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Nandan Nawn (corresponding co-editor: is with TERI University and the Indian Society for Ecological Economics, New Delhi; Sudha Vasan ( teaches at the University of Delhi; Ashish Kothari ( is with Kalpavriksh and Vikalp Sangam.

Why a Review of Environment and Development?

The Review of Environment and Development has been ­imagined to address social, political and economic ­issues ­related to environment and ecosystems, at all scales from local to global. In particular, it is intended to capture the dialectical relationship between human society and environment. As in a study of any such relationship, the focus is not only on the complex linkages, interactions and exchanges between the two, but also on the influences and impacts that each causes on the other. It follows that such a conceptualisation can be captured not just as environment and development but also as environment in development and environment of development—the title of the Review is inclusive, merely pointing at the interface. It takes us to mark out the contours of “development” as we see it, and the crucial role of the environment in all human activity including “development.”

In development discourse, it is hard to deny the disproportionate importance attached to processes that lead to augmentation and strengthening of market-based exchanges. This proposition, however, is not free of contestations. Certainly, the criticisms extended to its normative underpinnings have been more severe and serious—one such articulation is seeing development as the unstated agenda of economically and ­politically powerful nations to further bolster their powers. Faultlines in the global development discourse occasionally become more explicit, in the form of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) or South–South solidarity initiatives at the supra-national level. At times, challenges appear as a series of ­protests over multiple decades—those by indigenous peoples, farmers, fishers, pastoralists, and member organisations of the National Alliance for People’s Movements (NAPM) in India are some of the pertinent examples.

Dissents appear at multiple levels, and certainly emphasis is not just on the multidimensionality of “development,” or ­off­e­r­ing a mere critique of “development.” It is on the very assumption(s), conceptualisation(s) and theorisation(s) of ­“development” to the associated policies, practices and ­imp­acts. These render a centrality—real as well as perce­ived—of the ecological context and the environment1 in the development processes, for the relationships between the two; it ­receives a clearer recognition and importance in the discourses termed as “alternatives to development” like “degrowth,” “agrowth,” or “post-development.” In fact, such a centrality aptly captures the dilemma(s) at the environment–society–economy interface, which is attracting local, national and global focus every now and then, for the academic, practitioner, policymaker as well as the denizen. From ecological distribution conflicts at the ­local to negotiations at the international policy space, it is almost impossible to separate environment from “development.”2

In contrast to the “scrutiny” of the “development” processes vis-à-vis (differential) ability, caste, class, gender, race, religion and region, debate on “Environment and Development” in the Indian subcontinent has been highly polarised, albeit, with ­significant exceptions. Almost insurmountable trade-offs have been framed in it; these hinge around and focus on disproportionate distribution of power, the decision-maker’s obsession with short-term gains and rent-seeking for vested interests. On occasions, the debate conveniently ended up with the indiscriminate use of the feel-good but contested buzzwords such as “sustainable development” and “green economy.” These capture the environment–development connection in rather restricted ways, ignoring entirely and invisibilising destructive modes of production, consumption and distribution, or even more fundamental ruptures in the metabolic human–nature relationship.

While the “ecological” influences the socio-politico-economic, the reverse causality influences the decision-making and the decisions vis-à-vis environment as well. Alongside, multiple institutions, from statutory ones to those of people, mediate the drivers of change in ecosystems at different scales; these in turn influence and impact nature, direction and speed of a given development process. Through all this, even as the currently dominant paradigm of “development” and “growth” get challenged, there is a search for and practice of alternatives, from local grass roots to global forums.

We felt a need for more accessible, informed, rigorous and clear contributions in this domain, given its contemporaneity, relevance and importance. By its very nature, this interface warrants integration of perspectives from, across and within the natural and social sciences. We are hopeful that all the five papers in this issue of the Review, will offer readers a journey representing this agenda. While each of the contributions here are focused on India and deal with matters of recent origin, the spatio-temporal scope is expected to be broadened in the subsequent issues.

Theme of Environmental Governance

It is environmental governance that connects the five papers included in this inaugural issue. For one, emergence of govern­ance as a key concept in political theory and policy discourse alike coincides with the adoption of neo-liberalism as the core principle of economic policy by the state in the early 1990s—globally. Worldwide Governance Indicators annually published by the World Bank since 1996 for 215 countries is a pertinent example in this regard. As an illustration, consider the trajectory vis-à-vis forests closer home. It is marked by the ann­o­u­n­c­e­ment of the Joint Forest Management (JFM; June 1990) programme, pronouncement of the National Forest Policy (1988), passing of the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest-Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act (2005) and finally “release” of the Draft National Forest Policy (2016)3—together they point to the rapid evolution and an intense churning on the question of forest governance and the associated balance of power between the state and its forest-dependent citizens. It would not be difficult to track similar trajectories for wastes, water, land, coasts, hills, mountains, and the like.

