ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Tragedy of the Commons Revisited (I)

Granite Quarrying in Telangana

Despite constitutional and legislative commitments to protect the commons, they are under threat across India. This article on the plight of commons in the peasant economy of Karimnagar in Telangana, which have been endangered by quarrying, argues that the commons are neither properly understood in this country nor are there adequate rules to govern them. Resistance to encroachment of the commons is either seen as illegitimate or lacking in sufficient legal grounding. Such resistance is then overpowered with ease and impunity by a coalition of private entrepreneurs, civil servants, politicians and their scions, all of whom reap enormous profits

Barely out of Karimnagar town in Telangana, towards the north-east, one can hear the soft buzz of machines slicing through rocks. These rocks are situated on small hillocks surrounded by villages, where agriculture is still the main occupation. The largely denuded and dusty landscape is dotted by hillocks with finely sliced rock faces, interlaced with patches of cultivation and small tanks. This shows the precarious coexistence of an older peasant economy that is geared towards subsistence for the many with a new quarrying economy geared towards enormous profit-making for a few through the extraction of granite, sand and other natural resources. Many questions pass through our mind as we travel through this landscape. Who do these rocks and hillocks belong to? The villagers? The state? The quarry operators? How do we think about such spaces that do not fall under clearly-defined property rights? Can the old and new economies coexist? Who benefits from all this?

It is only in the recent past (especially during and after the time of Y S Rajase­khara Reddy; 1949-2009) that Andhra Pradesh has witnessed quarries on a large scale and visible signs of their profits. Private capitalists, civil servants, politicians and their scions have been deeply involved in quarrying over the last couple of decades. What escapes a lot of analysts, however, is that this is not just the doing of a few corrupt politicians and bureaucrats. General conditions are such that they allow a certain model of skewed development, a process that ­severely circumscribes transformative politics or even defensive politics that tries to preserve or protect the bare lives of large populations.

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