Plenary sessions

Adivasis, Resource Conflicts, and the Future of India’s Ecosystems”     

By Felix Padel, Research Associate, Centre for World Environmental History, University of Sussex

As ‘Natural Resource Management’ becomes a major subject of study, should the tribal or indigenous peoples who developed systems of living in the heart of nature, drawing directly on its gifts to live, without on the whole diminishing its extent, be our main teachers? Their systems of ‘Adivasi Economics’ (Padel 2013) exemplify real, long term sustainability – as opposed to ‘sustainable development’ that is sustainable in name only, since geared to short term profits. When Jairam Ramesh was Minister for Environment and Forests he wrote a revealing essay drawing attention to ‘two cultures’ dictating opposite policy approaches to the environment (Ramesh 2010): business interests and economic analysis assess resources in terms of profits to be made, while conservationists try to protect vulnerable ecosystems from the devastating impacts of industrialisation, in terms of dams, mines and factories. While environmentalists win most arguments in terms of logic, ‘money speaks louder than words’: local people’s movements against ‘development projects’ often fail, repeatedly undermined and divided by vested interests controlling police, politics and media, which often portray them as ‘anti-development’. In many ways the Maoist conflict in central India is a resource war dressed up by both sides as an ideological one, and it undermines Adivasi movements by polarising communities; while conservationists who promote a policy of removing Adivasis from sanctuaries harden the divide-and-rule colonial policies that separated tribal people from the ecosystems they have always lived in. An ecological consciousness that values nature for itself has deep roots in India; dozens of organic farmers in every state maintain ancient skills in cultivation; and tribal movements against forced dispossession and devastation of their environment act to safeguard India’s future. ‘The health of the mountains is the wealth of the plains’ as the movement to protect mountains in north Andhra Pradesh proclaimed. Aren’t natural water systems, forests and biodiversity the best guarantee of wellbeing for future generations in India? And aren’t Adivasis in many ways the guardians of the wild ecosystems that a balanced economy will always depend on? Is there still time and opportunity for us in the ‘mainstream’ to start learning from the tribal cultures we have exploited and oppressed, before it’s too late for them or for us?

Selected References

Kirsch, Stuart. 2006. Reverse Anthropology: Indigenous Analysis of Social and Environmental Relations in New Guinea. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Li, Tania Murray. 2014. Land’s End: Capitalist Relations on an Indigenous Frontier. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Padel, Felix, Samarendra Das. 2010. Out of this Earth: East India Adivasis & the Aluminium Cartel.  New Delhi: Orient BlackSwan.

Padel, Felix, Ajay Dandekar, Jeemol Unni. 2013. Ecology, Economy: Quest for a Socially Informed Connection. New Delhi: Orient BlackSwan.

Ramesh, Jairam. 2010. The Two Cultures Revisited: The Environment-Development Debate in India. Economic and Political Weekly 45(42). 

Robertson, Morgan. 2006. The Nature That Capital Can See: Science, State, and Market in the Commodification of Ecosystem Services. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 24, no. 3:367–387. doi: 0.1068/d3304.

Sundar, Nandini. 2016. The Burning Forest: India’s War in Bastar. Juggernaut publications.

“Does Irrigation Water Mirror Society?”

By Frédéric Landy, Director, French Institute of Pondicherry; Professor, Department of Geography, University of Paris Nanterre

Which relationships between society and irrigation? Can we have a purely agro-technical vision, seeking to maximize the economic productivity of each drop of water? To what extent is this irrigation not embedded in society, determined by a system of values and relationships? It is to ask another old question in geography and social sciences, the place of natural determinism: to what extent do physical factors (potentials and constraints of the “natural” environment) explain the management of water?

We will first see how water is the “mirror of society” (Aubriot, 2004): in some cases, the social structures largely explain the functioning of peasant irrigation systems. But in others, it is clear that natural triggers dominate, since sometimes differences in collective action can be explained by the nature of the soil or the position within the irrigated command area. These many perspectives shed light on trendy questions about “commons” or the “Anthropocene”.

Selected references

Aubriot. 2004. L’eau miroir d’une société, CNRS Ed.

Ayeb H., Ruf T. (eds.) 2009. Eaux, pauvreté et crises sociales, IRD, on line.

Molle, F, P. Mollinga, P. Wester. 2009. Hydraulic Bureaucracies and the Hydraulic Mission: Flows of Water, Flows of Power. Water Alternatives, 2(3): 328-349.

Shah, E. 2012. Seeing like a Subaltern-Historical Ethnography of Pre-modern and Modern Tank Irrigation Technology in Karnataka, India. Water Alternatives, 5(2): 507.

“Managing Urban Sanitation Through a River Pollution Perspective”

By Arkaja Singh, Research Fellow, Centre for Policy Research, Sci-Fi team

Untreated human excreta is the single biggest source of river pollution in some of the major rivers in India, and this obviously has major implications for river eco-systems, drinking water security and human health. It is also a cultural and aesthetic problem, even more so in ancient river side cities, and in the context of the ‘holy dip’ in sacred rivers. Indian environmental movements have also valorised the integrity and sanctity of rivers, and their life sustaining role in Indian culture. In my talk I will discuss how our legal and institutional frameworks have responded to the challenge of pollution from untreated human excreta. The legal and institutional response is influenced by the concerns of environmental movements, but is really driven from within by a heavily engineering oriented perspective. As a result, we have stringent and high environmental standards, but no clear idea of what the responsibilities of various public authorities are.