Arguably, governance is beyond policy, laws, rules, orders, case law, etc. It includes not only negotiations between the state and the country’s citizens on rule-making and other ­attributes of governance, but also aspects of democratising decision-making, which may not have anything to do with state-mediated governance, but encapsulated within customs and mores—be it of an earlier vintage or contemporary. Of course, the necessary and common minimum element connected with any notion of governance is that of an institution, and the nature of its functioning.

Our choice of this theme is also influenced by the recent events signalling changes in the policy discourse on matters of ecological origin—with a focus on their governance and ­management. Over the last couple of centuries, ecosystems in India (and forests in particular) have come under centralised governance and formal, supposedly scientific management. However, as witnessed with the Forest Rights Act where it is actually being implemented, a democratic form of governance is not difficult to imagine or even witness, but any alteration in the power relations will surely threaten the very existence, if not the sustainability, of a state-centred managerial regime.

Conceptualisation of governance in this Review is different from what is captured by depoliticised terms like “good governance.” In the latter, a disproportionate share of attention is attributed to the protocols, procedures and processes of ­governance; these hide the history of the state takeover of ­nature, the consequent centralisation of power and the alienation of ecosystem-dependent communities. It is oblivious to “making of subjects” (Foucault), “making of law” (Latour) or even the dynamics being played at the cusp of environment–society–economy. Transforming this requires a conceptualisation of governance that deals squarely with equity in decision-making power, direct democracy, and principles like subsidiarity that enable principle governance powers to be the most local units.

Introduction to the Papers

The five papers in this Review, together, address multiple aspects of environmental governance: problematising regulations governing waste (Gidwani and Corwin, p 44); connecting trade unions with livelihood-displacing forest governance ­regimes (Krishnan, p 62); drawing a list of challenges for forest-based ­live­lihood-enabling regulatory framework (Gopal­a­kri­shnan, p 71); making a case for considering alternative evidentiary basis for global climate governance regimes (Mathur, p 77); and questioning inactions on the part of institutions for coastal governance (Kapoor, p 55). Several aspects of environmental ­governance are shared between the papers as well: making and unmaking of governance regimes and the role of power in it; institutional omissions and commissions; opening and closure of political space, just to name a few. The sites of the papers traverse from urban Delhi and Hyderabad (Gidwani and ­Corwin) and ­coastal Goa, Gujarat, Kerala and Odisha (Kapoor) to Himalayas in ­Uttarakhand (Mathur) and forests of Chhattisgarh (Krishnan) and movements and struggles around ­forests across India ­(Gopalakrishnan).

Gidwani and Corwin inquire into the transformations in what they call “business of waste” in India—making a largely informal sector “ordered” along with converting it into a ­corporatised avatar—facilitated and validated by the amendments in the rules that govern waste in India. Focus is on two streams of (municipal solid and electronic) waste—of ­immense and increasing importance vis-à-vis urban ecology for their sheer scale—aided by fieldwork in Mundka and Nehru Place (both in Delhi) and Bholakpur (Hyderabad). They point out the historically valuable environmental and social role that the process of “deferment of waste” has played and how capital intends to capture this value through one of its time-tested strategies—establishing property rights through enclosure. It remains a matter of speculation, though, how far capital can extend its reach, given the presence of organised civil society groups and political formations that oppose the interests of capital.

More often than not, institutions are found to be lacking the power necessary for effecting their roles and responsibilities. In such contestations, an inherent assumption is that alterations in “black letters” will change the state of affairs in the intended direction. This has not been the case for various state coastal zone management authorities, Kapoor contends—­arguably, because they are in a “compliance trap.” With a focus on these statutory institutions from four states—Goa, Gujarat, Kerala and Odisha—this paper identifies four causes for ­inactions on the part of these institutions. Recommendations for avoiding such “traps” follow—applicable beyond the specific institutions under focus in this paper. Admittedly, their implementation will require a huge transformation in the realpolitik.

