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Resettlement of people through consensus

Laxman Perera

Ministry of Urban Development and Water Supply
Sethsiripaya, Battaramulla, Sri Lanka


Resettlement of people in infrastructure development projects is a daunting task in Sri Lanka. Strong resistance from people to move away from their original residences had created long delays in implementing nationally important infrastructure development projects such as construction of highways, power plants, canal development etc.

The Lunawa Environment Improvement and Community Development project, aims to mitigate the flood damage by improving urban drainage and canal systems in two highly dense Municipal Council areas adjacent to Sri Lanka’s capital city, Colombo. It has applied an innovative approach to resettle 514 families in six new resettlement sites. The project cost is US$ 72 million and is funded by the Japanese Bank for International Corporation with technical assistance provided by the UN-Habitat. The project was socially marketed through Community Based Organizations introducing a ‘resettlement package with minimum disturbances’ with the objective of resettling affected families without disturbing their livelihood. The parameters used to develop the ‘Resettlement Package’ were livelihood patterns of affected families and host communities, market structure of urban properties, local authority regulations, public investment programmes of the area, re-adjustment capacity of the affected community with the host community in the socio-cultural context and the country’s Involuntary Resettlement Policy. The Project was able to build broad-based consensus among affected families, local authorities and the Project through the community consultation process and the mobilization of affected families to the new settlement sites. The evaluation of the resettlement is to be carried out using social re-adjustment scales in six months and one year after settlement.

Three key learnings: (1) community participation through an institutionalized framework would create conducive environment to implement infrastructure projects which require extensive relocation programme, (2) community sensitization is a worthy approach and NGOs have a significant role to perform in social marketing, (3) comprehensive entitlement package based on socio-economic damage assessment framework to compensate resettlers is an essential tool to relocate families in infrastructure development projects.

Key words

Community participatory process, community based organizations, involuntary resettlement, community mobilization, stakeholder participation, livelihood restoration.


Resettlement programmes in infrastructure development projects are implemented under the existing legal framework of the country namely, the Constitution of Sri Lanka, Land Acquisition Act, National Environmental Act, National Housing Development Authority Act and Urban Development Authority Act. The land acquisition procedure within the existing legal framework is very time consuming and cumbersome as it requires a series of legal and institutional formalities. This lengthy and complex procedure has created a long delay in paying compensation for affected people, and creates frustration in resettlement activities in almost all infrastructure development programmes in the country. Inadequate information dissemination and poor community consultations have created a negative impact in many of the resettlement efforts in the country (Road Development Authority 2002). In this scenario resettlement of people in infrastructure development projects has become a daunting task in Sri Lanka. Strong resistance from people to move away from their original residences had created long delays in implementing nationally important infrastructure development projects such as construction of highways, power plants, canal development etc. Having recognized the delays in resettlement activities and strong resistance from affected communities the Government of Sri Lanka has introduced a National Involuntary Resettlement Policy (NIRP) providing a pathway to focus on human and ethical considerations and to minimize involuntary displacement as much as possible. Further the NIRP also requires the payment of resettlement value (replacement cost) and arrangements for resettlement and, where necessary, to include aspects such as rehabilitation, upgrading of income and social restoration.

The objective of this paper is to discuss the new initiatives that are being implemented in the area of resettlement of communities due to infrastructure development and to suggest a framework to assess impact on the resettlement process.

A new initiative

A ‘Resettlement Package’ through the Participatory Resettlement Process was initiated in an infrastructure development project in the year 2002. The primary objective of the new initiative was to resettle the affected families with minimum disturbance to their livelihood within the expected timeframe of the project implementation period. The secondary objectives are; to enhance livelihoods and economic base of re-settlers; to introduce best environment management practices; integrate host communities with re-settlers; and ensure the local government regulations are being followed in new settlements.

Implementation process

New initiatives on resettlement was introduced in a project which intends to mitigate flood damages by improving Lunawa Lake urban drainage and associated canal systems and contribute to the improvement of living conditions of people in highly dense populated Municipal areas, of Moratuwa and Dehiwela/Mount Lavinia. It is expected that project interventions would eventually lead to environmental improvement and the resettlement of people on the banks of the lake and canals. The population resident within the basin is estimated at 85,000 covering 18,112 households and consisting of low-income slum and shanty dwellers as well as lower and upper middle class population. The above resident population, a large number of industries (reportedly 367 industries) and commercial establishments located in the basin discharge a huge volume of untreated industrial effluent, industrial waste water, residential and commercial wastewater into the Lake causing environmental pollution. As a result, the Lake that supported a large fishing industry and other livelihood activities in the past has become devoid of aquatic life and hence reported as biologically defunct.

