Excerpt from the India portion of the “2017 Global Report on Internal Displacement”, released by Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC), Norway:
As the largest country in South Asia, with a population of 1.3 billion and the world’s third-largest economy, India has achieved significant development gains since its independence in 1947. These gains include improved life expectancy, literacy rates and health conditions, and the emergence of a sizeable middle class. At the same time, India still has the largest number of poor, homeless and landless people in the world, and significant annual displacementsignificant annual displacement resulting from recurrent disasters, ongoing conflict and development projects. Displacement has been a key driver and result of poverty, inequality, vulnerability and marginalisation throughout the country. Ongoing and planned urbanisation, transport and housing programmes pose a risk of displacement, but also an opportunity to reduce vulnerability and exposure to hazards and to address the needs of those already displaced.
Drivers of displacement
In absolute terms, India is one of the three countries most affected by displacement related to disasters. Together with China and the Philippines, the country regularly sees the largest numbers of displacements. In recent years, displacement has mainly been associated with flood and storm eventsflood and storm events, although approximately 68 per cent of India is prone to drought, 60 per cent is vulnerable to earthquakes and 75 per cent of the country’s coastline is prone to cyclones and tsunamis. Combined with the country’s high population density, with a third of the population living in multidimensional poverty and substandard housing with less resources to cope, particularly in disaster-prone areas, as well as poorly planned urbanisation, environmental degradation, climate change and geological hazards, India’s overall exposure to hazards makes it the country most at risk of damage and displacement related to disasters in South Asia.
Conflict is largely linked to identity and ethnicity, and it has taken the form of violent secessionist and identity-based movements as well as localised violence, including conflicts based on religion and caste. India’s significant economic growth and recent attempts to improve its social protection system have failed to resolve the persistent problem of inequality between social groups and between people living in urban and rural areas. Rapid population growth and the inability of the poorest segments of the population to benefit from the country’s economic growth have exacerbated inter-ethnic and inter-religious tensions over access to land and resources. The Armed Forces Special Powers Act remains in force in Jammu and Kashmir and in the North-Eastern states, conferring an impunity for excessive and disproportionate force that has led to human rights violations.
Displacement caused by violent secessionist movements has primarily been associated with the National Socialist Council of Nagaland and the Assam movement, as well as the ongoing war between militants and the state in Kashmir, which became a point of contention between Pakistan and India after the 1947 partition. Identity-based autonomy movements have also caused displacement in many parts of India, including the states of Telangana and Assam. Localised inter-communal violence between Hindus and Muslims, for example in Gujarat, has resulted in smaller-scale displacement, as have caste disputes in states such as Bihar and Uttar Pradesh.
Development projects implemented as part of India’s rapid development and industrialisation since independence have been made possible by the large-scale acquisition of land and the eviction and displacement of tens of millions of people over the past decades, not only for the purpose of building dams, mines and industrial plants, but also for other objectives such as urban renewal and environmental conservation. One of the most controversial cases is the Sardar Sarovar dam. Approved in 1984, the project had displaced an estimated 350,000 people in Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra by 2015. In addition to the government’s indifference to the adverse impacts of displacement, extreme inequality in land ownership, insufficient implementation of laws and policies to protect indigenous lands, the power imbalance between project implementers and the affected communities, and the government’s severe approach to dissent are some of the key factors that enable and perpetuate displacement in the context of development projects.
There is a strong link between development projects and conflict. Most of India’s land conflicts arise from state takeovers, often on behalf of private investors. The adverse social and environmental impacts of development projects implemented through large-scale land acquisitions with minimal (if any) consultation and compensation have fuelled tensions, violence and conflict over land access and use. As a result, non-state armed groups have gained support from some marginalised communities affected by development projects. Meanwhile, despite numerous state-level housing policies and schemes, limited access to adequate housing in urban and rural areas continues to increase people’s vulnerability to displacement associated with natural hazards.
Patterns of displacement
The states particularly affected by natural hazards in recent years include Assam, Bihar, Andhra Pradesh, Odisha, Eastern Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat and Jammu and Kashmir. The precise locations and movements of people displaced by disasters are not publicly documented. Such IDPs tend to flee within their state to stay in evacuation centres, relief camps or informal shelters, or to live with nearby relatives. In recent years, some people displaced by disasters have been forcibly relocated to sites with inadequate living conditions. Displacement caused by sudden-onset natural hazards is chronic and in many cases short-term, as hazards are cyclical, recurrent and seasonal.
Over half of the people displaced by conflict are located in the northern states of Jammu and Kashmir and Assam. In Jammu and Kashmir, most have been displaced since the 1990s, while in Assam most have been displaced since 2014. Others fled to Delhi and have been displaced within or to the states of Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Nagaland, Telangana, Tripura and Uttar Pradesh. The majority displaced by conflict live in temporary camps, including informal ones, while others live in rented accommodation or houses purchased with financial compensation from the government. The return of people displaced by conflict is obstructed by ongoing insecurity, hostility between groups, and unresolved housing and land disputes. No data is available on the location and length of displacement for the remaining people displaced by conflict.
Displacement caused by development projects has affected all corners of the country. However, nationwide data on the number and whereabouts of the 70 million people displaced by development projects between 1947 and 2010 is not publicly available, nor is data on those displaced since 2010. About a third of the displaced people have been resettled in a planned manner, but their locations are unknown and their resettlement is not a durable solution. The remainder have had to fend for themselves. Many of those who were not settled elsewhere ended up living in informal settlements surrounding New Delhi, Kolkata and other cities, or moving in with nearby relatives, and some have returned in cases where projects have not materialised. Compensation has been paid in cash or land in some cases, but it has often been insufficient for people to restart their lives.
While there is little information on IDPs living in urban areas, it is acknowledged that displacement to urban and peri-urban centres has contributed to urbanisation and the proliferation of informal settlements.
Priority needs and vulnerabilities
There has been no nationwide assessment of IDPs’ needs or identification of the most vulnerable groups among them in India. The fate of those displaced by conflict, disaster or development projects, especially those who do not live in formal camps or resettlement areas, is a significant information gap. Socially excluded communities, including scheduled castes, indigenous groups and religious minorities, tend to be disproportionally affected by displacement, and many have been propelled deeper into poverty and marginalisation.
People displaced by conflict often leave behind or lose their identity cards, sometimes through confiscation, evacuation or violence, which obstructs their access to social security. Among the people displaced by conflict, women and children are at significant risk of gender-based violence. In particular, women displaced by conflict also struggle to access healthcare, education, livelihoods and legal remedies, and those living in camps for long periods are vulnerable to trafficking.
People displaced by development in India largely do not benefit from the projects that displace them. Only a minority of those people receive assistancea minority of those people receive assistance, which is often inadequateoften inadequate to restart their lives. People who have been settled elsewhere in the countrysettled elsewhere in the country report tenure insecurity, inadequate housing, absence of basic services, lack of safety for women and children, and limited opportunities for livelihoods and income as some of their main struggles following displacement. More than 40 per cent of the people displaced belong to indigenous groups, although the indigenous population in India makes up only eight per cent of the country’s total population.