Geographies of Dispossession to "Bhoodan" Repossession-Climate Displacements

Scientific Essay, 2017

18 Pages


Table of Contents


Dispossession of climate geographies

Role of the State and Climate displacements

Climate induced assimilation – The Battle for land and [Law] in South Asian Region

Governing of Climate displacements: The Bhoodan Way




The impact of Forced displacement in South Asia will lead to scarcity and dispossession of land and create ‘spaces of exception’ and ‘spaces of exclusion’. Such dispossession will create new ‘global souls’ [climate Refugees] and new social-cultural geographies of identity determined and organised on the basic of catastrophic climatic events. The momentous rejoinder to climate change will require sacrifices, strong regional Institutions with accurate governance and cooperation across multiple scales. Hitherto, the land management policies of the State in South Asia have failed in supporting the commons and the livelihoods options of the citizens and non-citizens alike. With emerging discourse of climate change new land management policies are indispensable that will further demand committed leadership and powerful regulation. The goal of this paper is to analyses the relevance of Bhoodan movement as an institution to govern the common property management and the use of natural resources in a sustainable way. This paper will further look into how this concept can be used inter-state or intra-state within South Asia towards climate displaced community across multiple logics of dispossession, violence and insecurity and where wider socio-economic, political and legal struggles come together and understand that whether it would be able to provide land and dignity to millions who will be crossing edge in search of protected lands and livelihood.

Keywords: South Asia, Climate Change, Bhoondan Movement, Climate displacements.


The relationship between Climate Change to geography of ‘dispossession’ to geography of ‘repossession’ of land are multifaceted. The impacts of climate change on land is visible throughout the region of South Asia and these abrupt changes will be deteriorating accessibility of land for both productive use and resettlement of Climate displaced migrants. As a result, to scrutiny ‘Bhoodan movement’ as an option of reconsideration planning in order to secure future of environmental or climate migrants and by making arrangements for their resettlement either inter-state or intra-state within South Asia demands and deserves serious and systematic attention and further research. This paper offers new insights into the relationships between climate changes, geographies of dispossession and Bhoodan movement by integrating three disparate but well-founded bodies of research on the vulnerability of South Asian coastal regions particularly India and Bangladesh and examines the role of state in addressing the issue of climate displacements. Movement of Bhoodan will be anchored around issues of scarcities, survival, identity and reorganization.

Dispossession of climate geographies

Complex geography has been associated with Climate change both in terms of causes and consequences. Coastline sizeable coastal communities and ecosystems are highly vulnerable to changing climate. South Asia will be among those regions hardest hit by climate change. Higher temperatures, more extreme weather, rising sea levels, increasing cyclonic activity in the Bay of Bengal and the Arabian Sea, as well as floods in the region’s complex river systems will complicate existing development and poverty reduction initiatives. Due to high population density levels, along with climate shifts will create complex environmental, humanitarian, and security challenges. India and Bangladesh, in particular, will feel the impacts of climate change intensely along with other development challenges. Extreme events and deteriorating conditions are likely to force many to leave their homes temporarily or even permanently for another village, city, region or country. The impacts of climate warming can be expected to have a range of direct impacts on land use systems, with both direct and indirect repercussions for land rights and access. Shifts in Climatic regions, rising sea levels and increases in extreme climatic events are likely to reduce the availability of land suitable for human settlement and agricultural production, as a result of temperature increases, marine level rise and associated flooding, and restrictions in water supply, leading to population migration and displacement and the need to adjust livelihood patterns to new circumstances. These changes will increase struggle for land and are likely to trigger changes in access to land and land tenure arrangements[i]. Many Climate Experts warn that climate change will increase resource conflicts within and among countries, increase migration pressures on hundreds of millions of people, disrupt economies all over the world, and threaten military preparedness[ii]. The areas where there is already existing conflict in South Asia, climate change is adding as stressor and changing existing migration patterns[iii]. It is imperative to begin examining the emerging climate confrontations to avoid future complex crisis scenarios. In Bangladesh, the capital Dhaka, currently a city of 13 million people, already suffers serious water-logging and drainage problems during the monsoon season. Climate Change will affect Dhaka in two prime ways: through floods and overstretched drainage systems, and through heat stress. Temperature rises in the Himalayas causing the melting of glaciers and snowfields, together with increased precipitation will lead to more frequent flooding, compounding the effects of sea level rise and more intense and frequent storm events[iv]. As a result of these changes, climate change could slow down the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals including those on poverty eradication, child mortality, malaria, and other diseases, and environmental sustainability. In addition, the impacts of climate change will exacerbate existing social and environmental problems and lead to migration within and across national borders. There has been some assumption that climate change may increase the risk of violent conflict[v]. The troubles, priorities and perspectives of forced migration appear to relatively ignore within South Asia particularly in India and Bangladesh. Forced displacements have been taking place at a colossal scale with consequences affecting spaces and societies beyond national borders and Bhoodan movement is a technique for local repossession of land either through the medium of interstate or intra state; a point to which we shall return shortly in the section to follow.