Meanwhile, most of the areas of the basin are subject to heavy floods during monsoon periods. Storm waters are not drained systematically and quickly into the Lake and as a result of clogging of drains due to dumping of solid waste and silt depositing; the drains have reduced their carrying capacity. Illegal encroachment of waterways by way of unauthorized construction of houses, buildings, walls and culverts of insufficient width also contribute heavily to raising of upstream water levels and resultant floods. Approximately 2800 dwellings and a 13,000 resident population have been continuously affected due to floods. The annual flood damage has been estimated at US $ 0.4 million (Lunawa Environmental Improvement and Community Development Project 2001).

With this dilapidated environmental condition and poor socio-economic status the Government of Sri Lanka has launched the Lunawa Environment Improvement and Community Development Project with the total investment of US$ 72 million generated through the Japanese Bank for International Corporation and the Government of Sri Lanka. The project was designed with two components i.e. technical as well as human settlements and community development.

Target Population

The community development programme of the project is targeted at improvement of the quality of lives of poor and vulnerable groups in the project area. Therefore, the program especially covers resettlement of 512 project-affected families. Furthermore, Project Affected Persons (PAPs) have been identified with their family backgrounds. The children and women who deserve social safeguards to ensure better living have been identified as two special target groups. At the secondary level the program will deal with the rich and affluent for neighbourhood development and social integration.

The approach

Based on the National Involuntary Resettlement Policies (NIRP), the project has introduced a ‘Resettlement Package’ through a participatory approach for re-settlement and livelihood development. Participatory approach and actions are considered as important elements of an effective resettlement through consensus among all stakeholders. The participating main stakeholders include ‘would be resettlers’, host communities, implementing agencies and, service providers.

The participatory process

The participatory resettlement process adopted in the project to market the ‘Resettlement Package’ had a number of entry points aiming at different target groups at different levels.

Partnership with NGOs

Two reputed and experienced NGOs have been invited to work as intermediaries in partnership with the project. The field staff of the NGOs work as the interface between the project and the PAPs. Inputs of the NGOs are broad-based holistic development and with specific focus on human elements of the re-settlement activities. A housing advisory unit has been established with objective of providing advisory services to PAPs in planning and designing of individual houses. The two NGO’s have a facilitation role in the sharing of information. In order to ensure skill development, participation of youth in the project has been introduced under a youth empowerment program called ‘Excellence’.

Community sensitization / mobilization

The Project staff strongly believes that through the Participatory Resettlement Process, Project Affected People must be allowed to mobilize themselves to access information, make choices, determine priorities, mobilize resources, request financing or other assistance, and implement and manage development activities in the re-settlement sites.

Furthermore the Project took explicit measures to assure that programs are socially inclusive – giving voice and decision making responsibility to men, women, youth and marginalized groups as communities are not homogenous.

Community mobilization was initiated through an educative process encouraging them to organize themselves as Social Development Committees and Community Based Organizations for collective action. Settlement Development Committees (SDCs) have been formulated representing the beneficiary and affected communities of a particular resettlement site are registered with respective MCs. The setting up of the SDCs was the end result of a comprehensive community mobilization process, which included activities such as community awareness, identification of existing/ potential interest groups in the directly affected communities, identification and assessment of existing community organizations representing affected communities, formation of interest groups/ uniform clusters, formation of core groups representing interest/ cluster groups, implementation of entry community activities involving core group members, community self- assessment/ situation analysis etc. The existing CBO’s were educated through lengthy dialogue and convinced on project objectives and brought into the CBO network. A Community Information Centre was setup to facilitate the community participatory process.

Formulating the ‘Resettlement Package’

The ‘Resettlement Package’ was developed through participatory process adopted by a series of workshops where all stakeholders were able to actively contribute. All statutory institutions in the government sector, local authorities, community base organizations, NGO’s and the project staff contributed to develop the ‘Resettlement Package’. The parameters used to develop the ‘Resettlement Package’ were livelihood patterns of affected families and host communities, market structure of urban properties, local authority regulations, public investment programme for the area, readjustment capacity of the affected community with the host community in the socio-cultural context and the country’s Involuntary Resettlement Policy.

Damage assessment matrix

A Damage Assessment Working Group (DAWG) has been established and was institutionalized with necessary legitimate powers to take decisions. Therefore DAWG was well represented by the mandatory institutions, CBOs and NGOs to take such decisions as per existing legal framework of the country. The terms of reference of the DAWG includes assessment of structural damage based on the canal development plan, estimation of the replacement cost, assessment of livelihood disruption, duration for resettlement and cost of transition etc.

Entitlement assessment committee participatory entitlement agreements

The final output of the Damage Assessment Working Group was to propose the entitlement for resettlement of each project affected family based on the ‘Resettlement Package’. The proposed entitlement was formally informed and negotiated with the respective project affected person at the Entitlement Assessment Committee meetings (EAC meeting). These EAC meetings are being represented by the project management staff, members of the DAWG and explained to the PAP, the formula used to calculate the entitlement and given the opportunity to make clarifications, suggestions and even reject the propose entitlement. Number of EAC meetings per PAP is limited to three and if both parties failed to agree upon, the appeal of the PAP is submitted to appeal committee on entitlement package.

