Urbanization and Displacement

Urbanization and displacement are two related aspects which are very widely manifested in contemporary times. Both these concepts galvanize each other and are also consequences of each other. However apart from a mutual cause and effect relation which they enjoy with each other, they are also linked to a number of other factors viz. needs for social mobility, economic development, technological progress, demands of consumerism, wars or ethnic struggle and also changing cultural patterns. Most of the time when urbanization and displacement are voluntary, it is more an issue for the sociologists however when it is forced upon people and communities it becomes something more than a social issue rather it acquires political, economic and technological explanations as well.

Questions which arise due to urbanization

In the contemporary context, not only in India but across the world, the fields of urbanization and displacement are most severely bothered by issues like whether urbanization driven by rural to urban migration is a desirable phenomenon, or whether urbanization induced by alien agencies including the government, introduced in rural and tribal hinterlands is detrimental to the indigenous cultures and lifestyles of the local inhabitants. Dilemas arise like:

• If yes is it likely to create ruptures and tensions in the society?
• If yes what is the right way to bring the people hitherto isolated from the mainstream of the society into it?
• Further whether displacement ushered in by the forces of economic and technological development is getting acceptance within the displaced rural and ethnic communities;
• If no, what are the factors which need to be worked upon?
• Whether such displacement induced by such alien forces of the new era contributing to the alienation of the local communities?
• Are adequate safeguard measures being taken to address the concerns of those displaced?
• Moreover whether consequences of such displacement should be allowed to spill over the urban infrastructure of the country?
• What sort of arrangements should be made which could address the problem, both on the fronts of improving the stress taking capacity of the urban infrastructure as well as reducing the negative spill offs of displacement.

Urbanization is understood in several senses viz. development of physical infrastructure, development and usage of cutting edge technology, adherence to a definite cultural pattern and social relationships, etc. however herein we will see it in terms of influx of people from rural areas to urban areas in search of better standards of living which we call migration and such influx of people as a fallout of infrastructural projects and other factors like side effects of ‘development’, land acquisition, etc. which we call displacement. Though there is some sort of overlapping in both the reasons as well as figures for migration and displacement, yet the fundamental difference is the factor of choice Vs factor of compulsion associated with them respectively. It is important to accord space to both these concepts as both of them have a bearing over contours of urbanization. Once we get a fair idea of these concepts we will try to delve into the related issues and finally end up with some prescriptions and measures as part of the solution to these issues.


Migration, particularly in India, is triggered by a variety of reasons but the major reason is to seek economic opportunities. This is primarily because of low productivity of agriculture where-in, often on small family farms, it is difficult to improve one’s standard of living beyond basic sustenance. Further, farm living is dependent on unpredictable environmental conditions, and in times of drought, flood or pestilence, survival becomes extremely problematic. Moreover in modern times, industrialization of agriculture has negatively affected the availability of jobs for agricultural labour. Cities, in contrast, especially after the process of liberalization, privatization and globalization have started, to be known as places where money, services and wealth are centralized. With vast infrastructural activities being taken up in a big manner and huge number of service sector jobs being created, cities are believed to be places where fortunes are made and where social mobility is possible. Businesses, which generate jobs and capital, are usually located in urban areas. It is also through the cities that foreign money flows into a country thus there is no surprise if someone living on a farm might wish to take their chance moving to the city and trying to make enough money to send back home to their struggling family.

Furthermore, there are better basic services as well as other specialist services that aren’t found in rural areas. For example there are better health services in urban areas, therefore people, especially the elderly are often forced to move to cities where there are doctors and hospitals that can cater for their health needs. Other factors include a greater variety of entertainment (restaurants, movie theatres, theme parks, etc) and a better quality of education, namely universities. Moreover, due to their high populations, urban areas can also have much more diverse social communities allowing others to find people like them, which goes on to fill the affinal gap in the urban areas.