Role of the State and Climate displacements

The twenty first century will be witnessing endless flow of refugees and the developing states will bear the consequences. According to neo-Malthusian perspective climate change will be reducing resource base of vulnerable areas and there would be surplus population displaced by climate warming and that will lead to waves of climate refugees as matter of concern, it will further lead to destabilizing effects[vi]. There would be rivalry related to resources, scare resources become scarcer, injustice grow deeper, new social tensions give rise to violent conflict, civil war, and massive refugee flows. Climate change will pose new challenges in terms of resources, responsibility and justice[vii]. Increasing urbanisation and migration to coastal areas is already being experienced by Asia along with more frequent intense cyclones and storm surges already highly vulnerable to flooding, with much of the poorer urban population in coastal South and Southeast Asia housed in large extra-legal settlements[viii]. As pointed out by David Ludden (2004)[ix] in his intriguing piece of writing titled India and South Asia: A short history insightfully argues, in order to understand history inside South Asia, we must escape the confines of modern boundaries that enclose and separate civilizations to explore a wider world within which these boundaries have been invented, contested defended, and redrawn historically, it is therefore most appropriate to study South Asia as a huge open geographical space in southern Eurasia, rather than imagining it to be fixed historical region with a single territorial definition. Many scholars and climate experts estimated that people will suffer from landlessness in South Asia and particularly in the underdevelopment and poor regions of Bangladesh and India. Under the present circumstances, Bangladeshis are constructing their homes on boats and conducting classes for children over boats whose lands and property were flooded.

