India, China Collaboration Needed To Protect Ecology

Shikui Dong, Jayanta Bandyopadhyay, Sanjay Chaturvedi [eds], Environmental Sustainability from the Himalayas to the Oceans: Struggles and Innovations in China and India, Springer, Switzerland, 2017 [258 pp]

Book Review by Vithal Rajan

Vithal Rajan

Vithal Rajan

While general public anxiety over our fast degrading environment has produced a plethora of books, none is better than this one, written with so much attention to detail, and history, making complex scientific facts easily accessible as much to the lay reader as to the scientist. The book is delightfully illustrated with carefully drawn maps and charts, and beautiful photos, which all aid the reader in understanding the threats to the fragile ecology of the Himalayan region, affecting both India and China.

A phalanx of authoritative scientists have authored this book, Indian, Chinese, and international. In the present cacophonous political atmosphere, the authors refreshingly argue, repeatedly throughout the book, for joint international action and joint regional bodies between India and China to help reverse ecological degradation in the Himalayan region, which is drastically eroding the quality of life for millions north and south of the mountain range.

The two principal authors, Jayanta Bandyopadhyay and Shikui Dong, go into the early histories and theologies of the two great Asian civilizations to highlight the ecological sensitivity embedded in their cultures. Shikui Dong starts his exposition of the present state of play in China with a conventional bashing of the Mao period in the 1950s and 1960s, a period when all governments were equally ignorant and irresponsible. Dong then highlights the present Chinese government-sponsored concept of ‘Ecological Civilization,’ which incorporates the legal right of villages to self-government, greater responsibility of communities over their environment, and the utilization of traditional knowledge to do so. Dong forgivably fails to mention that the roots for governance by local communities go back to the Mao era. However, the Chinese today seem to have taken serious steps to check environmental damage, with arrest of desertification, and water and air pollution coming down [though Beijing residents may not believe this], and with appreciable increase in forest cover, and protected watersheds. The future will tell us whether with Chinese thoroughness a definitive recovery has been achieved. While Dong makes a vague mention of the involvement of Chinese NGOs, Bandyopadhyay lists in detail the several Indian citizens’ initiatives that have been taken in the teeth of governmental resistance. Beginning with the Chipko movement, which through its international impact awoke a lethargic administration, and the resistance offered by the Narmada Bachao Andolan, he lists the impact of Public Interest Litigation and the support of the Supreme Court judges in restraining ecological destruction by private parties or through governmental negligence.

The book provides damning evidence that even in the area of water management, it is the colonial-bureaucratic root that has dictated Indian government policy, overriding necessary consultation with affected people. It appears the inappropriate paradigm of European water management practice still dominates Indian thinking.

It is worth quoting the plea of the authors in full. The new age will be of participation in river basin management, of all stakeholders in a process guided by a common commitment for the restoration of good ecological status of the rivers, which is the only way to realize sustained human well-being in the two countries. China and India have the great opportunity to think of and put into practice a human–nature relationship, which is different from that espoused by the traditional

Euro-centric vision of human future, led by the single parameter of economic growth.’ It is to be hoped that pressing environmental concerns will bring the two Asian giants into fruitful collaborative practice.

(The writer is a reputed thinker and humanist who lives at Ketti, The Nilgiris)

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