Nature Conservation in the New Economy

Oishani Nandi reviews this book on how it brings a seminal compilation of perspectives and ideas regarding nature and wildlife conservation in the Indian context.

  • Nature Conservation in the New Economy by Ghazala Shahabuddin and K. Sivaramakrishnan

Generating a wide array of dialogues amongst social science experts, lawyers, ecologists and journalists, Nature Conservation in the New Economy brings a seminal compilation of perspectives and ideas regarding nature and wildlife conservation in the Indian context. What emerged as a full length book was a discourse amalgamating new insights and findings from disparate fields of study, ranging from anthropology to environmental studies and policy studies. The book traverses the roadmap of the changes in conservation policies, effects of privatised fiscal maneuvers, new governments, and up-to-date preservation efforts. In 1991, India was faced with economic liberalisation (the relaxation of economic policies in India, with the goal of converting the economy to a more market and service oriented one and expanding the roles of the private sector with the introduction of foreign investments—all due to contingent monetary obligations laid out by global economic forces such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank). With these changes in the pecuniary fabric of India, greater reliance and dependence on the natural resources (forest covered regions, domestic and wildlife animals, coastal habitats, hills and oceanic flora and fauna) have strained the natural reserves immensely. While the sole protection of these resources is the onus of the government, it is crucial for the private and public sector to come together to grapple with the problems brought forth in this epoch.

Ecologist Ghazala Shahabuddin is associated with the Centre for Ecology, Development and Research (CEDAR) in Dehradun, and eminent sociocultural anthropologist and professor of Forestry and Environmental Studies and Anthropology at Yale University, Kalyanakrishnan Sivaramakrishnan, amalgamated and edited the theses provided in Nature Conservation in the New Economy. Every chapter of this collection, arose from discussions and deliberations at a workshop held at the UPIASI, India Habitat Centre. These consequential contributions were made by the following professionals and ideologues: Ambika Aiyadurai, M. Vikas Meghna Agarwala, Ruth DeFries, Y. V. Jhala, Q. Qureshi, Neha Sinha, Kanchi Kohli, Manju Menon, Rinki Sarkar, Rajkamal Goswami, Archana Bali, Kartik Shanker and T. Ganesh. With many fields of study coming together to discuss this pertinent issue, there remains hope in such collegiality in finding a panacea for all.

Commenting on a plethora of pertinent issues eminent in India, the books first chapter “Hunting in Northeast India and the Challenges of Implementing the Wildlife Protection Act” explores the ecologically rich and natural space of the Northeast, and the difficulties of enforcing a legal doctrine which secures the Wildlife upon a community heavily bound to their cultural ethos, norms, beliefs and traditions. The following treatise shifts its focus to the core and massive metropolitan capital city of Delhi in the chapter “Conservation in Urban Spaces: People–Wildlife Interactions and Management of Delhi’s Forests”. With challenges of high population and infrastructural densities conflicting with the interests of the wildlife of Delhi's forests, there is no easy resolution to combat lack of protection of animals in such urban spaces. Chapter 3 “Rewilding with the Asiatic Cheetah: Policy and Politics of Wildlife Reintroduction in India” delves into the most revolutionary and advanced step in animal protection. Species reintroduction is a phenomenon wherein a rare and endangered species is brought out of captivity and artificial breeding centres, back into its natural wild habitat. The aim of species reintroduction is to reinforce a holistic, genetically myriad and self-subsistent niche ecosystem. This chapter discusses species reintroduction in the context of the Asiatic Cheetah, a critically endangered cheetah lost from the Indian wildlife species pool. The next chapter “Threats to Coexistence of Humans and Forests in Central India” takes a thematic turn to the ever present human-wildlife conflict in the heart of the nation, where human encroachment upon the wilderness and consequent attacks by wild animals perceiving the dearth of space and and increased human proximity has raised numerous red flags for the introduction of sustainable coexistence between humans and animals. Chapter 5 “Water Under the Bridge: Wetland Use and Abuse in India” dives into the complex legal quandaries that exclude certain critical water bodies such as the Najafgharh jheel in delhi, or the perennial rivulets and streams which are in imminent need of protection. Wetlands are an integral part of the local economies and livelihoods of both small and large neighborhoods, which are often drained and ruined by pollution, overuse and utter disregard, all due to loopholes embedded in the laws ‘meant’ to protect these critical biomes. The next essay presents the sensational hot question of the hour—’Is Conservation Impossible? The Case of Coastal Regulation in India’. The Indian coastline harbours the financial capital along with significant fishing grounds and sea ports, yet they government authorities struggle in striking a fine balance in ways to protect the interests of the locals and the indispensable sanctity of the western and eastern wetlands. The seventh chapter ‘Sustainability of Endemic Chilgoza Pine Forests in the Western Himalayas: Habitat Threats and Conservation Exigencies’ emerges from the seas to the eminent pine forests in the high Himalayan mountains, wherein the critical issue of overharvesting has dominated and destroyed the northern frontier of India. But, the moral dilemma is how is the government meant to tackle overharvesting when the fruits of overharvesting is what sustains these local economies. The penultimate ‘Conservation in Times of Development: Forest Change Trajectories in State and Community Forests of Jaintia Hills, Meghalaya’ retraces tracks back to the northeast. In order to urbanise Meghalaya, a predominantly rural and underdeveloped northeastern state, waves of infrastructure have uprooted vast expanses of the Jaintia forest cover. The book culminates in the ninth chapter ‘Hunting Stories and Shady Tales: The Impact of Legislation on Wildlife Conservation and Tree Preservation in the Western Ghats, India” explores local narratives of human encroachment and poaching which are results of dysfunctional and inept laws.

Once the famous American cellular biologist Barry Commoner once notably quoted “The proper use of science is not to conquer nature but to live in it.”. This holds true to the current predicament where there is a need for symbiotic mutualism in producing a solution to protect the lungs of our nation. This book successfully outlines the several ecological problems and issues with conservation prevalent across the vast geographical horizon of India. At the same time, the treatise proposes the synergy of legal, political, social, cultural and governmental forces within India, to substantiate the resolutions proposed in this disquisition.

OISHANI NANDI is a student at Oberoi International School in Mumbai. She may be contacted at