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Vulnerable Ecology and Vulnerable People

Gunnel Cederlof

Edited by Ghazala Shahabuddin and Mahesh Rangarajan
Permanent Black, New Delhi, 2007, pp. 298, Rs. 595.00


An overwhelming impression, after being confronted with the experiences of fourteen analyst–practitioners in Shahabuddin and Rangarajan’s edited volume, is the strong legacy of 150 years of state run conservation policy in India. The synoptic views of government departments, the lack of trust for government officials among the affected people, the uneven distribution of resources and mix of exclusionary measures combined with an equal mix of capacity of implementation is familiar to any researcher of nineteenth and twentieth century colonial history. The contributors together represent a vast range of thoroughly grounded expert knowledge on conservation from ecological, social and political points of view. Most of the authors have personal experience of working in conservation related organisations; only a few are full-time academics. Thereby, the analytical methods differ significantly between the texts, as do the terminology and theoretical language. The texts represent fields as varied as to include historical studies searching to detect conservation discourses and ecological studies of rainforest restoration to NGO self assessment and policy prescription. Even if the methodological difficulties involved in such a cross-boundary enterprise could have been dwelt on further, the volume is a testimony to the usefulness of intensifying and deepening discussions between academics and practitioners, and to the need to develop further our capacity to communicate across analytical divides.   The baseline of the volume is that both vulnerable ecologies and vulnerable people need protection. Seen through the long history of conservation programmes, it is only quite recently that the negative consequences for people living in areas under conservation regulations have been more systematically observed. Such concerns were not totally absent earlier, but loss of livelihood and land was mostly met by ‘compensation’ in different forms and tended to be given ad hoc solutions. As is argued in the contributions to this volume, recent policies have tended to prioritize either nature or people, in either case protecting one at the expense of the other. In spite of their different focuses, the authors agree that the one cannot be allowed to encroach on the right or necessity of the other to maintain integrity. Keeping close to ground realities, the texts are free from romanticization and short-cut solutions. There is a need for exploring a middle ground, as the editors argue in the introduction. From specific situations around the subcontinent—Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Orissa, Tamil Nadu, Arunachal, Karnataka—the studies target policy, implementation and management aspects of ...

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