Despite land reform, land distribution has become unequal in recent years. Under the law, land holdings of former feudal landlords and private land holding above certain ceilings are intended to become public land known as ‘khas land’ intended for redistribution to the poor and landless. In practice however khas land is subject to extensive land grabbing by rural elites and former landlords, often closely associated with the political class and have social connections with [Climate] bureaucrats, political leaders and the judiciary, and forcible land occupation[x]. In view of the scale of the threats of displacement due to coastal and riparian flooding, migration would be inevitable and there may be a need to develop regional migration and adaptation programmes, including cooperation in resettlement policy[xi]. Climate-induced displacement puts more emphasis on the positive obligations of states to look forward and take measures to prevent or diminish conditions that may bring about dislocation. Many recent studies on the impact of climate change have predicted that even more people are likely to be displaced by the 2050 period [xii] and according to Professor Norman Myers (2005)[xiii] of Oxford University 200 million people would be displaced by 2050. He has further argued that the displaced people will have no other option but to seek asylum in another places despite all kinds of risks involved[xiv]. Both the Stern Committee review on the economics of Climate Change (2006)[xv] and a Christian Aid Report (2007)[xvi] have estimated displacement of 200 million and 250 million people respectively by climate change related phenomena. The Christian Aid Report entitled “Human Tide: The Real Migration Crisis” (2007) has predicted that almost one billion people will be displaced from their homes between now and 2050. The report also points out that forced migration is the most urgent threat which the poor people will be facing in developing countries[xvii]. According to yet another major study titled “In Search of Shelter: Mapping the Effects of Climate Change on Human Migration and Displacement” (2009)[xviii] “the influence of environmental change on human mobility is visible and growing. Current and projected estimates vary widely, with figures ranging from 25 to 50 million by the year 2010 to almost 700 million by 2050”[xix].The report endorses the International Organization for Migration (IOM) estimate of 200 million climate induced migrants by 2050. In the wake of 1 to 2 degree increase in temperature “About 85 per cent of the Maldives mainland which contains the capital Male, would be flooded. Most of the Maldives will be turned into sandbars, which will force 300,000 people to flee to India or Sri Lanka and even the country like Vietnam could lose 500,000 hectares of land in the Red River Delta and another 2 million hectares in the Mekong Delta, could displace near about 10 million people”[xx].There is another view supported by Castles (Cited in Traufetter, 2007) the author of a well known book titled “Age of Migration” in which he argues that when living conditions do get intolerable, people are more likely to move within their own country rather than cross international borders. According to Castles we need more research on how people actually respond in a given area or region to environmental disaster, war, or widespread poverty. He has also given the example of the 1995 earthquake in Kobe, Japan, where most of the 300,000 displaced residents returned a few months later. After the Pinatubo volcano erupted in the Philippines, a large number of people returned to their respective homelands after some years. He also believes that the role of the government in mitigating the disasters is also important. The question then becomes: How well governments manage the things? States are critical to provide opportunities to displaced people, creating and providing a stable environment so that livelihoods can be pursued and take measures to provide protection and care. States in South Asia can exercise their sovereign rights to mediate between regional flows in ways that enhance and protect the certain group’s livelihoods. ‘The climate crisis that is likely to unfold in South Asia will create more profound challenges. With a 5-metre sea level rise, there will be about 125 million climate migrants in this region alone with little or no legal standing under current [National] and international law. In fact the 75 million or so from Bangladesh will be especially vulnerable, as their entire nation-state becomes non-viable as an entity, with most of its land inundated and its economy defunct’[xxi]. States can play critical roles in creating the conditions whereby people can act in ways to pursue the lives they value[xxii]. They can provide protective guarantees to assist people when their livelihoods suddenly contract, for example through income support, food aid, or short term local employment programs. They can provide social, economic and political freedoms. States are responsible to create provision for climate education and Climate care mechanism. States can provide transparency guarantees to ensure openness and accountability in transactions towards climate mitigate