Book review: ‘Right of Way: A Journey of Resettlement’ by Sharni Jayawardena
By Anila Dias Bandaranaike
This slim easy-to-read volume of 72 pages, about the resettlement process for the Southern Expressway, published by the Centre for Poverty Analysis (CEPA), is an eye-opener.
Many of us reap the benefits of large-scale infrastructure development projects, without really thinking about or understanding the sacrifices that have been made by the people who once lived and worked on the land that was acquired, and were displaced “for the greater good”.
‘Right of Way’ attempts to address this lacuna. It tells us about the thinking and efforts that were made by the government authorities, the lending agencies and others who were involved, to address the many concerns of the displaced, as well as the successes and failures of those efforts.
The Southern Transport Development Project (STDP) of 128km is estimated to have cost Rs. 85 billion. It was jointly funded by the Government of Sri Lanka, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the Japan Bank for International Co-operation (JBIC), with the Road Development Authority (RDA) as its Executing Agency.
The STDP began with land acquisition in 2000 and was completed in 2011, a considerable delay against the targeted completion in 2005. During this period, the ADB contracted CEPA to monitor the resettlement and compensation of the people displaced by its construction.
The number of families that were displaced, 1,338, seems miniscule, and the 4,550 households affected, both directly and indirectly, due to loss of landholdings, appear negligible, in the context of over five million households in Sri Lanka. However, the problems they faced when relocating and trying to regain their lost livelihoods are universal.
‘Right of Way’ captures the different viewpoints on key issues, and the delays and difficulties faced in addressing these viewpoints, in a non-judgmental style that offends none, while presenting valuable lessons to be learnt.
The book comprises seven chapters.
Chapter 1, ‘Setting the course,’ provides an overview of the issues. It introduces the reader to the forward-thinking National Involuntary Resettlement Policy (NIRP) and the Land Acquisition and Resettlement Committee (LARC) which determined compensation, not only on the basis of monetary values but other, non-monetary considerations as well.
Chapter 2, ‘Laying the groundwork,’ discusses the strengths and weaknesses of the Resettlement Implementation Plan (RIP) conducted via LARC. It shows how vastly superior this was, in its holistic view of compensation, including to the landless who were affected, compared to the Land Acquisition Act of the past, but also discusses the shortcomings that were encountered during implementation, despite the democratic process that was followed and the many stakeholder discussions that were held, including with the Grievance Redress Committee (GRC). More importantly, this chapter creates an environment to learn towards further improvement of these procedures in the future, especially the need for monitoring of the implementation of recommendations made.
Chapter 3, ‘Settling down,’ discusses non-monetary housing issues families faced when relocating in their new environments. Although eventually, the quality of housing had improved in most cases, in terms of access to water, electricity and sanitation, the trauma of living in temporary accommodation for considerable periods of time, the psychological issues of loss of ancestral homes and properties and associated social status are discussed with sensitivity and raise several issues that provide much food for thought in future projects of this nature.
Chapter 4, ‘Regaining crops,’ introduces the Income Restoration Programme (IRP), and conveys the reasons why incomes did not improve at the same speed and in the same way housing did. It explains the importance of agricultural lands, especially paddy lands, to the incomes, lifestyles and social status of most of the displaced, and therefore, the negative impact of, not only displacement, but also the disruption to agricultural activities due to construction activities. It describes the efforts made by the authorities to address these issues with various agricultural extension and support services, but shows that the recovery period will be much longer than for housing.
Chapter 5, ‘Restarting business,’ continues from the previous chapter to explain why businesses suffered the same problems as farming for the displaced, and how they are trying to address these problems with the support of the authorities. It gives an honest account of shortcomings that need to be addressed.
Chapter 6, ‘Dealing with road construction,’ completes the cycle of the previous three chapters, by discussing the remaining problems of the impact of large-scale construction on the environment - from dust, noise and flooding, to damage existing infrastructure. The construction affected 24 Divisional Secretariat divisions in three provinces. This chapter provides knowledge from the experiences gained of the gaps in the redress process and provides useful insights for future planning.
The final Chapter 7, ‘Moving forward,’ brings together the issues raised in this study and makes way for Sri Lanka to, indeed, “move forward” in a constructive way towards better managing its development process, especially the adverse impacts of large-scale infrastructure development projects on people and places.
This book is about sharing experiences and raising awareness, so that decision makers and implementers of future projects and programmes of this nature can handle their multi-faceted responsibilities and social objectives better, by learning and gaining from the experiences of those who have done it before. It is also a book about honesty and courage, that was ready to document both the good and the less good, with the expectation that the vast experience gained in implementing the Southern Expressway project and monitoring its impact on the lives and livelihoods of those who were displaced, would benefit the country to improve all aspects of the implementation of other such projects in the future.
One hopes that others involved in the development process in Sri Lanka, both policy and decision-makers, executing and monitoring agencies, will have the same courage and conviction to present their experiences in the same balanced manner as this very useful publication does, so that we can all learn lessons and gain insight from past experience.
(The reviewer is a former Director of Statistics and retired Assistant Governor of the Central Bank of Sri Lanka.)