO representatives and community volunteers.

Besides collecting significant information related to R&R of the various projects located in the respective districts, the UNVs played an important role in initiating a process of dialogue between the Displaced Families (DFs), district administration and project officials. The village level meetings, organised by the UNVs in association with district officials, not only helped in generating awareness about people’s rights but also acted as a bridge fostering communication between actors who had hitherto not interacted on a sustained basis.

Since the water resource projects (included in the R&R programme) involve a large number of displaced villages and people, the district coordinators placed in such districts played a key role in making the R&R process participatory. The UNVs, along with other UNDP team members, were also actively involved in the review of R&R status of the industrial projects in the districts vis-à-vis facilities/infrastructure provided in resettlement colonies, exclusive R&R department & personnel, grievance redressal budget allocated for R&R.

Earlier, there hardly existed a process whereby all the stakeholders could have a two-way dialogue with the district administration on R&R on a single platform. The UNVs facilitated the organisation of several such meetings at the district level and also exclusive capacity building training programmes for representatives of local government, community volunteers and Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) from the project areas.

In several instances many of the displaced and affected found the UNVS non-threatening as they were from a neutral organisation and found it relatively easier to convey the UNVs their difficulties. Initially, the UNVs were considered more as government agents since they worked in collaboration with the district administration. However, they worked hard in fostering trust and relation building that brought them closer to the community.

All these, resulted in greater awareness about the R&R Policy spurring increased participation of displaced people in the R&R process thus earning the UNVs accolades for their contribution within a short span of 10 months. However, for the UNVs it was a challenging mission considering the complications associated with R&R issues: While some of them, especially those posted in water resource projects worked in interior and sometimes, inaccessible areas, others had to work amidst hostile environment due to people’s protests.

Implementing the Project, the first of its kind in the country, was indeed an immense challenge. What further augmented the challenge was the fact that R&R being an extremely sensitive issue needed to be dealt with utmost caution and care, considering incidences of violence and agitations/protests associated with land acquisition and R&R in Orissa. At the same time, the need for such a project to address significant issues associated with R&R cannot be undermined, a fact that has been felt by both the Government and industrial projects.

India is rapidly progressing on the path of industrialization leading to establishment of a number of development projects -- a reality that can neither be ignored nor fought with. However, what is important is creation of a conducive environment for the displaced population to ensure their human, economic and cultural rights in a sustainable and democratic manner.

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