Environment Reviews

Nature Conservation in the New Economy – People, Wildlife and the Law in India review: Can nature survive the onslaught by humans?

A collection of essays tries to understand why institutions and policies are largely failing to protect the environment

There were protests recently in Mumbai’s Aarey Forest over the felling of thousands of trees to make way for a Metro car shed. The situation succinctly captures the crux of many dilemmas in today’s India — the clash of divided interests over conservation, development and democracy.

Local communities, the government and the courts are confronting each other in a forested area within one of the world’s most densely populated cities. It leads many to throw up their hands in despair and ask whether the country is formulating the right laws and policies on conservation.

Nature Conservation in the New Economy is a collection of essays that focuses on the period post-liberalisation. Interestingly, the 20 years before liberalisation saw the creation of a “strong legal and regulatory framework appropriate to local, regional and national needs for environmental conservation” along with the setting up of “protected areas” (PAs) as national parks and sanctuaries.

This book is really a search for answers at a time when we realise that institutions are largely failing us because of gaps in the law, an inability to implement policies fully or penalise those who break the law, all occurring over a phase when the state in cahoots with the rich and powerful is leaving behind the needs of much of the populace.

The essays are written without compromising complexities by authors who have a clear understanding of the field of conservation. Each essay emphasises a distinct aspect of the subject in India. The chapters offer case studies and in-depth analyses of debates and deliberations on development, conservation and the law. The examples are from across the country.

Regulatory problems

For instance, the coexistence of forests and people in central India, management of forests and wildlife in Delhi, wetlands and their use and abuse, problems with coastal regulation and so on. With nine chapters, written by those experienced in their fields, the book is meant for graduate students and scholars in ecology, conservation, wilderness studies and biodiversity, but not really for the general reader.

In their essay, A. Bali and K. Shanker take a close look at the Western Ghats and coffee plantations. They reveal that most plantation owners cut, trim, burn or destroy native trees even though these are protected under the Karnataka Preservation of Trees Act (KPTA). Growing silver oak, which is remunerative but non-native, bypasses the intent of the law, which is to protect native trees. Killing wild animals on Schedules I to IV is banned, but most plantation owners are unaware of the implications of the Wildlife Protection Act for the management of their lands and their way of life. Since PAs are fragmented, areas surrounding them, as in farms and plantations, become essential for conservation. Therefore, involving people who live in these areas in decision-making and implementation is paramount, but the forest department has poor capacity, and the laws have been developed in a top-down manner.

India has a 7,500 km coastline that has several wetland ecosystems which house a large number of species. The coastline also has 13 major and many minor ports, power plants, special economic zones, other industries, 5-star hotels and houses. The Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) provides the legal framework for regulating this space. With each of its several iterations, the CRZ has opened the coast further for construction, access and thereby the destruction of coastal ecosystems. In their chapter on the coast, K. Kohli and M. Menon are still hopeful that there are unique opportunities for “participatory models of marine conservation.”

The book has a well-written introduction that lays out the context and the challenges — the enormous pressure on land, the urban imperative and the effects of intensifying wealth and power inequities on decision-making. Economic liberalisation has increased stress on habitats and natural resources and led to the monetising of the natural world and conservation.

A brief epilogue tying together the cases and offering lessons would perhaps have been helpful. Nevertheless, for specialists and students of conservation, this book is a tremendously valuable contribution.

Nature Conservation in the New Economy: People, Wildlife and the Law in India; Edited by Ghazala Shahabuddin and K. Sivaramakrishnan, Orient BlackSwan, ₹895.

Sujatha Byravan studies science, technology and development policy.

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Printable version | Mar 27, 2020 7:45:36 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/books/books-reviews/nature-conservation-in-the-new-economy-people-wildlife-and-the-law-in-india-review-can-nature-survive-the-onslaught-by-humans/article29981898.ece

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