Land‐use conflict and socio‐economic impacts of infrastructure projects

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Arguments for and against the project

From the outset debate about the pros and cons of the dam have raged. For the public authorities this project is expected to contribute 4500 MW of electricity per year, generate annual revenue of US$2.216 billion and significantly reduce electricity shortages. The dam can impound a reservoir of 8.1 million acre feet (MAF) with a live annual storage of 6.4 MAF of surface water, and will also extend the life of Tarbela Dam by 35 years, increasing its annual electricity‐generation capacity. The dam project is expected to generate employment during construction and subsequently in agriculture, industry and commerce (GOP, 2013). The project also includes an upgrading of hospitals in Gilgit and construction of schools in other districts (The Express Tribune, 26 December 2010).
In spite of the national economic benefits, the project involves costs of population displacement, resettlement, livelihood renewal and conflict between different actors. The dam will, for example, inundate about 32 villages, affecting 4228 households (30,350 people) and will submerge 2660 acres of agricultural land, affecting the major occupation of the area as well as the living standards of its inhabitants (GOP, 2014).
The construction of the dam has faced strong local resistance. Anti‐government protests and demonstrations took place, and roads and especially the Karakoram Highway were blocked due to arguments over, for example, the level of compensation, the non‐payment of compensation, the selectivity of compensation payments and corruption. In the case of selective compensation to certain groups, contractors working on the construction of model villages for the resettlement of affected people and project colonies were threatened, with construction stopping for almost one year. Threats were made to bulldoze structures in the project area. In relation to other issues to do, for example, with the measurement of land affected, people took legal action. These court cases are still pending, causing distrust of the government (Pamir Times, 22 October 2015; Mir, 14 June 2012).
The most serious incident involved the death of three people and injuries to others when police opened fire on protesters complaining about land compensation (Gilgit Baltistan Tribune, 19 February 2010; Mir, 14 June 2012). After several meetings this matter was resolved by increasing the compensation paid. In another incident about four people died and several others were injured. In this case the dispute was between people from the provinces of KPK and GB which both lay claim to an 8 km‐long stretch of territory along the boundary between the two provinces. Security forces were deployed to separate the two sides. At the moment the matter is with the courts. If it is not resolved it may delay the project and lead to another bloody clash (Dawn, 6 May 2016; Muhammad, 28 December 2013).

Data and Methodology

The aim of this study is to identify and examine the conflicts between different actors, their causes and resolution. Following the recommendations of Rucht and Neidhardt (1999) and Torre et al. (2014), that analysis must draw on different sources of information. Primary and secondary data were collected on the socio‐economic characteristics of the affected people, the conflicts that occurred and the underlying issues relating to compensation, displacement, resettlement, the awareness of the population of ways of investing compensation payments, education and livelihoods, as well as various conflicts generated by this project. To examine conflicts and the socio‐economic profile of the affected population, interviews were conducted. It should be noted that the area comprises a number of valleys in a mountainous and not easily accessible area. Not without difficulty, another 61 interviews were conducted with experts and local stakeholders during a three‐ month stay in the project area (Chilas and other valleys), Islamabad (the capital of Pakistan) and Lahore (Table 2).
Among the secondary sources, data from the national and regional daily regional press (DRP) for the period from 2006 until 2016 was used (see in the supplemental data online) to identify conflicts and related issues, as in other studies (Ali & Nasir, 2010; Awakul & Ogunlana, 2002; Mahato & Ogunlana, 2011; Mann & Jeaneaux, 2009; Torre et al., 2014). Reference to a variety of sources permitted cross‐checking (Deininger & Castagnini, 2006; McCarthy, McPhail, & Smith, 1996). In addition, material from the government and public and private organizations was used. This included information released online by WAPDA to disseminate information about the project, its characteristics, land acquisition, resettlement plans, development plans and financial information. Survey data prepared by WAPDA and financial information from the Planning Commission of Pakistan provided information about economic activities and population characteristics. In addition, material prepared by private and non‐governmental organizations (NGOs) was consulted.
An important distinction exists in the project area between population groups on the basis of their ancestry, cultural heritage and common history. This distinction separates as ‘original settlers’ (locally called ‘owners’) who first settled in this area and ‘latecomers’ (locally called ‘non‐owners’) who have different rights to land and natural resources. These two groups are further categorized as upper and lower caste (see Table 3). This distinction rooted in customary law and traditions is accepted by all social and cultural groups and by government. Almost all land (except for land purchased by any group) and natural resources are entitlements of the ‘original settler’. These assets include forests, water, pastures, barren land and non‐timbered forest (termed as ‘common land’). The government has no rights over common land in GB, and can only acquire it by paying compensation. When the government decided to pay compensation for common land, ‘latecomers’ demanded a share. According to customary law, latecomers are ‘non‐owners’, have no common land rights and cannot claim compensation, except for land they have purchased.
In this paper, another clear distinction is made between tensions and conflicts. Following a well‐known proposition in game theory (Rapoport, 1960; Schelling, 1960), a tension between various parties designates an opposition without the engagement of the protagonists, whereas a conflict emerges with the engagement of one of the parties. An engagement is defined as the implementation of a credible threat (Schelling, 1960), which may take many different forms: bringing a matter to the attention of the public authorities, civil servants or political representatives; bringing the matter to the attention of the media, press, radio or television; assault or verbal confrontation; or putting up signs forbidding access, fences and gates. Indeed, we assume that the emergence of a conflict follows an explicit engagement of the actors. A conflict, in other words, arises when a tension turns into a declared confrontation through the engagement of one or several parties (Torre et al., 2014).

