PLAN Foundation is also involved in carrying out Social Impact Assessment Studies under its Research and Analysis initiative. These studies are conducted in collaboration with various government and private organizations. We have a dedicated team lead by Mr. Viral Misra for carrying out such projects. Our most recent SIA study includes the acquisition of the Bantony Castle, Shimla. (The Final report and summary can be downloaded from below). Anyone interested to know more about Social Impact Assessment Studies can write us at with subject title SIA. The report has been accepted by the Govt. of Himachal Pradesh and the acquisition process was completed successfully on 16 February, 2017.

Acquisition of Bantony Castle- Tribune 17 February, 2017

The impacts of development projects occur in different forms. While significant benefits result for the society, the project area people may often bear the brunt of adverse impacts. This can happen, for example, when they are forced to relocate to make way for such interventions. There is now a growing concern over the fate of the displaced people. This has given rise to the need to understand beforehand the implications of adverse project impacts so that mitigation plans could be put in place in advance.

Social Impact Assessment alerts the planners as to the likely benefits and costs of a proposed project, which may be social and/or economic. The knowledge of these likely impacts in advance can help decision-makers in deciding whether the project should proceed, or proceed with some changes, or dropped completely. The most useful outcome of a SIA is to develop mitigation plans to overcome the potential negative impacts on individuals and communities.

SIAs can assist advocacy groups as well. A Social Impact Assessment report, done painstakingly, showing the real consequences of the project on affected people and suggesting alternative approaches, gives credibility to their campaigns.

A Historical Overview

Social scientists have long been involved in doing impact assessment, almost since the dawn of their discipline. A canal study carried out by Condorcet in the nineteenth century is believed to be the first Social Impact Assessment. (Prendergast 1989) However, Social Impact Assessment, as it is known today, emerged much later.

In India, SIA has been generally carried out as part of the Environment Impact Assessment clearance process. As part of the EIA process it has therefore not received the attention it deserves.

Social Impact Assessment has now become an important part of the project preparation process, especially for the preparation of Resettlement Action Plans (RAPs) and Land Acquisition Processes. In this process, SIA is carried out as socio-economic survey that identifies social and economic impacts on people and communities facing project-induced displacement. In addition, data thus generated is used in designing mitigation measures as well as in monitoring mitigation implementation.

The World Bank, ADB, IFC, UNDP, as well as most multilateral and private agencies, including commercial banks, require some kind of prior social impact assessment for all the projects that they finance.

The issue is no longer whether SIA should be carried out or not, but how it should be carried out so that the local people benefit from the project and not lose from it, certainly not those who are poor to begin with.

What are Social Impacts?

Social Impacts are the changes that occur in communities or to individuals as a result of an externally-induced change. IOCPGSIA (2003: 231) defines social impacts as “the consequences to human populations of any public or private actions that alter the ways in which people live, work, play, relate to one another, organize to meet their needs, and generally cope as members of society. The term also includes cultural impacts involving changes to the norms, values, and beliefs that guide and rationalize their cognition of themselves and their society.” Social Impacts are both positive and negative.

Changes may effect: employment, income, production, way of life, culture, community, political systems, environment, health and well-being, personal and property rights, and fears and aspirations. These impacts can be positive or negative. In short, a social impact is a significant improvement or deterioration in people’s well-being.

Examples of projects with significant social impacts include: dams and reservoirs (disruption due to relocation), power and industrial plants (influx of work force, pressure on infrastructure), roads and linear projects (dislocation of activity networks), and landfill and hazardous waste disposal sites (seen as health risks).

Differential Impacts

Projects affect different groups differently. Some people tend to benefit, others lose. Often, impacts are particularly severe for vulnerable groups: tribal people, women headed households, elderly persons, landless persons, and the poor.

Types of Impacts

Not all projects cause similar impacts. For example, impacts that are commonly experienced in urban projects are different from those in hydro-power projects. The common hydro-power project impacts include the following:

Submergence of vast areas, usually in hilly, sparsely populated regions, inhabited by agriculture-dependent rural and tribal communities
Forced displacement (often resulting in impoverishment)
Boomtowns (uncontrolled influx of construction workers, crime, social evils)
Downstream adverse changes in agro-production systems
On the other hand, there is no submergence in urban projects. People are affected by loss of jobs, not by loss of agricultural lands.

The following is an illustrative list of possible impacts:


Break-up of community cohesion
Disintegration of social support systems
Disruption of women’s economic activities
Loss of time-honoured sacred places of worship
Loss of archaeological sites and other cultural property

Loss of agricultural lands, tress, wells
Loss of dwellings and other farm buildings
Loss of access to common property resources
Loss of shops, commercial buildings
Loss of businesses/jobs
Overall reduction in income due to above losses
Public Infrastructure and services

Government office buildings
School buildings
Street lighting
Identifying Impoverishment Risks

Identifying impoverishment risks which projects often create is part of the exercise to identify adverse project impacts. The impoverishment risks analysis model adds substantially to the tools used for explaining, diagnosing, predicting, and planning for development. (WCD: 297) The eight most common impoverishment risks to the project area people, as described by Cernea (1996), are as follows:

Landlessness: Expropriation of land removes the main foundation upon which peoples’ productive systems, commercial activities and livelihoods are constructed.
Joblessness: Loss of employment and wages occurs more in urban areas, but it also affects rural people, depriving landless labourers, service workers, artisans, and small business owners of their sources of income.
Homelessness: Loss of housing and shelter is temporary for the majority of displacees, but threatens to become chronic for the most vulnerable. Considered in a broader cultural sense, homelessness is also placelessness, loss of a group’s cultural space and identity.
Marginalization: Marginalization occurs when families lose economic power and spiral downwards. It sets in when new investments in the area are prohibited, long before the actual displacement. Middle-income farm households become small landholders; small shopkeepers and craftsmen are downsized and slip below poverty thresholds. Economic marginalization is often accompanied by social and psychological marginalization and manifests itself in a downward mobility in social status, displaced persons’ loss of confidence in society and in themselves, a feeling of injustice and increased vulnerability.
Food Insecurity: Forced displacement increases the risk that people will undergo chronic food insecurity, defined as calorie-protein intake levels below the minimum necessary for normal growth and work. Sudden drops in food crops availability and income are endemic to physical relocation and hunger lingers as a long-term effect.
Increased Morbidity and Mortality: The health of affected persons tends to deteriorate rapidly due to malnutrition, increased stress and psychological traumas. Unsafe water supply and waste disposal tend to proliferate infectious disease, and morbidity decreases capacity and incomes. The risk is highest for the weakest population segments – infants, children, and the elderly.
Loss of Access to Common Property: Loss of access to commonly owned assets (forestlands, water bodies, grazing lands, and so on) is often overlooked and uncompensated, particularly for the assetless.
Social Disarticulation: Community dispersal means dismantling of structures of social organization and loss of mutual help networks. Although this loss of social capital is harder to quantify, it impoverishes and disempowers affected persons.
These adverse impacts must be identified by a SIA study.