The reasons for displacement which however also spills over to contribute to urbanization are somewhat qualitatively different. The prime factor is the issue of land acquisition. Mostly displacement as we understand is driven by the process of urbanization itself. As the cities are expanding due to their increasing population and thus the increasing requirement for infrastructure, they are expanding fast into the adjacent rural areas through the process of land acquisition. Another reason for land acquisition is that the increasing levels of industrialization demands more and more access to raw materials to feed the industries in form of various natural resources like minerals, metals, forest resources, etc. which have necessitated to explore hitherto untouched areas in search of these resources as such resources in easily accessible areas have already been exploited. This has led to the advent of huge construction and mining activities in hitherto pristine lands. Third reason for land acquisition is that, on one hand, increasing levels of environmental degradation have necessitated the demand for clean power and on the other increasing population has created a food urgency which has made extension of irrigation facilities to these areas absolutely essential. Thus we are resorting to big hydroelectric projects which however bring in inundation of large tracts of land and displacement of huge chunks of population as a cost for development. Thus we have a situation when the issue of land acquisition driven by forces of urbanization and industrialization is manifesting itself to create conditions of widespread displacement of primarily indigenous population who are again directed towards the urban centres, further adding to the appetite of the cities for more and more resources.

The result is an exponential increase in levels of urbanization fed by the processes of migration and displacement. The rapid urbanization of the world’s population over the twentieth century is described in the 2005 Revision of the UN World Urbanization Prospects report. The global proportion of urban population rose dramatically from 13% (220 million) in 1900, to 29% (732 million) in 1950, to 49% (3.2 billion) in 2005. The same report projected that the figure is likely to rise to 60% (4.9 billion) by 2030. In 2007 the percentage of urban world population exceeded the rural population for the first time in history. Further in regard to future trends, it is estimated that 93% of urban growth will occur in developing nations, with 80% of urban growth occurring in Asia and Africa.

Problems associated with displacement and migration

A part of the problem is that there are a number of factors which have contributed to make this process of urbanization fuelled by migration and displacement stressful. Broadly these problems can be categorized into two sections.

• One is related to the limited capacity of the urban infrastructure to support this huge influx of population
• Secondly it is related to the socio-economic and cultural miseries the people have to suffer after getting uprooted from their lands which was integral to their lives for centuries and pushed into an alien environment which not even guarantees the bare minimum.

The second problem is however listed here because of the fact that most of the rehabilitation initiatives of the government have not been a success with the people, and on most occasions people have ultimately ended up in the slums of the urban centres after they were evacuated from their lands. As the state of affairs on the urbanization front stares us on our faces, we cannot help but realize that a part of it could be attributed to the faulty policies of the government over displacement. This topic carries a long debate which seek to answer a number of questions like what should be the patterns of development in these hitherto unchartered areas to make sure that development programmes are implemented and at the same time the local population is not forced to evacuate from their native regions or whether development should be delivered to these areas in the first place, if it is not acceptable to the local people or what should be the degree of involvement of the local inhabitants in the process of development planned for their areas. The list of such questions is very long and involves complex questions of politics, economics and social connotations. Nevertheless one point is clear that the present approach of the government has not been received well by the people.

Urban Infrastructure: The capacity of urban infrastructure is usually interpreted in various senses viz. the quality and capacity of the transport infrastructure available in the city, the housing facilities, the standards and availability of basic necessities like drinking water, sanitation, electricity etc. in the city, the capacity of the Police machinery to maintain the law and order situation in the area and so on. The ground reality however suggests that the state of the urban infrastructure is not as robust so as to handle the enormous influx of migrants which are heading towards the cities, and provide them with all basic facilities which constitute a dignified living for them. The result is the problems like big slums, increase in crime, traffic congestion on the streets, excessive pollution, joblessness, deviant behaviour, alcoholism, drug abuse and poor health compounded by unhygienic living and dismal sanitation etc. becoming a part of the urban life for a huge chunk of population. In case of India, as revealed by the Slum Census conducted by the Registrar General of India in 640 towns in 2001, about 23.5 per cent of the urban population lives in slums. Of the country’s major cities, Mumbai has the biggest slums some 6.5 million people living in cluttered shacks lined with a maze of open drains. The city is home to Asia’s second largest slum, Dharavi. Delhi follows Mumbai with around 1.8 million people living in slums. In case of India according to the National Sample Survey Organization’s 61st round data about 81 million people living in cities lived below the poverty line in 2004-2005.

