Literary Review

Essence of ecology

Green Signals: Ecology, Growth and Democracy in India; Jairam Ramesh.  

Describing his tenure as the Union Minister of State (Independent Charge) for Environment, Forests and Climate Change as “tumultuous, which was both applauded and criticised”, Jairam Ramesh sets the framework for his book. Organised into 12 chapters that use the author’s narrative on various ecological and environmental issues, the book — in a rather unique manner — also provides the reader with glimpses of transcripts from the Rajya Sabha deliberations, correspondence in the form of letters written to or by the Minister and invited lectures on topics of seminal interest.

The Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change is branded by some as the only ministry that is anti-people in its agenda. Hence it is no surprise that ‘ecological security is viewed as a dampener to the country’s progress and development. Ramesh devotes considerable attention to this myth, using not just case studies of projects and initiatives that evoked strong reactions (such as the Jaitapur Nuclear Power Plant, coal mining in Orissa, introduction of Bt Brinjal, the drafting of the Coastal Regulation Zone Notification of 2011 and the Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel) but also the processes and tools that were used to foster debate and engagement and ensure transparency. That hard facts and scientific data should be the bedrock on which informed decisions need to be taken is a point that the author repeatedly stresses upon, and it is no surprise that substantial attention is devoted to the initiative that was proposed under the leadership of Prof. Madhav Gadgil to revamp two of India’s premier institutions viz. the Botanical Survey of India and the Zoological Survey of India.

Likewise, the rationale behind commissioning the study on the Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB), which focused on valuing India’s natural resources using multiple metrics is discussed.

Leveraging technology for addressing issues of emission through consultations with renowned institutions such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the constitution of expert groups are points that the author highlights to demonstrate his point of using science and technology for decision making and action.

Other notable initiatives include the setting up of a committee headed by Prof. Kasturirangan on the scientific functions of the Ministry, ‘Fellows’ programme to enhance scientific capability within the system, as also internships to students and young professionals. The standout section in this regard, however, is the aftermath of the study of Himalayan glaciers that was commissioned by Ramesh. The results, which questioned the doomsday prediction of IPCC, were subjected to a diatribe that included jabs at the lead scientist and veracity of the data, finally ending as a damp squib when the IPCC itself retracted its stance.

It is rather heartening to note that Ramesh, while recognising the importance of premier science and technology institutions and scientists, also recognises the existence of scientific temper among local communities. And more importantly, the willingness to use such cases as models for replication. For instance, the example of Menda Lekha, a village in Maharashtra, which implemented a model of sustainable use of bamboo resources for the extraction of Non-Timber Forest Produce.

The chapter on ‘Repositioning India Globally’, which details global climate change negotiations being conducted under the United Nations Framework for Combating Climate Change, is a compelling read. While the manner in which India seeks to address emissions and combat climate change provides the reader with the finer details, the country’s stand on issues of equity and fairness — in accordance with the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities — is described very effectively. The need to go beyond announcing missions while taking steps to ensure that India’s per capita emissions remain below that of the developed countries even as we pursue accelerated growth emerges rather strongly.

Of the many political leaders who are mentioned, three stand out — Indira Gandhi, Manmohan Singh and Barack Obama. Of the three, Indira Gandhi stands out not only for her role in telling the world that poverty needs to be addressed while tackling environmental degradation (Stockholm Conference, 1972), but also for the manner in which many flagship programmes in India were launched. Despite Ramesh’s repeated assurance of Dr. Singh’s sensitivity to ecological concerns, one is left perplexed by the fact that proposals such as the National Environmental Protection Agency (NEPA) or the suggestion for a CGIAR-like mechanism to address climate change in India continue to be non-starters. The author, though, effectively hides his disappointment in the footnotes section.

The book is engrossing and provides a view on the functioning of a minister who believed in taking a pro-active approach. It is written to serve as a record for posterity and supported by facts and figures thus making it a good reference for scholars and students.

The book’s essence is captured in the two cover images of Royal Bengal Tigers in the Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve and tribal protests in Orissa. For conservation of natural resources in India has to be entrenched in the principles of equity and justice.

Green Signals: Ecology, Growth and Democracy in India ; Jairam Ramesh, Oxford University Press, Rs.850.

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Printable version | Jan 29, 2022 4:35:18 PM |

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