actions. These functions of States are interconnected, they ‘‘supplement’’ and ‘‘reinforce’’ each other[xxiii], and their instrumentality is maximised when all are in place. The geo-spacial and geo-cultural outcome of intra-state climate flows through resource induced micro movements will lead us to the thought of hybridity as an expression it is generally conceived of as a condition that transgresses or disconcerts binary geographies that are evoked to draw distinctions between like and unlike or self and other in the recent geographical transformation. In the case of post-colonial studies, the term has come to be ‘associated with the interrogation of those contact spaces in which cultural differences are contingently and conflictally negotiated’[xxiv]. As a consequences of climate change, it evokes several geographies and not one; multiple geographical knowledge’s produced at different places and for equally diverse purposes (ibid). Hybridity, according to Homi Bhabha (1999)[xxv] belongs to ‘in between’ spaces and can be captured in its various subtle nuances only through a counter history of South Asian identities, in which caste, creeds, religions ethnicities are seen as intervened in a multifaceted history of cosmopolitan hybrid of shared [climate] spaces. It is therefore critically important for the regional state and non-state actors of South Asia to reject the orthodox definition of ‘Hybridity’ and to think beyond their egocentric interests. Cultures of ‘purity’ will not arise without assimilating and understanding other’s culture. As Michael Shapiro (1996:3)[xxvi] pointed out that the global system of sovereign states has been familiar with both structurally and symbolically in the daily acts of imaginations through which human space and identity are constructed. The persistence of this international imaginary has helped to support the political privilege of sovereignty affiliations and territorialities. The ultimate decision-maker is the state that calculates the loss of land dispossession and responsible to accommodate displaced people due to climatic reasons. ‘The fact is that state is not the owner of natural resources. The state can at best be the custodian of natural resources that belong to people. The state as an institution in its self accountable to the nation and to its people’ [xxvii]. Within South Asia, Bangladesh, India, and many small island states such as the Maldives face having to relocate large populations over the next 50 years as sea levels rise up to one metre. This would have profound effects on the 1.5 billion people who presently live in coastal areas. It is pointed out by Elizabeth Ferris (2012)[xxviii] that State Governments should be encouraging to establish land funds and to provide support to civil society. She further eloquently stated that ‘Governments are generally required to secure land for the resettlement of affected communities. But in practice, government authorities often declare that substitute land is unavailable, and resort to compensation rather than resettlement. This transfers the burden of finding land onto the shoulders of the displaced people themselves. In the case of climate related displacement, there are likely to be particular difficulties in finding suitable land for resettlement of communities from areas rendered uninhabitable because of the effects of climate change. Firstly, there simply may not be sufficient land available, for example, in Asian megadeltas where potentially millions of people may need to be resettled because of rising sea levels. Secondly, there is likely to be increased pressure on the availability of suitable land for resettlement sites. Thus, if fishing communities need to be resettled because of the erosion of coastlines and sea level rise due to climate change, it is unlikely that it would be easy to find alternatives sites for them- at least in coastal areas which would enable them to continue their traditional livelihoods. Similarly, if large areas of a country are deemed unsuitable for habitation because of drought, the overall availability to land is likely to drastically diminish and land will become much more expensive’[xxix]. Walter Kalin, the former Representative of the Secretary General on Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons and now head of the Nansen Initiative emphasised that a person who cannot be reasonably expected to return his/her place of habitual residence should be considered a victim of forced displacement and be granted at the very least a temporary stay within safe third countries[xxx]. Expert like Scot Leckie (2014)[xxxi] have proposed an alternative before receiving state to provide rights to climate displaced persons as enjoyed by refugees and to the maximum extent like the citizens of the country concerned. Under human rights law, climate displaced persons are those who are forced by circumstances beyond their control to move across an international border ‘are to be entered general human rights guarantees in the receiving state, but do not generally possess right to enter that state’[xxxii]. In the absence of state climate laws the condition of climate displaced community will be further deteriorating and uncertain.