Socio-economic and cultural miseries the people: The process of forced displacement is an important issue not merely in the sense that it has its compounding effects over the problem of urbanization but in the broader socio-cultural and political sense as well. Development projects are usually located in remote villages, hills and forests. This means that those displaced tend to be the indigenous and tribal people who have been the traditional agents of conservation of environment and habitats. Thus displacement in this context meant a loss of livelihood, habitat and assets, physical and mental dislocation, social disruption and disorder and severance from an eco-system that for generations had sustained them. Further, these displacements threaten the poor and the weak with even greater tenacity and impoverishment. No doubt, these cases of ‘involuntary resettlement’ invite attention of social and environmental bodies and other agents of civil society like the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) in case of the Sardar Sarovar Dam on the river Narmada in India.

Though India’s tribal people make up roughly 7.5 per cent of the population, over 40 per cent of those displaced so far are from tribal communities. Since 1990 the figure has risen to 50 per cent. It is stated that policy planners and administrators invariably capitalize on and manipulate the relatively weaker socio-economic and political position of most of the people facing displacement especially the tribals. Their numbers are underestimated, they are treated indifferently and only minimal cash compensation, if at all, is paid. They are rarely granted security of tenure on alternative developed land sites. Most of time they are tried to be cajoled to settle with monetary compensation, however at other times when they are granted alternative land, it is mostly unusable and the ecology of the area is not at all in consonance with their customs and cultures. The result is that several tribal groups are nearing extinction and several others have already embraced modern ways of life abandoning their centuries old distinct traditions out of sustaining under the pressures of urban living. This is accounted as a severe loss by the anthropologists as the peculiar codes of life which an evolved culture develops over centuries is useful in providing valuable insights in man’s relationship with nature, particularly in that environment, which is lost forever, with the ethnic communities once its members perish or embrace alternative lifestyles.

However this is only one way how the affected people have reacted to the problem of forced displacement. In other forms they have resorted to organized protests either peacefully as in case of anti-POSCO agitations in Orissa presently or even by using violence as in case of Kalinganagar in Orissa, sometime back. Even the present Naxal problem which is severely bothering the policy makers has its relations with the problems of displacement. The agony and plight of the people as a result of displacement or under the apprehensions of displacement has been exploited by the Naxalites in garnering support for their cause by painting the government and its agents in dark colours before the people. Even the present demand of statehood for Gorkhaland is seen by some commentators as an attempt by the Gorkhas to guard their exclusive culture and practices against the brutal onslaught of development triggered by the expansionary policies of the government.

In case of rural communities this problem has surfaced in the form of extensive agitations against land acquisitions for developing state of the art urban infrastructure, visible at several places in recent times. The basic issue again is the inadequate compensation provided or unsuitable rehabilitation package provided to the locals against their lands. The farmers feel that the government is acquiring land from them in collusion with the builder mafia, and making loads of money out of developing it, while leaving the farmers in jeopardy with pecuniary compensations which is neither sufficient to sustain their families in the shorter run nor is helpful in any way in the longer term. This short sighted approach of the government has thus been widely criticized and has also been challenged in the court of law by the farmers in several areas to seek a reasonable solution to the problem. A part of the solution has been the proposed Land Acquisition (Amendment) Bill.

Solution to the issue

The solutions to the problems of urbanization and displacement as discussed above are also linked with each other as the causes and the nature of the problems are. The core of the solution is to devise ways and means by which this rural to urban exodus can be curtailed whether it is in case of tribals or it is in case of farmers and agricultural workers. This does not mean that we should halt all the development programmes in the rural and tribal hinterlands, nor does it mean that we should create barriers for entries into cities, what it really means is finding local solutions to problems and providing urban amenities in rural areas (PURA). The other part of the solution is to develop urban infrastructure as well in such a planned manner so that it is capable of supporting a definite quantum of migrants and at the same time is able to provide decent living amenities to its residents. This is the broadest guideline under which the policy should proceed and the government is also trying to move in this direction.

In case of India, some of the initiatives of the government like MNREGA and Bharat Nirmaan have been aimed at creating descent physical infrastructure in the rural areas. Moreover a part of the rural land acquisition has also contributed in bringing industries to the rural areas which has brought better paying jobs for the rural inhabitants particularly the agricultural labourers and the small farmers who are interested in switching over from agriculture. Alongside this several initiatives like soil improvement programmes, Seed Village programme, National food security mission, Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana, etc. are being pursued to improve agricultural productivity so as to keep agriculture profitable. This is in combination with initiatives like the JNNURM (Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission) and several other initiatives within it, aimed at increasing the capacity of urban infrastructure as well as maintaining the existing capacities, covering all aspects of urban life including drinking water, sanitation, roads as well as urban poverty alleviation.