Results and Discussion

Socio‐economic Impacts

Despite the economic importance of, and need for, the Diamer Bhasha Dam, the project has had major socio‐economic impacts and generated important conflicts relating to land acquisition, land measurement, land rights, resettlement and employment.
According to WAPDA, the total land to be acquired by the government for the Diamer Bhasha Dam project is 37,419 acres, of which 18,357 acres are private land and 19,062 acres are government land. The government has already acquired 8098 acres of private land, of which 7936 acres are in GB and 162 acres in KPK (GOP, 2014). After severe conflict over land compensation, a committee was formed to enhance land compensation and settle the matter. This committee mainly included local representatives, religious leaders, district managers, federal ministerial representatives and WAPDA. After a series of meetings the committee decided on land compensation rates for cultivated, cultivable and barren land for different areas. After these negotiations, there have been no protests over land compensation since 2010. At the time most of the experts and stakeholders settled on land compensation rates that accorded with market rates, although some of them were of the view that these rates were not sufficient to resettle the affected population and maintain their living standards.
Many studies identify land compensation as a significant source of conflict in dam construction projects. The problems include the payment of little or no compensation for land and other resources (Flood, 1997), compensation for politically favoured people (Magsi & Torre, 2012), discursive threats through anti‐protest narratives, material threats involving withholding social benefits (Huber & Joshi, 2015), and police action to take out protesters (Swain & Chee, 2004). In an atmosphere of intimidation and violence, moreover, people hesitate to take legal action (McMichael, 2016).
The land to be acquired for the Diamer Bhasha Dam project consists of different valleys. At present there is a huge gap between land compensation rate decisions and actual land acquisition: the acquisition of land has not been completed, and compensation has not yet been paid in all cases. However, the government has adjusted the interest rate for persons who will be compensated later. Some people enjoy considerably higher land compensation rates as they own land near the project site (Hommes, Boelens, & Maat, 2016). Land rents near the project site have started increasing in some areas, mainly in Chilas (which is the major urban area with commercial activities) because of the project, but the amount of compensation had already been fixed by the government. Another significant reason for the increase in land rates is that most of the people who have been compensated so far started moving towards these areas.
Monetary compensation and increases in compensation may not be sufficient to improve or even maintain the living standards of the local population. The outcome is highly dependent on future security programmes including social security, workforce training, the availability of permanent job opportunities and an ability to invest compensation payments. The majority of the experts and stakeholders consider that the affected people lack the information and education required to invest compensation payments well. Instead of making long‐term investments or setting up a private businesses, the money is ‘wasted’ on daily household expenses, so that the affected population will end up in a similarly miserable condition as people affected by other projects in the past (Qian, 2015).
According to the government’s resettlement plan for 4228 households, three model villages, Thak Das, Harpan Das and Kino Das, are to be established with all facilities (schools, hospitals etc.). Each household is to receive a residential plot of 1 kanal3 free of cost. The government assured local people that genuine demands regarding alternative residence and rehabilitation arrangements will be fulfilled (The Nation, 2 April 2014). The construction of Harpan Das was supposed to have already been completed with the first batch of affected people resettled. But, according to WAPDA4 construction work is still in progress, raising questions about the government’s resettlement plan. Several reasons explain the ineffectiveness of the government’s resettlement plan. A lack of funding and disputes over the land for the model villages is the main reason for delay in the preparation and allocation of residential plots to affected people. The government is paying cash compensation early. Because of the delay, people tried to buy land in other areas. But, because of lack of awareness, they lost money to fraudulent property dealers. This problem is particularly severe for latecomers as they do not have common land rights. Original settlers, conversely, can avail themselves of common lands for their livelihood. As in other cases, the most common consequence of resettlement is poverty and social instability (Sun, 2013).