[i] Quan Julian and Nat Dyer.(2008). “Climate Change and Land Tenure The Implications of Climate Change for Land Tenure and Land Policy”. IIED (International Institute for Environment and Development) and Natural Resources Institute (2008). Accessed January 1, 2017

[ii] Bhattacharyya Arpita and Werz Michael. “Climate Change, Migration, and Conflict in South Asia: Rising Tensions and Policy Options Across the Subcontinent”. Washington: Center for American Progress. (2012). Accessed January 1, 2017.

[iii] (ibid)

[iv] NEF and IIED. (2005a). “Up in smoke? Asia and Pacific The threat from climate change to human development and the environment”. The fifth report from the Working Group on Climate Change and Development, IIED, London. Accessed June 28, 2016

[v] Homer-Dixon. T.“On the threshold: environmental changes as causes of acute conflict”. International Security”, 16(1991): 76-116.

Van. I, . Climate change: Socioeconomic impacts and violent conflict. Dutch National Research Programme on Global Air Pollution and Climate Change”(1996) Report No. 410 200 006, Wageningen.

[vi] Hartmann, B. “Strategic Security: The origin and impacts of Environmental conflict ideas”. PhD diss., Development Studies Institute, London School of Economics and Political Science, (2003).

[vii] Welzer, Harald. Climate Wars: What People Will Be Killed For in the 21st Century. Cambridge: Polity, 2012.

[viii] McGranahan, Gordon , Deborah, Balk and Anderson, Bridget. “The rising tide: assessing the risks of climate change and human settlements in low-elevation coastal zones”. Environment and Urbanization 19(2007): 17–37. Accessed November 29 2016 .

[ix] Ludden. David. (2004). India and South Asia: A short History. Oxford: One World Publication: 15-16, 2007.

[x] Barkat, Abul, Zaman uz Shafique, Raihan. Selim. The Political Economy of Khas land in Bangladesh. Association for Land Reform and Development: Dhaka, 2001.

[xi] (NEF & IIED 2005a)

[xii] Chowdhury, Afsan. “The coming Crisis: from Bangladesh to India . . . & then the rest”. Himal South Asian, October. 2009

[xiii] Myers, Norman. “Environmental Refugees: An Emergent Security Issue”. Paper presented at the 13th Economic Forum, Prague, May 23-27, 2005.

[xiv] Norman Myers, 2005.

[xv] Stern, Nicholas Herbert . The economics of climate change: the Stern review. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2007.

[xvi] Christian Aid. (2007). Human Tide: The Real Migration Crisis-A Christian Aid Report. London: Christian Aid.

[xvii] ibid

[xviii] Warner, K.; Erhart, C.; Sherbinin, A. de; Adamo, S. In search of shelter: mapping the effects of climate change on human migration and displacement, (2009),

[xix] (Ibid: 21).

[xx] (Chowdhury, Afsan, 2009:4).

[xxi] Byravan, Sujatha and Rajan, Sudhir Chella. “The Social Impacts of Climate Change in South Asia”, (2008). Accessed February 28 2016 or

[xxii] Sen. A. (1999). Development as freedom. New York: Anchor Books. Shapiro. M.(1996). Introduction to Part 1, in Michael Shapiro and Hayward Alker (Eds.), Challenging Boundaries(pp.30). Minneapolis, MN: University of Minneaspolis Press. Shahi, V. (2011). From Bhoodan to an Alternative Development Model. Anasakti Darshan, 5(2 ) : 6(1).

[xxiii] (Sen 1999: 40)

[xxiv] Whatmore, Sarah. “ Hybridity”. In The Dictionary of Human Geography edited by Gregory.D, Johnston. R, Pratt.G, Watts. M.J & Whatmore. S. (pp, 361). Fifth edition, Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009.

[xxv] Bhabha, Homi. “The Location of culture”. London: Routledge, 1991.

[xxvi] Shapiro. M. “Introduction to Part 1”. In Challenging Boundaries edited by Michael Shapiro and Hayward Alker (pp.30). Minneapolis, MN: University of Minneaspolis Press, 1996.

[xxvii] Majumder, Bhaskar. “Regional Development and Dispossession: Some Experiences on land Acquisition in India, Journal of Regional Development and Planning”, 1(2), 103, 2012.

[xxviii] Ferris. E. (2012). Protection and Planned Relocations in the Context of Climate Change, Legal and Protection Policy Research Series, August, UNHCR/PPLA/2012/04.Geneva: Division of International Protection, UNHCR, 21.

[xxix] ibid

[xxx] Kalin. Walter. “Displacement caused by the Effects of Climate Change: Who will be Affected and what are the Gaps in the Normative Framework for their Protection?” .Background paper, 2008.

[xxxi] Leckie, Scot. Land Solutions for Climate Displacement, business and economics. London: Route ledge, 2014.

[xxxii] ibid

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Geographies of Dispossession to "Bhoodan" Repossession-Climate Displacements
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