This book explores two principal contradictions in environmental politics in Indiaâ€”between conservation and large-scale development projects, and between short-term electoral politics and long-term imperatives of environmental conservation.
The Great Himalayan National Park (GHNP) in Himachal Pradesh, north-western India, is home to the western Tragopanâ€”an endangered pheasant. It shares its habitat with the local population living on the parkâ€™s fringes. In 1999, the final notification of the GHNP banned grazing and plant collection by localsâ€”ostensibly in the interests of conservation. At the same time, the State de-notified a portion of the Park, thus enabling construction of the Parbati hydro-electric project.
The authors use the story of Parbati and Tragopan as symbolic representations of development and conservation to enter into a larger discussion on the politics surrounding these seemingly contradictory processes. The state, while espousing a conservation ideology, also promotes developmental (hydel) projects that go against the grain of conservation. This contradiction is resolved through a strategic reading of the law which enables the state to de-notify protected areas.
Additionally, the law is bypassed to â€˜unofficiallyâ€™ permit grazing and plant collection to continue, so as not to alienate potential vote-banks. Ultimately, it is the management of these contradictions that shapes the politics of state formation.
The authors argue that a coalition approach bringing together biologists, local residents, the forest department, political actors, and social activists might achieve more than the current process that pits one against the other. This book demonstrates that both conservation and development are inter-related and inherently political. An improvement on either front will require greater strategic engagement with political actors and processes.
Vasant Saberwal Program Officer, Environment and Development, Ford Foundation, New Delhi.
Ashwini Chhatre Research Fellow, Center for International Development, Harvard University.