Environmental Issues in India: A Reader
Editor: Mahesh Rangarajan
Publisher: Pearson Longman
Price: Rs 199
Is biodiversity a livelihood issue? Is urban lifestyle a bigger polluter than rural poverty? Does displacement affect ecology and economy?
Today, India’s environmental fraternity is extremely knowledgeable and alert. But policymakers and politicians often fail to join the dots connecting environmental issues with social and other ones. Such ignorance is betrayed when tribal
communities are blamed for destruction of forests, when living spaces are sanitised overnight as ‘reserves’ and when traditional knowledge is systematically dumped.
This volume edited by Mahesh Rangarajan does connect the dots to create the big picture. In an eclectic way, it harnesses knowledge from history, politics, anthropology, life sciences, gender studies and even mythology. It is as interesting as it is essential to know at what cost the tiger shares its habitat with the honeybee or how the Mughal emperors — who were avid hunters — protected wildlife via royal decrees.
The work is more rooted than sublime, but not without the ironies, tragedies and some subtle humour from this diverse field. What constitutes environmentalism is tackled in five parts: pre-colonial, colonial, and independent India, along with pertinent global issues and environmental movements.
The importance of the 33 essays by leading academics and activists lies in the way the volume has been conceived. Rangarajan’s brief but wide-ranging overview is meant for everyone, and not for just academics. It is of immense value for those students, teachers and media people who seek the larger picture and budding activists who wish to go beyond
preaching and pamphleteering.
Madhav Gadgil’s racy snapshot of ornithologist Salim Ali’s life or Ramchandra Guha’s commentary on how Gandhi became the patron saint of the environment movement make for engaging reading. In both cases, the writers’ contacts with leading lights in the area offer rare insights. Even those who have devoured volumes of Corbett’s writings would find new perspectives in his life story by D C Kala, such as how he trained the British troops in the stuff of ‘junglecraft’.
Those battling organised poachers must approach the archives. Rangarajan transcends urban middle-class sensibilities, often built around air pollution or save-the-tiger campaigns. Divyabhanusinh’s ‘The great Mughals go hunting lions’ crafts an enjoyable treatise from more than a century’s academic writings and period paintings. Romila Thapar chronicles forests and settlements as interdependence of aranya (the jungle) and grama (the village) in ancient India. It is difficult to find a more holistic understanding of ancient settlers’ relationship with nature in less than 10 pages.
Gadgil and Guha’s seminal paper on ecological conflicts is similarly succinct. But for many literals and typos and a sad
lack of visuals, this volume serves as a comprehensive resource. One hopes that the next editions would take care of these aspects without compromising seriously on the edition’s thoughtful low price.