Vi­sion for the fu­ture

A col­lec­tion of es­says map­ping out vi­able sus­tain­able al­ter­na­tives to cap­i­tal­ist moder­nity.

FrontLine - - BOOKS IN REVIEW - BY AJIT MENON

Is­tarted

WAS skep­ti­cal when I

read­ing Al­ter­na­tive Fu­tures: In­dia Un­shack­led edited by Ashish Kothari and K.J. Joy. In the early 1990s when I worked at the Cen­tre for Science and En­vi­ron­ment, New Delhi, the Cen­tre ac­tively pub­li­cised and pro­moted the “al­ter­na­tive” de­cen­tralised com­mu­ni­ty­based nat­u­ral re­source man­age­ment model prac­tised in places such as Sukhoma­jri, Haryana, and Rale­gaon Sid­dhi, Ma­ha­rash­tra as be­ing eco­log­i­cally sus­tain­able and so­cially eq­ui­table.

Un­for­tu­nately, as years went by, there was no sign that such ex­per­i­ments were on the rise. More­over, while cri­tiques of cap­i­tal­ist moder­nity and ne­olib­eral de­vel­op­ment were a dime a dozen, there were few, if any, de­tailed macro vi­sions of a dif­fer­ent path to sus­tain­able and eq­ui­table de­vel­op­ment and also rig­or­ous cri­tiques of these mi­cro-level “suc­cess” sto­ries.

De­spon­dency set in as ne­olib­eral de­vel­op­ment gained pace and spread far and wide, mak­ing In­dia an even more po­larised so­ci­ety than it had al­ways been.

The book un­der re­view is, how­ever, dif­fer­ent. Kothari and Joy, both be­ing ac­tively in­volved in so­ciopo­lit­i­cal and en­vi­ron­men­tal move­ments for the past few decades, have as­sem­bled a group of ac­tivist schol­ars and scholar ac­tivists to imag­ine a fu­ture that of­fers a vi­able sus­tain­able al­ter­na­tive to cap­i­tal­ist moder­nity.

What ties to­gether an ap­par­ently dis­parate set of 32 es­says cov­er­ing a breadth of top­ics on eco­log­i­cal, po­lit­i­cal, eco­nomic and so­cio­cul­tural themes is a cri­tique of In­dia’s cur­rent de­vel­op­ment path and a vi­sion for a fu­ture grounded in real-life ex­am­ples of sus­tain­able al­ter­na­tives emerg­ing from state poli­cies and/or civil so­ci­ety ini­tia­tives.

The writ­ers have fol­lowed the brief given by the ed­i­tors who say in their in­tro­duc­tion: “Our brief to the ex­cit­ing gal­axy of au­thors in this vol­ume was to in­dulge in some such vi­sion-set­ting, for a mo­ment let­ting the imag­i­na­tion run riot, and not get caught in the shack­les of what is ‘re­al­is­tic’ and ‘fea­si­ble’. But since we did not want this to be an ex­er­cise only in imag­i­na­tion, we also re­quested au­thors to build on the cur­rent con­text, and to pro­vide ac­tual ex­am­ples and in­stances from the past or present that point to the real pos­si­bil­ity of such vi­sions com­ing true” (page 3).

The first cou­ple of es­says in the book deal with the build­ing blocks of such a vi­sion—namely a sus­tain­able and eq­ui­table eco­log­i­cal fu­ture, a theme that in fact runs through most of the es­says in the vol­ume. Kar­tik Shanker, Nitin Rai and Meera Anna Oom­men set the stage by ar­gu­ing for a rec­on­cil­i­a­tion ecol­ogy that em­pha­sises di­verse, multi-use land­scapes where hu­mans and non­hu­mans can co­ex­ist. The im­por­tance of this can­not be overem­pha­sised, given the cur­rent con­ser­va­tion par­a­digm that imag­ines largely a net­work of wildlife pro­tected ar­eas and re­served forests free of hu­mans and hu­man use with­out car­ing much for what hap­pens out­side them.

Con­ser­va­tion and so­cial jus­tice are in­ex­tri­ca­bly linked in a densely pop­u­lated coun­try like In­dia, and hence al­ter­na­tives to fortress con­ser­va­tion must be ex­plored along with lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties who de­pend on nat­u­ral re­sources.

Sharachchan­dra Lele and Gee­tan­joy Sahu build on this call for a more eq­ui­table eco­log­i­cal fu­ture by ar­gu­ing that en­vi­ron­men­tal gov­er­nance must em­brace en­vi­ron­men­tal­ism as a way of life through a re­worked in­sti­tu­tional frame­work that em­pha­sises so­cial jus­tice and democ­racy. They ar­gue that trans­lat­ing such prin­ci­ples into prac­tice will re­quire much more de­cen­tralised nodes of en­vi­ron­men­tal de­ci­sion­mak­ing and more down­ward ac­count­abil­ity and

Al­ter­na­tive Fu­tures In­dia Un­shack­led Edited by Ashish Kothari and K.J. Joy Author­supfront Pub­lish­ing Ser­vices Pri­vate Lim­ited, New Delhi, 2017 Pages: 683

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