4(3) Conservation and Society (2006)

Displacement and Relocation from Protected Areas: International Law Perspectives on Rights, Risks and Resistance

Doreen Lustig & Benedict Kingsbury

Read PDFRead PDF

Mahesh Rangarajan and Ghazala Shahabuddin connect the discouraging results and frequent injustices of current policy on conservation and displacement in India to a fundamental incoherence in the very framing of this policy. They attribute this incoherence in part to the stark irresolution of debates among policy professionals, intellectuals, and activists about how to conceptualise the issues. They recognise also the importance of basic political structures to the substance of this policy. This is made clear at the end of their paper, where the gloom of their accounts of the recent and the distant past is alleviated by the hopeful conjecture that the broadening of participation within Indian democracy may soon propel the adoption and implementation of policies on these issues that are more holistic, comprehensive, rational, and just. We address here the issues they raise, from the standpoint of international law and institutions. In doing so, we will note broad parallels between the evolution of approaches in India as chronicled by Rangarajan and Shahabuddin, and the wider international law on displacement of people for development or conservation. But we add an important corollary to the conjecture on which they end. We observe that participation of the directly affected people tends to involve them becoming part of a balancing process. This balancing can result in the deontological dimension of rights being surrendered in a purely instrumentalist calculation. If the norms and institutions were not already primed to give them real weight, the interests of the holders of these rights may be eclipsed by the holders of more powerful material or moral interests. We note the roles that strategies of disavowal and resistance have played in opening the spaces for constructive participatory engagement under current conditions of globalisation, and caution against sanguine assumptions that the time for such strategies has altogether passed.