However there are certain areas which need to be worked on further. For example, the approach on increasing the capacity of the cities and the related employment generation. One important suggestion could be the systematic development of the fast growing urban centres and planning an investment programme which, over the next 20 years or so, would give rise to a large number of well distributed, viable urban centres throughout the country. Further, so far we have been focusing attention on programmes for providing wage employment in rural areas to hold people back in the village. While there is ample justification for providing rural employment, this by itself is not enough. It is not possible to provide gainful employment in the agricultural sector beyond a certain point. For this purpose, we have to emphasize on programmes which can permit multifunctional activities to sustain people in cities. As a part of this the Land pricing policy which gives land in large chunks at throwaway prices has to be re-planned to encourage industries to move to backward areas and create gainful employment opportunities there. This will also take care of linear development of metropolitan and big cities. A policy of the state taking over potential high value land in and around large cities with a view to exploiting its full cost at a later date also needs serious consideration.

Another proposal by innovative planners for maintenance and up-gradation of urban infrastructure is the structural decentralization of local self government itself. This could entail the creation of ‘neighbourhood-action groups’, to be called community centres consisting of representatives of residents and municipality officials. These centres will identify and act upon neighbourhood needs. For examples, many new colonies have come to be established in many cities in which as many as 10,000 to 50,000 people reside. Thus, these colonies are small towns by themselves. The centres would direct the affairs of the neighbourhood without reference to the City Municipal Corporation and use the collected money in maintaining roads, lights and so forth. The argument for this kind of decentralized structure within the city is that the same system that allows lakhs of people a substantial control over their civic destiny denies them an effective role in shaping the institutions that shape their lives.

The major issues on the displacement front have been related to land acquisition and the relief and rehabilitation of the displaced people as a result of such acquisition. The issue of relief and rehabilitation though discussed by the National Rehabilitation Policy is in some ways corollary of the land acquisition issue. Though there has been some progress on the land acquisition front by means of the draft land acquisition (amendment) Bill, the National Rehabilitation Policy has still evaded acceptable reform.

On the issue of land acquisition there has been a lot of grievance of the farmers against the manner in which the state governments have been acquiring land. This aspect is being tried to be addressed by the proposed Land Acquisition (Amendment) Bill, the draft of which has now been put in public domain. The salient features of the Bill are:

i. It proposes a liberal compensation and award package for land owners, that includes a subsistence allowance of 3,000 per family per month for a year, annuity of Rs.2,000 per family per month for 20 years, 20% of the appreciation in value of land during each transaction for 10 years, and mandatory employment provisions, among other things.
ii. The draft proposes that 80% of the population in the area must agree to the acquisition of land for a project, and uniform compensatory laws should be applicable to all owners.
iii. It further says land owners should be compensated with twice the registered or stamp value of the land in urban areas and six times in rural areas.
iv. A special departure from the existing model followed by most states is to make people who do not own the land, but whose livelihoods depend on it, eligible for compensation under the Act.
v. Moreover, the draft bill bans the acquisition of all irrigated multi-cropped land, which will effectively take away 40% of the overall agricultural land in the country. Most of this land falls in the Indo-Gangetic plains, which in India encompasses areas of Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and West Bengal – the most fertile and densely-populated regions of the country.

Though the provisions of the bill promise a lot of relief to the land owners whose lands are being acquired yet it would be really effective only when it is conjugated with a corresponding revamp of the rehabilitation policy as well. Some of the suggestions which could be incorporated into this Bill can be drawn from the criticisms of the National Rehabilitation and Resettlement Policy of 2007.

The National Rehabilitation and Resettlement Policy of 2007 notified on 31 October 2007 however fails to address the key issue of forcible acquisition of lands and the related rehabilitation. One of the important points of objection is the ‘One Law One Purpose’ clause under which the policy upholds the sovereign power of the State to apply the concept of “eminent domain” to forcibly acquire any private property in any part of the country in the name of “public purpose”. This power is provided under the Land Acquisition Act of 1894. The freshly proposed draft Bill on land acquisition is also silent on this aspect. Further though the Preamble of the 2007 Policy states that: “A national policy must apply to all projects where involuntary displacement takes place” but under the related clause, the appropriate Government shall declare area of villages or localities as an “affected area” and only if there is likely to be “involuntary displacement of four hundred or more families en masse in plain areas, or two hundred or more families en masse in tribal or hilly areas, due to acquisition of land for any project or due to any other reason”. In short, the 2007 Policy only applies to large scale displacements and provides for almost no provisions for rehabilitation for small scale displacements.

