In the due course of the development of hydropower, quite often the ILO Convention 169 is dragged in by locals to substantiate their various claims to the project ranging from compensation and employment to share holding and many other communal facilities. The argument for such claims is that the indigenous groups and tribes have their right to the natural resources on which they depend upon. In case of the hydropower development projects, locals right on the water resource that the project uses. Due to various claims which the proponents of project cannot fulfill, locals create obstructions and the project gets delayed causing enormous cost over- run.
Having a close look on the convention suggests that it may be correct to compensate locals who are affected by project activities while many kinds of benefits based on the ownership of the resource cannot be advanced. In fact, the scope of the convention and more particularly the definitions of tribe and indigenous people are not relevant to the situation of Nepal. Unlike USA, Australia and Canada, Nepal was not discovered nor new settlers came in here by pushing the inhabitant tribes and indigenous people to the brink.
In fact, the whole population of Nepal is composed of a mosaic of various ethnic groups inhabiting harmoniously for centuries. It is a country of the people who have been there since the inception of Nepal as a country. Outsiders did not invade and drive out locals.
Moreover, under the law of the land ownership of natural resources and more particularly on water resource rests with the state. Being fluvial in nature and a vital need for sustenance, it cannot and should not belong to a particular tribe or community. The convention does not accord Veto right to the locals in the project. It allows the ratifying countries to apply the provisions of the convention ‘ flexibly’ in the national context. Under the convention the proponent of the hydro project has to ensure transparency and participation of locals if such project affects their habitat and livelihood.
There needs to be smooth sharing of information and ‘ where possible’ participation in the benefit arising out of such project.
People may also be relocated from their place if it is necessary for the execution of the project. In such situation appropriate procedure as determined by national policy has to be followed and appropriate compensation is to be paid. In the context of our socioethnic situation there cannot be any differentiation between communities belonging to one or the other ethnic groups.
The norms and standards for ‘ participation’, ‘ exchange of information’, ‘ involuntary resettlement’ and ‘ compensation’ are also to be applied on equal basis without any regard to the cast or ethnic group. The definition of ‘ tribe’ and ‘ indigenous people’ in the convention is so wide that all Nepalis fall either in one or the other group and hence the provisions of convention cannot be applied to a particularly ethnic group.
No ethnic group can claim for special right against another and hence the convention which purports to address the rights of a special category of people in any country becomes irrelevant in the case of Nepal for it loses its specialty.
Therefore, it is the duty of the social mobilisers and all those who are involved in the construction of hydropower to take the convention in its rightful meaning and dispel the confusion. We need to clear the fog of misinterpretation of the convention and help creating a congenial atmosphere for the smooth execution of projects which we need desperately.
By : Surya Nath Upadhyay
The author is Former Chief of CIAA, Former Secretary of Water Resource & Secretary General of Jalsrot Vikas Sanstha
Source : The Himalayan Times