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Multiple Facets of Conservation Practices


Harini Nagendra


By Ashwini Chhatre and Vasant K. Saberwal
Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2006, pp. 267, Rs. 575.00

VOLUME XXXII NUMBER 1 January 2008

In theory, the word ‘conservation’ brings to mind a science requiring careful knowledge of ecological principles for the preservation, protection and restoration of human-impacted landscapes. In practice, it has also become a contentious stage for debate, where politics - local, national and global - engages with policies, governments impact the lives of local communities, and development displaces conservation. Democratizing Nature is a careful study of the multiple facets that constitute conservation practice in the real world, using the Great Himalayan National Park (GHNP) in north-western India as a microcosm to engage with larger issues of environmental politics in India.   A number of parks and protected reserves such as the GHNP have been established world-wide, in response to increasing concerns about the escalation of human impacts on biodiversity. Currently, over 102,000 protected areas are in existence across the world, and protect (at least on paper) a staggering 12.65% of the earth’s land cover. While some parks have experimented with forms of participatory management, the majority of these areas continue to be under government control, with limited participation, if any, by local communities. There has been increasing awareness of the social consequences of creating protected areas that exclude local inhabitants from traditional ways of life. Yet the area under protection has continued to increase over time, giving rise to heated debates. These debates can be largely, albeit simplistically, represented as conducted between park administrators and conservationists on the one hand, who often hold positions that state that local communities have necessarily negative impacts on conservation, and need to be excluded completely from protected areas; and local communities, political and social activists, who resist attempts to exclude people from parks, based on issues of human rights and livelihood concerns.   People-park conflicts are particularly acute in less economically developed, yet biologically rich parts of the world such as in most of India, where high densities of people live in and around biodiversity-rich areas, and depend on them for their livelihoods. Tradeoffs between conservation and livelihoods continue to be hotly debated in the academic and practitioner communities, sadly in an atmosphere where there is a significant lack of careful evaluations of the merits of these different (participatory and exclusionist) management approaches. Using a careful case study of a specific park, this book engages with these debates both at the local level and at the larger level of national and international tensions between conservation, development, and livelihoods, ...


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