In 2017, a total of 1,346,000 new displacements were recorded, with the majority linked to disasters, much like previous years. This occurred particularly due to flooding from the monsoon season. Bihar was one of the areas that was the most affected, with about 855,000 new displacements in this state alone. Conflict also contributed to new displacement, with 78,000 new displacements recorded throughout the year, the majority linked to border clashes in Jammu and Kashmir. At the end of 2017 there were an estimated 806,000 people still displaced due to conflict.
What causes displacement?
Displacement in India is largely driven by disasters (with the highest levels of disasters displacement in South Asia in absolute terms), and to a lesser extent by small scale, protracted conflict. Although data is difficult to come by, case studies have highlighted the phenomenon of development-induced displacement, which arises from rapid economic growth and urbanisation.
Displacement figures have mainly been associated with flood and storm events, although India is exposed to a range of natural hazards, with approximately 68% of the country’s land area prone to drought, 59% of the land area prone to earthquakes and 76% of the coastline exposed to cyclones and tsunamis. These physical factors combined with the country’s high population density, poverty as well as rapid urbanisation and environmental degradation makes it the country most at risk of displacement related to disasters in South Asia.
The type of hazards vary across geographic regions. Areas on the east coast are exposed to tropical storms and cyclones forming in the Bay of Bengal, while states in the north bordering Nepal and Pakistan can experience frequent seismic activity. While most of the country is impacted by monsoon rains, particularly flood-prone areas include the Brahmaputra, Ganges and Meghna River basins in the Indo-Gangetic-Brahmaputra plains in north and northeast India.
Major events in recent years have included monsoon flooding in 2016, which particularly affected Bihar and Assam, leading to 1,670,000 and 495,000 new displacements respectively, and tropical cyclone Komen in 2015, which hit West Bengal and Manipur, leading to 506,000 new displacements. In 2017, the majority of new displacements occurred due to monsoon flooding again, leading to a total of approximately 1,344,000 new displacements across 8 states, the worst affected being Bihar state where 855,000 evacuations took place.
Conflict-induced displacement is also an issue, although it can be complex to track and obtain comprehensive data in this area as conflicts are sometimes very localised. It can include violent secessionist and identity-based movements or localised violence based on religion and caste. The main long-standing conflicts are ongoing clashes in Kashmir, insurgency in the North-Eastern states, as well as the insurgency in the so-called “Red Corridor” group of central and eastern states, predominantly in Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand. In addition, localised violence such as the 2013 Muzaffarnagar riots can quickly lead to high levels of displacement.
In Jammu and Kashmir, displacement has been driven by ongoing clashes near the line of control between Indian and Pakistan-administered Kashmir. After years of uneasy peace following a ceasefire in 2003, tensions spiked again in late 2016, leading to 70,000 new displacements due to this crisis in 2017.
Finally, development projects also have the potential to displace significant numbers of people. This includes projects such as dams, mines and industrial plants, but also urban renewal projects and environmental conservation. An IDMC study conducted in 2016 found that the risks posed by development-induced displacement are high, as large-scale land acquisitions can exacerbate pre-existing inter-ethnic and inter-religious tensions. In the long term, this can fuel conflict over land access and use. Although it is difficult to obtain comprehensive data on this topic, the Housing and Land Rights Network India, an NGO specialised on this topic, has estimated through its National Eviction and Displacement Observatory that up to 260,000 people became displaced in 2017, due to housing demolitions for a range of development projects. Meanwhile, preliminary results from an IDMC analysis of resettlement plans for World Bank-financed projects between 2014 and 2016 found that 11,000 people were at risk of becoming displaced because of 11 different projects.
Where and how do people move?
The states particularly affected by disasters in recent years include Assam, Bihar, Andhra Pradesh, Odisha, Eastern Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat and Jammu and Kashmir. Displacement caused by disasters such as riverine or flash flooding is chronic and in many cases short-term, as hazards are recurrent and seasonal, with many states affected on a yearly basis. The precise locations and movements of people displaced by disasters are not usually documented. The majority of IDPs tend to stay with family or friends, while a minority may use the services of state-run relief camps.
Most people displaced by conflict are located in Jammu and Kashmir and in Assam. People often live in temporary camps, including informal ones, while others live in rented accommodation or houses purchased with financial compensation from the government. The return of people displaced by conflict is often obstructed by ongoing insecurity, hostility between groups, and unresolved housing and land disputes.
Displacement caused by development projects affects all areas of the country, although as noted above, little quantitative data exists. While some people may be included in resettlement programmes, their new locations and the suitability of these programmes are often unknown. In addition, many people who were not settled elsewhere or who did not receive compensation for lost homes and incomes, may end up living in informal settlements in large urban centres or moving in with nearby relatives. In rare cases, people may return to their former homes when projects do not fully materialise and their land is still unused, but this uncertainty remains highly disruptive on an individual and community level.
What is life like for IDPs and communities hosting them?
The fate of people displaced by disasters, conflict or development projects in India is a significant information gap, especially for those who do not live in formal camps or resettlement areas. No comprehensive humanitarian assessment of IDPs’ needs has been conducted at the national level.
However, IDP profiling assessments have shown that some socially excluded communities such as scheduled castes, indigenous groups and religious minorities, are often disproportionally at risk of becoming displaced, and can become further propelled into poverty and marginalisation due to repeated livelihood loss. Women and girls displaced by conflict also represent a vulnerable group as they are at increased risk of gender-based violence, and additionally struggle to access healthcare, education, livelihoods and legal remedies.
