Representations of Disaster Recovery Needs: A Study of Legal Frameworks and Litigation in Odisha


In post-disaster recovery planning, participation of disaster affected persons (DAPs) is critical for effective identification of their recovery needs. However, DAPs rarely have the opportunity to represent their needs and shape their recovery, and even rarer are avenues that are not arbitrated by other actors. One amongst the limited avenues for participation available to them is litigation. While studies have explored the role of litigation in ensuring social justice and advancing rights, litigation as a mode of participation in post-disaster recovery and more broadly, disaster risk reduction is less explored. Given this gap, we assess how effectively litigation can serve as a platform for participation in the context of representing post-disaster recovery needs of affected people. We situate this study in Odisha, India. First, drawing on primary fieldwork conducted in 2019 in coastal districts of Odisha which have been impacted by cyclones over the last two decades, we document the stated recovery needs as expressed by the DAPs. Second, we examine cases filed by DAPs in the High Court of Orissa over the last two decades. We then compare the ‘expressed needs’ with those for which people have litigated, to understand the extent to which litigation allows DAPs to represent their needs and the challenges with this mode of participation. We argue that while litigation is envisioned to be a democratic form of participation, its use is currently restricted by the framing of the governing laws and general lack of access to legal resources.