Economic and Political Weekly (EPW) published by the Sameeksha Trust in Mumbai is known for its scholarly approach to topics that often tend to be on the periphery of the mainstream media.
This book “Environment, Technology and Development: critical and subversive essays” is a collection of articles published by EPW over the past decade that focus strongly on the “development at what cost” question.
In his introductory chapter, the book's editor Rohan D'Souza, Assistant Professor, Center for Studies in Science Policy, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, outlines the many changes in the outlook of the Indian establishment since Independence in the way it has treated natural resources at hand, and on how it has deemed science and technology to play its role: the very first Five Year Plan (1951-56) treating the country's resources as untapped potential that needed to be conquered; through to mid-1970s with Indira Gandhi at the helm urging the administration to develop a deep reverence to nature; and the situation right now where there are debates whether scientific development has come at a severe cost not only to the ecology but also to the socio-economic conditions of the people it is supposed to help.
D'Souza has arranged the essays in a ‘rhizomatic' non-hierarchical approach grouping them on five broad themes: “Stories of our time: Technology as the Anti-Hero”; “Development Solutions become Political Questions”; “Rewiring Technology to Debate Justice and Equity”; “Rethinking Agriculture as Ecological Relationships”; and “Livelihoods versus Lifestyles”.
The write-ups are exhaustive as they are written by commentators who have been engaged in public debate over several years now.
The first essay ‘Technology as the Anti-Hero' sets the tone for the book as M.V. Ramana and Ashwin Kumar take on the nuclear establishment in the country and tear off its mask of supposed safety; the biggest safeguard that has happened so far seems to be in covering up issues of safety of its workers and accidents that have happened. There is an emphasis on the accident at the Kaiga Generating Station in November 2009 when workers were treated for heavy Tritium intake but the authors also look back at the history of cover-ups on various other accidents that have been reported in Kalpakkam and other nuclear reactors.
‘A Biotechnology Story' provides an alternative view to the much-celebrated story of biotechnology coming to the aid of farmers, and whether at all the much-touted science of genetically-modified crops help them or drive them to doom. There is a close link between the technology and FDI that the authors Shiv Viswanathan and Chandrika Parmar unravel as they examine the technology that comes with the possibility of either aiding or dooming the lives of the one-fourth of the world's poor, the farmers of India.
In his essay ‘Desalination in Chennai — what about the poor and the environment,' Gregor Meerganz von Medeazza says the energy-intensive method of converting saline water into potable water may be ill-suited for Indian conditions and be counter-productive in the Tamil Nadu government's claim to provide equitable distribution to the poor.
Apart from impacting the environment with high brine discharge and the release of greenhouse gases, the technology itself worked on a ‘supply-oriented' model and was bound to drive up the demand. (The essay was published before the Chennai Metrowater commenced its work on a 100 mld (million litres per day) desalination plant in the southern part of the metropolitan city.)
Under the theme ‘Rewiring Technology to debate justice and equity,' the essayists point to areas where technology can be used to provide social solutions that are equitable. In the essay ‘Sustainable Transport Solutions - Linkages between environmental issues, public transport, non-motorised transport and safety,' authors Dinesh Mohan and Geetam Tiwari present that for less industrialised countries like India, a healthier transport solution will have in its focus better public transport and pedestrian facilities.
This collection is essential reading for anyone wanting to get a quick primer on the public discourse on a varied range of issues on both technology and the state of the administration in India. The essays are exhaustive and list facts, numbers and also references to previous EPW articles.