In general, poor living conditions for IDPs can be worsened by the fact that people displaced by conflict often leave behind or lose their identity cards, sometimes through confiscation, evacuation or violence, which obstructs their access to social security.
People displaced by development in India largely do not benefit from the projects that displace them. Reportedly, only a minority of people receive assistance, which is often inadequate to restart their lives. People who have been settled elsewhere in the country report tenure insecurity, inadequate housing, absence of basic services, lack of safety for women and children, and limited opportunities for livelihoods and income as some of their main struggles following displacement.
Where does the data on displacement come from and what are the main challenges?
Collecting comprehensive data on displacement in India is a challenge. Conflict-induced displacement in particular is politically sensitive, and there are very few organisations collecting data on the topic. In some cases, conflict-displaced populations are “invisible”. Populations may have become displaced due to protracted conflict such as that of the border tensions in Jammu and Kashmir, and displacement becomes multigenerational if people cannot find durable solutions. Most of the data that forms IDMC’s estimates come from ad-hoc cases that have been highlighted by local media sources and studies conducted by local NGOs that specialise in certain geographic areas. There is a lack of country-wide data, and IDMC’s figures are likely to be underestimates.
Collecting data on disaster-induced displacement is difficult primarily because of the massive scale of the issue: India is vulnerable to a large number of natural hazards and has a large population, often living in densely populated areas and/or in fragile housing. The majority of people opt to stay with family or friends following disasters and are thus difficult to locate and count. Although data on shelter usage exists, disaster response, including shelter management, is organized at a state level, and there is no centralized national data sharing system for the whole country. However, while displacement-specific data is still a challenge to obtain, data on disaster losses and accounting is more developed, with certain states such as Tamil Nadu or Orissa following the Desinventar system. In addition, a new nation-wide disaster loss accounting database will soon be launched, forming a good opportunity for displacement-related data to be integrated.
Finally, collecting data on development-induced displacement brings its own challenges. No comprehensive data sets exist, so researchers might analyse a range of sources including the media or reports from specialised NGOs working on the topic, that document the effects of particularly newsworthy development projects. Large funding institutions, such as international and regional development banks, often produce feasibility studies and resettlement plans that estimate the number of affected people before carrying out a project. However, a major obstacle is that these reports, if they exist, discuss compensation, rehousing options and the number of people at risk of being displaced, not the number of people who are actually displaced. There is very little follow-up on the situation of people once a project has been carried out. For these reasons, figures on development-induced displacement are indicative at best, and are highly likely to be significant underestimates.
|Displacement type||New Displacement (Flow)||IDPs (Stock)|
|Geographical disaggregation||Subnational - admin 1||Subnational - admin 1|
|Geographical coverage||Partial coverage||Partial coverage|
|Frequency of reporting||Other||Other|
|Disaggregation on sex||No||No|
|Disaggregation on age||No||No|
|Data triangulation||Some local triangulation||Some local triangulation|
|Data on settlement elsewhere||No||No|
|Data on returns||No||No|
|Data on local integration||No||No|
|Data on deaths||No||No|
|Data on births||No||No|
IDMC’s estimates for India are considered conservative, based mainly on media reports, as there is a lack of systematic monitoring of conflict displacement in the country and limited access to affected areas. Displacement in India was typically related to border skirmishes with Pakistan, along with some civil unrest and communal tensions. However, due to the fluid and ongoing nature of displacement in the country, it is believed that only a small proportion of IDPs returned home by the end of the year.
What are governments currently doing to prevent and respond to displacement?
In recognition of the specific risks and impacts posed by displacement due to development, India is one of the only countries in the world to have drafted specific policies and legal frameworks on this issue, starting with the 2004 National Policy on Resettlement and Rehabilitation for Project Affected Families. This was updated in the 2007 National Rehabilitation and Resettlement Policy, which aimed to reduce large-scale displacement caused by development projects, ensure the implementation of adequate rehabilitation packages, and improve communication and cooperation between development planners and affected families.
In 2013, protections for people displaced by development projects were enshrined in law via a historic piece of legislation, “The Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Resettlement and Rehabilitation Act” (LARR). This act went further than the recommendations stipulated in the related policies, to introduce the legal power of prior consent, or refusal, of land acquisitions by project-affected families, the possibility of market transactions for the transfer of land and improved compensation rates, and an improved institutional capacity for resettlement and rehabilitation.
Regarding disasters, a noteworthy policy is the 2016 National Disaster Management Plan, which has been developed in accordance with the provisions of the 2005 Disaster Management Act and the guidance given in the 2009 National Policy on Disaster Management, along with other established national practices. It provides guidance on all phases of the disaster management cycle, in accordance with the approach given in the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction. India has also produced a National Action plan on Climate Change (NAPCC). While not explicitly mentioning displacement, it addresses some of the underlying issues that fuel disaster risk and thus disaster-induced displacement in 8 national “missions”; including a focus on protection of certain vulnerable eco-systems such as the Himalayas and coastal areas.
India does not currently have national policies specifically addressing conflict-induced displacement. This is an opportunity for improved humanitarian response, because as some commentators have argued, a national policy would provide more clarity on who constitutes an IDP in this situation and allow for funding for humanitarian response to be channelled more effectively to particularly affected states.