These choices are not technocratic or scientific but political: Jairam Ramesh

Union Minister of State for Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh on Monday said the Indian political system must be ready to make “tough choices and trade-offs” between the objective of attaining economic growth of 9-10 per cent and maintaining the ecological balance.

Addressing the inaugural session of the 13th Biennial Conference of the International Association for the Study of the Commons (IASC), Mr. Ramesh said: “These choices are not technocratic or scientific ones, but political choices.”

He added: “Similarly, it is for the political system to decide whether to introduce Bt brinjal.”

‘Minimum flows’

Mr. Ramesh said his Ministry's decision to stop the hydel project on the Bhagirathi in Uttarakhand — even though 40 per cent of the work had already been completed — was based on the logic of “maintaining minimum environmental flows” in the river.

“For years we have been constructing projects across our rivers without taking the minimum flows into account,” he said.

‘False mindset’

The prevailing “mindset,” that only the government can manage common property resources, was just as fallacious as the view of some NGOs that only communities can manage these resources, Mr. Ramesh said.

“The intellectual edifice of legislation governing forests still treats those who depend on forest resources for their livelihoods as criminals,” he said.

‘Wrong perception’

Delivering the keynote address, Nobel Laureate Elinor Ostrom that the notion that public officials were the best-equipped to resolve problems of the commons had been proven to be untrue.

She pointed out that studies involving fishing communities and farmers accessing water from irrigation systems, conducted by sociologists, historians, engineers and others, had shown that such communities “managed to overcome social dilemmas” by cooperating among themselves.

“The dominant perception — that common property resources can either be managed by the government or be handed over to private interests — has been questioned,” Dr. Ostrom, winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics in 2009, said.

‘Access affected’

Providing an account of how communities set their own rules and defined the rights of access to common property resources, Dr. Ostrom said these rules had evolved over a long period of time. She pointed out that the lack of communication among users of resources could significantly affect access.

“Face-to-face talk between members of a community enables users to increase cooperation,” she added.

Nitin Desai, Member, of the Prime Minister's Council on Climate Change, and conference chair, said the issue of common property resources was linked to distributive justice.

The Foundation of Ecological Security is hosting the conference, which is being held in India for the first time. It concludes on January 14.

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