We researched the displacement of tribespeople by the Sardar Sarovar Dam in India in the 1980s and early 1990s and found that forced displacement using eminent domain should only be implemented where the public interest is exceptionally strong, as it was in this case. The Sardar Sarovar Dam project had a good rehabilitation package for the tribespeople: those who were displaced are much better off than their former forest neighbors in land ownership, consumer durables, and access to schools and hospitals. However, 54 percent of displaced people wished to return to their old habitat, showing that nostalgia for ancestral land can matter more than material goods. By contrast, a majority (56 percent) of displaced people under age 40 did not want to return. Nearby forest dwellers were asked if they would like to be “forcibly” resettled with the full compensation package. In two forest groups, 31 percent and 52 percent said yes. Clearly many, though not all, tribespeople yearn to leave the jungle.
Land in reserved forests is legally considered government property, and laws treat forest tribes in their ancestral lands as encroachers. The Indian Forest Rights Act of 2006 provided legal title to forest dwellers for land they had been cultivating as of December 2005. With nongovernmental organization assistance, tribes in Gujarat state used global positioning system devices to map their boundaries, superimposed these on Google maps from 2005, and thus claimed title. After getting title, tribes started using tractors. Many grow genetically modified cotton. They have quickly modernized.
The 2006 act also gave tribes property rights over bamboo in forests; other trees belong to state forest departments. Some tribes in Gujarat now supply bamboo to a paper mill and have earned $4.5 million in five years. With property rights, once penniless tribes have become prosperous plantation owners.