The future security, well‐being and employment of the affected people is also a sensitive issue, as large projects require a large number of temporary, unskilled workers who lose their jobs at the end of the project (Moran, 2004). Furthermore, many affected people cannot keep their original profession (Sun, 2013; Swain & Chee, 2004), and the scope for long‐term employment and skill development is limited as economic opportunities increase at first but cannot be sustained after construction (Huber & Joshi, 2015). For the purpose of employment of Bhasha Dam affectees, the government started several capacity‐building programs, so that the affected people could be employed as skilled labourers on the project site, and that these skills could also be useful even after the completion of the project.
There are several controversies concerning impacts on the livelihood of the affected population. In particular, government training programs appear to be devoted to lower category jobs. Affected people with compensation do not want lower‐category jobs, as a sudden and easy fortune from monetary compensation makes them reluctant to seek employment (Qian, 2015). Although educational attainment in this area is very low, the development of schools in the model villages and project‐related economic development will probably raise educational standards. In fact, all the experts and stakeholders consider the impact on education to be positive.
A project NGO is engaged for effective implementation of plans by mobilizing local communities, monitoring resettlement, and devising community food security and livelihood schemes. Most of the experts consider that this project will have positive impacts by overseeing and dealing with employment and resettlement programme deficiencies.
According to WAPDA, the Council of Common Interests (CCI) unanimously approved this project on 18 July 2010 for reasons of national consensus (The Nation, 19 July 2010). The consensus meeting was attended by the Prime Minister of Pakistan, chief ministers of four provinces and representatives from GB. The scope of the discussion was limited as this body had either to vote in favour of or against the dam. The Minister of Planning and Development claimed that there was national consensus in favour of the Diamer Bhasha Dam project. All political parties back the government’s decision (Iqbal, 6 November 2013).
Information dissemination and consultation with the public are considered as important steps in projects of this kind (Diduck et al., 2013; Li, 2015; Mann & Jeaneaux, 2009; McMichael, 2016; Patel, 2016; Slee et al., 2014). Some studies highlight participation in decision‐making about the redistribution of resources and water‐based territorial rights (Hoogester, Boelens, & Baud, 2016). Some of the experts considered that workshops with stakeholders, interviews, tribal meetings, seminars and cadastral surveys provided sufficient information dissemination in relation to land compensations and employment opportunities. The local population was encouraged to participate in a 27‐member committee comprising mainly local leaders and religious leaders. Equal participation of all groups (original settlers and latecomers) was, however, ignored, and in some areas such as land measurement, land category decisions and compensation for common land there was no proper information dissemination and public participation.
Although most of the experts and stakeholders pointed to a lack of information dissemination and public participation, after the resolution of the matter of compensation, the affected people including original settlers and latecomers are in favour of the project. Getting the consent of the local population during the initiation of any new infrastructure project can minimize the intensity and scale of land‐use conflict (Huber & Joshi, 2015; Magsi & Torre, 2015).