Adaptive and consultative resettlement planning

Technical designs in the past have not given due consideration to local wisdom / local interests / views. Therefore, attempts have been made to involve PAPs into the resettlement process to develop site specific Resettlement Action Plans from the planning stage of the resettlement sites through the planning committees. Serviced land plots were provided and CBOs and CDCs were given the opportunity to negotiate and allocate land plots to each re-settler with the assistance of two NGOs and the project staff. Technical inputs on infrastructure development such as water supply, electricity, drainage systems, sewer networks etc and developing architectural plans for each re-settler were provided by the project technical staff and local authority staff as a part of the ‘Resettlement Package’.

Community Action Planning (CAP), Participatory Resettler- Housing Development

Resettlement Action Plans (RAP) have been Implemented through a participatory process ensuring the re-settler would be the centre of the implementation process. The project enters into community contracts with the PAPs and facilitates community consultation on housing construction. A tripartite Memorandum of Understanding is signed by the each PAP, the Project and a commercial bank selected by the PAP in order to manage the entitlement package received by the PAP. Funds have been released to PAPs based on the progress of the construction which is jointly reviewed both PAP and the Project staff.

Complaints and Grievances

PAPs are given the opportunity to submit written complaints or grievances related to any aspect of the resettlement process, including the determined quantities and value of the lost assets, acceptability entitlement package offered would be addressed by the Grievance Redress Committee providing a documented response to the claimants within fifteen days.

Impact on participatory resettlement process

The participatory resettlement process had created a feeling of ownership to the project among the PAPs and other stakeholders. The project took nearly 15 months to implement the cycle of the resettlement and was able to mobilize 317 PAPs to begin their new life in the resettlement sites. The rest of the PAPs are in the process of mobilizing at various stages of the process. The most remarkable achievement so far is none of the PAPs have shown strong resistance or taken legal action against the resettlement programme, which is not the case for many other infrastructure development projects in the country.


There is no uniform / universal pre-planned process relating to involuntary resettlement, which involves human beings of different calibre. Efforts on resettlement of families in infrastructure projects varied for many reasons such as impact of the social marketing programme, economic status of PAPs, response of the neighbourhood. Some activities are being implemented on a trial and error basis. It is important to ensure that impact assessment of resettlement is carried out thoroughly 9and scientifically). Therefore an objective based impact assessment framework has been formulated and implemented within the project implementation cycle. The Knowledge Attitudes and Practices (KAP) Survey conducted by the UN-HABITAT was able to assess the existing knowledge base, attitudes and practices of selected target groups on resettlement programme. The survey provided guidance to revisit some of the social marketing aspects and to adjust them as well as introduce new components to the Resettlement Process.

The hypothesis developed with the introduction of the ‘entitlement package’ through participatory process is that it provides better living conditions, elevates economic status and standard of life.

It was found that displacement through involuntary resettlement forces project- affected people to start life afresh in the new settlement site with greater challenges such as restoration of livelihood, integration with host communities etc. Further it is argued that mental distress due to resettlement stress among PAPs is high and there may be strong necessity to address health aspects within the resettlement process.

The other aspect is that the resettlement package offers better amenities to the resettlement community

than the host community. This creates disintegration rather than integration. Therefore it is important to assess the host community attitudes towards re-settlers in order to bridge the gap.

The community participatory approach has not been encouraged by the local political authorities in general. It has been evident that many local political leaders considered the participatory resettlement process to be a threat to their authority. Therefore a parallel attitudinal changing process may need to be implemented as a part of the resettlement plan. This requires attitudinal survey among political leaders in the local level. Furthermore evaluation of the participatory resettlement programme through consensus need to be carried out after completion of resettling the total target population in the project using tools such as social readjustment scale in order to replicate into other infrastructure development programmes in the country.


Government of Sri Lanka, (2001) National Involuntary Resettlement Policy

Lunawa Environmental Improvement and Community Development Project (2001), ‘Special Assistance for Project Formation Report, Lunawa Environmental Improvement and Community Development Project, Sri Lanka.

Lunawa Environmental Improvement and Community Development Project, (2004), Community development Program -Guidelines for attitudinal Changes, Lunawa Environmental Improvement and Community Development Project, Sri Lanka.

Lunawa Environmental Improvement and Community Development Project, (2003), ‘Resettlement Package’, Lunawa Environmental Improvement and Community Development Project, Sri Lanka.

Road Development Authority (2002), ‘Resettlement Implementation Plan-Southern Transport Development Project in Sri Lanka’, Road Development Authority, Sri Lanka

UN_HABITAT (2004), Knowledge Attitudes and Practices (KAP) Survey on Lunawa Environmental Improvement and Community Development Project UN-Habitat, Colombo Office

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