Why has environmentalism not had a greater impact on development policy and people’s lives? This critical question has been neglected both by environmentalists and social scientists. Many activists and scholars have taken upon themselves the burden of the environmental argument against conventional development. Therefore the book shares these concerns and also takes an introspective look at environmentalism itself, and its impact on development.
The environmental movement is not homogenous. It encompasses many shades of green and diversity of views and ideological positions. This book unravels the different strands of reasoning and emotions that shroud the environmental debate.
The process of development involves structural transformations in the organization of society and the economy. Such a process cannot take place without altering relationships of dominance and subordination, or affecting the interests of different groups within society. Therefore, questions regarding the character, direction and pace of development are described as fundamentally political questions here.
Sumi Krishna clearly mentions that people’s lives are the heart of the matter, and the focus of the prelude to Environmental Politics. This leads to the analysis in the rest of the book which is structured into parts. Part 1 deals with kaleidoscope of environmental approaches and strategies, their strengths and weaknesses. The concern in these chapters is to analyse the fuzziness and contradictions within Indian environmentalism. The focus shifts in part 2, where the concern is with different environmental approaches and some critical development issues such as population, technology and resource use. There is no single theme in part 2, but a wider variety of empirical situations are covered.
The different threads of part 1 and part 2 are drawn together in part 3, which goes back to the question: Why has Indian Environmentalism not had a greater impact on development policy?
Sumi, gives a clear overview of ideas, attitudes and sentiments that colour the environmental debate in India. She has identified three broad bands in this spectrum: the popular, the managerial and progressive approaches. These approaches can be most easily distinguished by their positions on the acid question of whether development is the cause of, or the cure for, environmental ills.
The book also relates the theoretical debate and different environmental approaches to the specific problems of development in Bastar, Madhya Pradesh. There is an emphasis on the role of the caste system and of women in nurturing biological diversity and promotion of community participation.
Many misconceptions have mushroomed around the issues od technology and population. There is an overview of the debate on environment and population. Are environmental managers justified in viewing population control as an overwhelming priority? Or are populists right in seeing technological choices and levels of resource consumption as of primary importance? What about gender perspective?
Sumi has concentrated on the arguments over intensive agricultural technology and big damns, because of their central position in the economy and food production system.
The book widens the focus to the problems of sustainability and equity. Is sustainable development more than a buzz phrase? Is development without growth a realistic proposition? Can we predict the environmental impact of the economic transformation that India is now undergoing? These questions lead to a discussion of the contemporary debate on biotechnology and intellectual property.
Finally, the theme that is an undercurrent throughout the book is the preoccupation with symbols rather than structures. It examines how the rhetoric and the myths of environmentalism evolve, and how we can get beyond them.
The book was written during 1992-94, but the analysis has matured over more than two decades of being both a participant in, and an observer of the environmental debate. In this book, Sumi , has drawn upon her own work in the field and the methodologies of development journalism and social science research, which she believes to have helped in enriching her perspective.
The book concentrates more on national problems rather than international, the debate on forests and natural resources and not global warming and the ozone hole. In cases where literature is incomplete the author has not hesitated to go over ‘old stories’ such as the Chipko struggle or the controversies over the pine project in Bastar.
Environment development is such a vast field that it is difficult to discuss all the major problems in a single book. Instead of touching upon a large number of issues superficially, the author has been selective in concentrating on some problems more than the others. As a result, Environment politics scarcely touches upon settlements, energy and pollution.
This book is not intended to provide any sort of blue prints for the future. It is only an attempt to understand why despite our long heritage of answers, the questions still remain. Is it because we have asked the wrong questions, built models based on our answers and then puzzled ourselves over how to make the models work better? Should we, then, begin to change the question?