Understanding the Strategies used to address the impacts of Land Use Change

31 August 2018
Understanding the Strategies used to address the impacts of Land Use Change

People facing/likely to face the negative impacts of land use change may not communicate their grievances immediately. When these impacts are communicated to the project entity or the media or the government and collective action is taken towards addressing the impacts, they become cases of conflicts. The strategies that communities deploy during the course of a conflict could range from a single one-time action for a single remedy to engaging with multiple strategies for one or different remedies.  For instance, an affected community may choose to go to court to seek directions for increasing compensations or addressing pollution harms. Another group of affected people may approach one government agency for addressing water contamination and/or take to the streets to resist additional acquisition of land and/or engage the media to create awareness about the loss of livelihoods. These can take place all at the same time or at different stages of the conflict and the project. Below is a tabular synthesis of key strategies used in the 75 cases of conflicts, as reported in the media, analysed for each of the study countries- India, Indonesia and Myanmar. 

* T: Total number of cases in which a particular remedy has been used; S: Used singly; C: Used in combination

The above analysis makes it clear that most often communities deploy multiple strategies. Presented below are examples of how these strategies have been used in the three countries. The examples demonstrate that there are only a few instances when a strategy can be linked with a clear success. Most often they stop short at certain interim outcomes such as an inquiry or an investigation or they start to head towards a specific outcome only to be turned around at a later stage. 


India: The proposed amendments to the new 2013 Land Acquisition Act in December 2014 led to a nationwide farmers’ protest in India. In August 2015, in light of protests and ahead of the Bihar state elections, the government of India held back the proposed amendments and referred the matter to a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC).

Myanmar: In Shan State in 2016, 100 farmers from Ye Pu village in Taunggyi planted on 2,000 acres of confiscated land. Between 2010 and 2015, despite the land being confiscated the farmers were allowed to plant on the land on a payment of 10,000 Kyats per acre. In May 2016, the farmers were asked to sign documents transferring the land to the army. These 100 farmers didn’t sign the document and continued planting. The army filed a lawsuit against them for trespassing. 


Indonesia: Responding to a civil suit, the Bandung administrative court decided in April 2017 that expansion plans for the Cirebon coal-fired power plant in West Java were in violation of the local spatial planning law. The court ordered the project’s environmental license to be revoked.

India: A case against the Parsa East Ketan Besan (PEKB) coal mine was filed before the National Green Tribunal, the special court for environmental cases, and a judgment suspending the forest diversion approval was given. This was challenged by the operating company before the Supreme Court, where the court allowed mining to continue even as the environment ministry was to review its recommendation. The matter has been subjudice since 2014.

Administrative complaints and appeals

Indonesia: In the case of BNJM coalmine in East Barito in Central Kalimantan, the local environment agency on request from communities, collected samples from the river being polluted by the mine refuse. However, this was done after the community of Lalap and Bentont villages had filed multiple complaints with photographs and media reports on the siltation of the river. In this case, strong evidence of the violation of environment laws helped in getting the government to take action.

India: In the case of the proposal to construct the Tadadi port in Uttara Kannada district of Karnataka, local villagers and environmentalists primarily engaged with the District Collector and the regulatory institutions to influence the decision on whether the port should be granted approval. Although the environment ministry’s expert committee recommended approval in December 2016, the project had not been issued a formal clearance letter and has not initiated construction activity.

International Redress

Myanmar: Thilawa is one of the few projects from the delta region in which international redress has been tried. The Thilawa Social Development Group (TSDG) contacted the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) seeking rehabilitation and relocation facilities as per its guidelines. In response, JICA increased the compensation and improved facilities at the relocation site. Although the relocation site still falls short on many of JICA’s own prescriptions, the efforts resulted in certain corrections. 

Indonesia: An example of seeking international redress is the case of Batang Thermal Power Plant. In December 2016, the community approached the Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC), the key financer with a petition against the plant. In response, the JBIC visited the site and met with the community but claimed that there was no evidence supporting people’s complaints.

Media campaigns/reporting

Indonesia: Media reporting has always been seen in combination with more than one strategy. Because of constant media scrutiny of Batang Thermal Power Plant and Jakarta Bay Reclamation Project along with the protests against the two, the work on the projects has been slow.

India: This has been an important strategy for affected people, especially when they are working with national and international NGOs and researchers. Two prominent examples of this are visible in the strategies used to address conflicts in the Vedanta bauxite mine in Niyamgiri, Odisha and the actions against setting up of the coal mine in Mahan, Madhya Pradesh. Local struggles were supported by national and international media reporting and public campaigns seeking support against setting up of these projects.

Myanmar: Both the local and international media have kept the issue of land confiscations alive. Big cases such as the Letpadaung mine and Myitsone dam and campaigns against the thermal power projects have been on the radar of the media. Media has been key in influencing certain court cases as well.

While these are only a few strategies, affected communities combine these with several other strategies. Political advocacy, participation in administrative procedure such as public hearings, approaching the project owner, are other ways to seek redress. The study, Understanding Land Conversion, Social Impacts and Legal Remedies in Asia, through the country reports, provides an extensive account of how and when each of the strategies has been used. Through the case studies it tries to explore the question of why certain strategies are chosen and how factors such as stage of the conflict, desired remedies, communities’ capacity and agency and political and policy developments influence this choice. 

This is the second blog based on the study carried out by the CPR-Namati Environmental Justice Program, and supported by a grant from IDRC, Canada.

The other pieces in the series can be accessed below: 

The study reports on IndiaIndonesia and Myanmar and an overview of the study’s methodology and findings can be accessed here.

The views shared belong to individual faculty and researchers and do not represent an institutional stance on the issue.