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Main conflicts: land use issues

Flaws in handling the issues considered above led to three types of major observed conflicts: first, between the government and affected people over acquired land measurement and land categorization; second, among affected people over land ownership; and third, related to boundary conflicts between GB and KPK. Only the first two are considered in this section.
In Pakistan land is managed by local land administrators called patwari, charged by the government to maintain land ownership records. As this is a tribal area, and there were no previous land ownership records and no land registration, all market transactions were verbal. The interviews revealed that most of the conflicts were due to incorrect measurement. Any land transaction conflict used to be dealt with by local leaders. Corruption, mismanagement and cronyism could lead to incorrect measurement. The limited accessibility and reliability of patwaris’ records also leaves space for corruption and unofficial changes in land records.
Current official land administration system procedures are also very complicated, leading to delays in court decisions which have affected land markets at national and international levels (Ali & Nasir, 2010). Aspects of land rights change have been addressed (Anaafo, 2015), especially related to informal land rights (Zhu & Simarmata, 2015). Admasu (2015) showed that informal land markets and unfair allocation of formal land are major sources of land‐ use change, causing conflicts due to political favouritism and mismanagement by local land managers. In general, political alliances among land managers to gain control of critical water and land resources influence resource conflicts and demand attention (Campbell, Gichohi, Mwangi, & Chege, 2000).
Another prominent conflict between the government and affected people in the case of Diamer Bhasha Dam project was related to the categorization of acquired land in some places. As already mentioned, three land categories (cultivated, cultivable and barren land) were established as the basis for compensation. Reports suggest that fertile land was said to be barren to reduce the amount of compensation (Singh, 2012), leading to land category manipulation conflicts between the government and the affected population, mainly in Kino Das, which was selected as site for a model village with the same name. People claimed that the government classed cultivable land as barren to reduce the compensation rate.
Corruption and bias in the distribution of compensation were also seen in some cases. According to some local experts and stakeholders, some of the developmental facilities (schools and hospitals) for Diamer district are going to be built in other districts. Moreover, the Home Secretary of GB is subject to a corruption investigation regarding the distribution of land compensation that puts the Diamer Bhasha Dam project on weaker ground (Dawn, 31 January 2012).
Among other land disputes, one of the most important was between the original settlers and latecomers over compensation for common land. This serious socio‐economic dispute focuses on several areas, mainly in Thak Das (another model village site) and Chilas. Original settlers take the view that under customary laws latecomers have no right to compensation for common land taken for the project. However, latecomers comprise the majority of the population, creating a serious land acquisition problem for the government. Legal rights to land are not only a source of conflict between different actors but also affect livelihoods, especially where most of the affected people or communities have no legal land rights (Flood, 1997; Moran, 2004), where tenure reforms involve bias and favouritism and fail to protect informal land rights (Rigon, 2016). Historical inequalities which disadvantage specific groups of people are considered prominent sources of conflict (Marx, 2016).
The common land compensation conflict is, however, not over amounts of compensation but over its distribution between original settlers (who arrived first in this area and claim the ownership of the entire land in the light of local tradition and the history of early settlement) and latecomers. Conflict over compensation in Thak Das and Kino Das is the major reason why the government could not acquire land and start model village construction. Corruption involving resourceful persons who tried to register common land to secure compensation was also noticed. Moreover, the boundary dispute between GB and KPK that resulted in four deaths and several injuries was also mainly over compensation for common land (Dawn, 6 May 2016).

Geopolitical conflicts, international concerns and finances

The project also involves several territorial disputes between GB and KPK and also between Pakistan and India, as GB is a disputed territorial entity. The territorial conflict between GB and KPK is over an approximately 7 km stretch of territory on the left bank of the Indus, connecting Bhasha Village (KPK) to Chilas (GB). According to some local leaders of Diamer district (GB) who are dealing with this issue in court, this area historically belongs to GB according to the map of Kashmir. Before the announcement of the Diamer Bhasha Dam project this area comprised common pastures under control of GB. After decision about the dam project the territory was claimed by KPK on the grounds that the official map of the region identifies it as part of KPK. The rival claims relate to the problem of compensation, although if this territory comes under KPK, it will obtain a share of the royalties from electricity generation. Moreover, India claims that GB is a part of India. According to Indian sources, Pakistan’s control over the territory does not justify any infrastructural project without the consent of local people and, in a larger context, of India (Singh, 2012).
Time and limited physical resources have added another complex dimension to the project. The dam itself depends on finance from various donor agencies. Initially, in 2008, China was going to provide major funding along with 17,000 workers who had worked on the Three Gorges Dam. The ADB initially offered to provide US$2.5 billion of the US$5 billion requested by Pakistan, but it had some reservations relating to the passing of a consensus resolution by the National Assembly and the territorial dispute between KPK and GB.
The National Savings Directorate suggested that the government of Pakistan issue some Rs. 200 billions of security bonds to help finance the project (Kundi, 2012), but no concrete steps have been taken. Initially, the World Bank also promised to lend money, but on 2 July 2011 it refused due to the territorial dispute and because of Indian concerns. The Pakistan government subsequently sought to convince the World Bank to provide finance. For example, in August 2013 the Finance Minister claimed that a No Objection Certificate from India was not necessary (Kiani, 2013); the World Bank has, however, made no commitment.

Table of contents :

Scientific Productions of Thesis
List of Tables
List of Figures
General Introduction
Chapter 1: Land‐use conflict and socio‐economic impacts of infrastructure projects: the case of Diamer Bhasha Dam in Pakistan
Chapter 2: Infrastructural Project Loopholes and Land Use Conflicts Nexus Based on National and Regional Dailies. The Case of Diamer Bhasha Dam in Pakistan
Chapter 3: Different proximities and conflicts related to the setting of big infrastructures: The case of Diamer Bhasha dam in Pakistan
Chapter 4: Infrastructural Projects and Land Use Conflicts in Developing and Developed Countries: Comparative Review of literature and different Case Studies
General Conclusion
Annex A
Annex B
Annex C


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