Among the many “Varieties of Environmentalism” in the ­Indian context, it is only the ecological Marxists that, as a ­category, have some connect with both the “red” and the “green.” In the world of “environmental practice,” such a ­possibility rarely exists, not just in India, but elsewhere too. The Chhattisgarh Mukti Morcha (CMM) has been an exception in terms of integrating ecological concerns within the domain of a trade union, Krishnan argues. Drawing from the various elements in the practice of environmentalism by the CMM—that called for continuous dialogue with the worker–Adivasipeasant—Krishnan explores the potential that “social movement unionism” offers towards materialising a “collective” red and green imagination, warranting in turn a re-imagination of class, productive forces and production itself.

Gopalakrishnan draws from the making and drafting of forest-focused legislations to argue that framing of environment and development are best understood with the lens of political economy. His paper, focusing on the enactment of the Forest Rights Act, shows how political–economic churning in the last quarter of a century resonated in the forest areas, with various political forces acting and reacting towards governance of ­forests by the state. He contends that the coming together of the two groups was crucial for making the imagination of a legislation to facilitate livelihood of forest dwellers into a reality: non-forest bureaucracy and a loosely composed alliance of (Adivasi and forest dwellers) movements with support from some political parties beyond the “red” and the “green.” Over the years, the importance of the former has weaned away. However, during this same period, the other has gained strength showcased through the numerous resistance movements and struggles across the country, in which Gopalakrishnan finds hope—to imagine, devise, institutionalise and implement new models of development and collective resource use.

In everything connected with climate injustice—conceptualisation around “climate change” to its reflection in legislations and agreements and their implementation—all follows from its very imagination, and herein lie the multiple roles of a climate translator, Mathur argues. Besides defining such roles, her paper examines the potential of challenging monism, contesting hegemony, of revealing the embeddedness of power in it, through the rich imaginaries of people around it through an ethnographic account of multi-species–human ­relations in the Indian Himalayas in Uttarakhand. In it the ecological is inseparable from notions of fairness of the narrators or their understanding of historical neglect and violence inflicted by the powerful on them.

We look forward to receiving comments and suggestions from the reader on this Review.

[For the record, conversations with the EPW on a Review of Environment and Development started during the last few days of 2015 between Aniket Alam, the then executive editor, and Nandan Nawn. For the “in principle” approval received, Kaushik Dasgupta, the then chief copy editor, and three co-editors formed the initial editorial team in February 2016—that chose the present title. We thank Aniket and Kaushik for being a part of the initial efforts. We thank all the contributors in this issue of the Review for their ­cooperation.]

Nandan Nawn (corresponding co-editor: is with TERI University and the Indian Society for Ecological Economics, New Delhi; Sudha Vasan ( teaches at the University of Delhi; Ashish Kothari ( is with Kalpavriksh and Vikalp Sangam.


1 While aware of the critical difference between these two terms, we use “environment” to denote both, in the rest of the article.

2 Interestingly, an early influential work (Arndt 1987) on the “history of economic development” had included the following as ‘desirable objective[s] of “development” presumably articulated by “citizens in developed and developing countries”: “Higher living standards. A rising per capita income. Increase in productive capacity. Mastery over nature. Freedom through control of man’s environment. Economic growth. [...]” (1987: 1; emphasis added). In the next two hundred odd pages, either nature or man’s environment hardly appears. The other celebrated work on “history of development,” in contrast, points to an evolutionary relation between “environment” and “development”: a chapter titled “The Environment, or the New Nature of “Development” since its first edition (Rist 1997); a chapter titled “Beyond ‘Development’: From Downscaling to a Change in the Economic Paradigm” in the third edition (Rist 2008); and a sub-section titled “Ecology as Victim of Crisis” in the fourth edition (Rist 2014).

3 It was drafted by Indian Institute of Forest Management. Bhopal for the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change, Government of India who later disowned it.


Arndt, H W (1987): Economic Development: The History of an Idea, Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

IIFM (2016): “National Forest Policy, 2016: Empowered Communities, Healthy Ecosystems, Happy Nation (draft),” Bhopal: Indian Institute of Forest Management, viewed, viewed on 15 April 2017.

Rist, Gilbert (1997): The History of Development: From Western Origins to Global Faith, first edition, London & New York: Zed Books.

— (2008): The History of Development: From Western Origins to Global Faith, third edition, London & New York: Zed Books.

— (2014): The History of Development: From Western Origins to Global Faith, fourth edition, London & New York: Zed Books.

Updated On : 10th Aug, 2017


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