Policy Engagements and Blogs

Beyond Making Spaces for Nature? Engaging ecology as if democracy mattered

August 27, 2019

17 June 2019

About the Lecture

Making spaces for nature has been one of the accomplishments of Indian democracy most so in the half century since 1969. These executive and legislative measures complement efforts of extensive social movements that have made various dimensions of the environment critical in public life. But few would today demur if told that statist and market led efforts as also community led initiatives often fall far short of the level, extent, scale and depth of the environmental challenges especially so after the pace of economic change quickened over the last four decades. The explosive expansion of the mega city and the ability of market forces to undercut not only protective rings around resources or spaces is matched by other developments. These include environmental emergency in parts of urban India as in acute drought in Bengaluru or floods in Chennai and the pall of smog over north India’s plains.
Despite many bright spots, there are serious doubts if things can simply go on the old way. The ability of movements to halt haphazard and ill-planned development or enable their realignment is also uneven with the cases of Niyamgiri, Silent Valley or Subansiri set against the lure of rapid big infrastructure often with little care for the land or waterscape. Conversely, many issues such as glacier meltdown or oceanic pollution defy environmentalism in only one country.

Yet the green shoots of democratic dialogue and action beckon. Even in the past as in the US or Japan or India itself, the right to a habitable and safe environment was always about much more than making spaces for nature. The latter too matters. A democracy in the 21st century is about peace with nature as much as among ourselves: to begin on that journey needs us to look afresh at the present and trace out footsteps to a better future.

About the Speaker

Professor Rangarajan is a Professor of History and Environmental Studies at Ashoka University, Sonipat, Haryana. He has studied at the Universities of Delhi and Oxford and has taught at Cornell, Jadavpur and Delhi universities and the National Centre for Biological Sciences, Bengaluru. He was Director of the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library 2011-15. His first book Fencing the Forest (1996) as also the most recent co-edited, At Nature’s Edge, have been published by OUP. Other works include India’s Wildlife History (2001) and Nature and Nation (2015). Recent co-edited works include Making Conservation Work (Permanent Black, 2007), Nature without Borders (2014) and Shifting Ground (2014) (latter both by Orient Black Swan). In 2010, he headed the Elephant Task Force of the then Ministry of Environment and Forests.

This public lecture was hosted by the Initiative on Climate, Energy and Environment at the Centre for Policy Research. Watch the Q&A session that followed the lecture here.