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Development and its discontent

A book that explores the options available to counter the extractive role of modern development

books Updated: Jun 29, 2012 19:27 IST

Rajeswari S Raina, Hindustan Times

Churning the Earth: The Making of Global India

Aseem Shrivastava and

Ashish Kothari


Rs 699 pp 394

Growth for its own sake is the logic of cancer. When a democratic State decides to feed this process, people who vote and yet have no voice, are lost. It is not so much the abdication of the State from its expected role of facilitating social and ecological well-being that matters. It is the developmental and moral legitimisation of this abdication that hurts. In Churning the Earth: The Making a Global India, Aseem Shrivastava and Ashish Kothari capture this morally vacuous State, its economic logic, and propose a radical ecological democracy (RED) as an alternative to the current predatory economic growth. It offers RED as a means, a synthesis lesson learnt from several cases of sustainable development.

The first three chapters of the book present the ways in which globalisation today is not the same animal it was in its antiquated versions of global trade, finance or even colonialism. Today, the ecological disruptions and social costs — displacement and destitution of massive numbers of people — are taken for granted. These are people who have some notion of franchise but lack the capacity to exercise the democratic values of voice and authenticity.

Next, the ecological consequences of modern globalisation and liberalisation are discussed. The theoretical validation in mainstream economics and policy making of the need for capital to gain control over resources and development options is difficult to dislodge. There is no choice left with communities that have lived on and nurtured these resources.

The second part of the book deals with a parallel world inhabited by communities with their own ecological and social norms that govern their resource use and production decisions. The globalised world today brings many new technologies and commitment from a wide range of actors to use energy efficient, eco-friendly technologies. This is an opportunity that can be mobilised into a movement. The role of the State and civil society actors in facilitating   RED is mentioned. That there are parts of the State that initiate reforms to address the current ecological and social distress does bring hope.

The authors open up critical questions about the role of the State. If the State desires inclusive growth, then it cannot afford to behave like an enlightened Robinhood. It is not enough to give out doles (in the name of social security) to the displaced and disenfranchised, whose life and livelihood has been destroyed to enable economic growth. Many of the new programmes foisted by bureaucracies and implemented using prevalent norms of resource extraction do not help the poor.

The authors do not push mainstream economics and planning to address the key questions of development choices. Should India hanker for the ideal western development sequence? Is a harmonious development option possible, where agricultural and industrial production systems co-exist with a service sector that caters to both? The ways to realise a radical ecological democracy are not easy. If it were so, the Chipko movement would already have done the job.

To ensure that democratic norms and ecological values of resilience and sustainability inform development decisions, there must be decentralisation and capacity development. That the book does not explore how this transition may take place is perhaps its weakness. For RED to work, success stories must be complemented with those drawn from proposed bio-economic development alternatives, choices in political theory and economic geography: Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen’s limits to growth, John Dryzek’s ecological democracy, and William Kapp’s cumulative causation. That decentralised discursive mechanisms and pluralism are the foundations of RED could have been emphasised in the book.

Rajeswari Raina is a fellow with the Centre for Policy Research

First Published: Jun 29, 2012 19:27 IST

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