Another major point of contention is that the affected people are denied the rights to take any kind of informed decision regarding the usage of their lands with regard to development projects. Only in the case of acquisition of lands in the Scheduled Areas does the 2007 Policy provide that the concerned Gram Sabha/ Panchayats/ Village Councils shall be “consulted”. However it is important to note that “consultation” in no sense denotes “consent”. The affected persons do not have the right say “no” at the time of determination of the project site. Further there are no provisions for inclusion of the affected persons or their representatives in the preparation of the Social Impact Assessment (SIA) report and/or the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report of the project. After the declaration of an area as “affected area”, the Administrator for Rehabilitation and Resettlement undertakes a baseline survey and census for identification of the persons and families likely to be affected by the proposed project. Although the Administrator is required to publish a draft of the details of the findings to invite comment and objections from the affected persons, there is no provision for the compulsory inclusion of affected persons or their representatives in the survey. This aspect of local participation in the planning of the development project as well as the Impact Assessment Studies can be very useful if incorporated into the proposed draft Bill.

Though the 2007 Policy provides that the Scheduled Tribe families who are or were having possession of forest lands in the affected area prior to the 13th December 2005 be included in the survey of the Administrator for the Resettlement and Rehabilitation. However, it does not guarantee land-for-land compensation to the displaced families. The clause rather states that each affected family owning agricultural land in the affected area and whose entire land has been acquired or lost, agricultural land or cultivable wasteland “may be allotted” only “if Government land is available in the resettlement area”. In other cases, the 2007 Policy only makes weak guarantees such as “may be allotted”, “may be provided”, “may be offered”, etc. Further the clause states that “In case a family cannot be given land in the command area of the project or the family opts not to take land there, such a family may be given monetary compensation on replacement cost basis for their lands lost, for purchase of suitable land elsewhere”. Moreover, the affected families could be coerced to accept money in lieu of land. It provides that “In case of a project involving land acquisition on behalf of a requiring body, the affected families who have not been provided agricultural land or employment shall be entitled to a rehabilitation grant equivalent to seven hundred fifty days minimum agricultural wages or such other higher amount as may be prescribed by the appropriate Government”. Furthermore, the rehabilitation and resettlement for affected families displaced by linear acquisitions in projects relating to railway lines, highways, transmission lines, laying of pipelines, etc., is absolutely inadequate. According to the related clause, the victims of linear acquisitions would be provided only ex-gratia payment of such amount as the appropriate Government may decide but not less than Rs 20,000. However, the benefits of rehabilitation and resettlement under the 2007 Policy will be provided to any land-owner if he/she becomes “landless or is reduced to the status of a ‘small’ or ‘marginal’ farmer” as a result of land acquisition. Such provisions wherein a repressive approach is adopted could well be either avoided completely or should only ‘sparingly used’ in the rarest of rare cases.

Another aspect which has been questioned is the faulty structure and process of redressal of grievances. The Ombudsman which has been created to serve as the higher appellate authority to dispose of grievances does not have enough powers, mandate and resources. The Ombudsman is appointed by the appropriate Government which also prescribes “the form and manner in which and the time within which complaints may be made to the Ombudsman and disposed of”. The Ombudsman has limited mandate. Under the related clause “In case of a project involving land acquisition on behalf of a requiring body, the disputes related to the compensation award for the land or other property acquired will be disposed of as per the provisions of the Land Acquisition Act, 1894 or any other Act of the Union or a State for the time being in force under which the acquisition of land is undertaken, and will be outside the purview of the functions of the Ombudsman”.

Various human rights groups have severely criticized the policy as too inadequate in a framework of checks and balances. The processes are open to abuse and the appointment processes of all bodies raise serious questions about independence. The process wholly excludes the affected groups who have no say in their own future. The proposed draft bill on land acquisition would do well to avoid these pitfalls in order to sound convincing and genuine to the affected people.

These twin issues of urbanization and displacement especially in the sense we have discussed them in this article are two of the biggest challenges which our policy makers are facing in the new century and road ahead is definitely not going to be easy. However they will do well to make the process as participative and inclusive as possible.

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