Selected references

Master Plan for Delhi – 2021, Delhi Development Authority, 2007.

New Item Published in Hindustan Times Titled ‘And Quiet Flows the Maily Yamuna’, Supreme Court Writ Petition (Civil) 725 of 1994.

Zimmer A. 2012. Fragmented Governance, Divided Cities: The Need for an Integrated View on Urban Waste Water : A Case Study of Delhi. Dams Rivers People, 10, 9-13. 

“Linking Floods, Ecosystem Services and User Strategies to Study the Changing Dynamics of African Deltas”

By Stéphanie Duvail, Research Fellow, French National Research Institute for Sustainable Development (IRD), PALOC

The lower floodplains and deltas, where fresh water meets the ocean, are very specific and unique landscapes or rather “waterscapes” (Hoag 2013), shaped by the dynamics of the seasonal and tidal flooding. In Africa, a highly productive mosaic of riverine forests, flooded grasslands and mangroves have developed in these deltas and support diversified economic activities adapted to the flooding patterns. Traditionally these include fishing, livestock keeping, flood-recession agriculture and tidal rice cultivation, hunting and gathering, utilization of forest products among others, conducted according to negotiated resource access and sharing rules that are flexible and multi-user.

These waterscapes are sensitive to changes in the flooding pattern linked to climate change or, more frequently, to land-use changes in the river catchment. For various reasons, including low investment into hydraulic infrastructure in the postcolonial era, many African deltas have, until recently, maintained these flood dependent socio-ecosystems. This is set to change as several new hydropower dams and irrigation systems are under consideration or implemented in an African continent which is promoted as the next investment frontier, following a decade of high Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth rates. Being wet, flat and fertile, deltas have been targeted for large-scale land conversion including the building of embankments to establish large-scale irrigation or aquaculture, leading to land and resource dispossession for the traditional delta users. On the other hand, deltas are recognised as important ecosystems well beyond their physical perimeter as biodiversity hot-spots and important bird areas, as carbon sinks, coastal defence and nursery areas where the juveniles of fish and crustaceans grow before entering neighbouring coastal waters where they are the target of valuable fisheries. The total economic value of all the services provided by coastal wetlands including deltaic systems with mangroves is estimated around 200,000 US$/hectare/year (de Groot et al. 2012), the second most valuable ecosystem globally. The recognition of these biodiversity values leads to their heritagization through various conservation tools such as Ramsar Sites, Protected Marine Areas, Forest or Biosphere Reserves, applied sometimes in contradiction with the dynamic nature of the local economies and with adverse effects on resource access for local users (Benjaminsen and Bryceson 2012).

Describing the functioning of these socio-ecosystems; quantifying the interaction between flood scenarios, ecosystem services and user strategies; exploring the impacts of various and contradictory public policies requires the mobilization of multidisciplinary teams and a dialogue with the local users and policy makers around scenarios for the future of these coastal wetlands. This presentation draws examples from West and East Africa deltas.

Selected references

Acreman, M.C., Overton I.C., King J., Wood P.J., Cowx I.G., Dunbar M.J., Kendy E., Young W.J. 2014. The changing role of ecohydrological science in guiding environmental flows. Hydrological Sciences Journal, 59(3-4), 433-450.

Benjaminsen T. A, Bryceson I. 2012. Conservation, green/blue grabbing and accumulation by dispossession in Tanzania. Journal of Peasant Studies, 39(2), 335-355.

de Groot R., Brander L., van der Ploeg S., Costanza R., Bernard F., Braat L., Christie M., Crossman N., Ghermandi A., Hein L. 2012. Global estimates of the value of ecosystems and their services in monetary units. Ecosystem Services, 1 (1): 50–61.

Day J. W., Agboola J., Chen Z., D’Elia C., Frbes D. L., Giosan L., Kemp P., Kuenzer C., Lane R. R., Ramachandran R., Syvitski J., Yañez-Arancibia A. 2016. Approaches to defining deltaic sustainability in the 21st century. Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science, 183 (Part B), 275-291.

Duvail S., Médard C., Hamerlynck O., Nyingi D. W. 2012. Land and water grabbing in an east african coastal wetland: the case of the Tana delta. Water Alternatives, 5(2), 322-343.

Duvail S., Mwakalinga A., Eijkelenburg A., Hamerlynck O., Kindinda K. and Majule A. 2013. Jointly thinking the post-dam future: exchange of local and scientific knowledge on the lakes of the Lower Rufiji, Tanzania. Hydrological Sciences Journal, 59(3-4), 713-730.

Hoag H. J., 2013, Developing the rivers of East and West Africa: an environmental history. London, New York: Bloomsbury Academics, 240 p.

Methodological approaches in social sciences