Abstract: Indigenous and other local communities across India have had traditional systems of local governance as unwritten or sometimes written codes of conduct and decision making. Many such systems are still being followed in parallel with the panchayat systems, or getting re-invented by combining the modern forms of governance with the traditional ones, especially in the case of communities still practising traditional occupations and ways of life (forest-based, pastoral, fishing, and/or farming). There are, however, very few studies of these systems interacting with modern state institutions, their current or continuing relevance, and their role in achieving goals of justice, well-being, and ecological sustainability.
This study focuses on documenting the present status and relevance of the traditional governance system of Ladakhi villages, with a focus on the goba (or lambardar/nambardar). For this, the study also looked at the interface between the local/traditional and new/modern governance systems, viz. the goba with the panchayat, Ladakh Hill Council and UT Administration.
Keywords: traditional governance, goba, democracy, natural resources, indigenous knowledge, environment
The 125th birth anniversary of Ambedkar was celebrated in April 2016 all around, so much so that the United Nations, for the first time, observed this day with a focus on achieving Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). As we know, the 17 goals along with 169 targets and 304 indicators, adopted in September 2015, aspire to transform our world by balancing the three dimensions of sustainable development: economic, social and environmental. The ‘plan of action for people, planet and prosperity’ has environment at its core, along with poverty and inequality: to ‘protect planet’, create ‘healthy environment’, and ensure equality, dignity and development ‘in harmony with nature’. And Ambedkar is found in this regard to be an apt and inspiring leader.
The world can see traces of Ambedkar’s vision in the SDGs and can find his views relevant for environmental sustainability, but not the Indian environmentalists! Indian environmental movements marginalize Ambedkar. From a historical past, environmental scholars have placed Gandhi at the apex of their inspiration. Recently, Nehru and Indira Gandhi too have been constructed through an ecological lens. However, Ambedkar’s engagement with the environmental question has been relatively unexplored, even when his thoughts and interventions on nature, village, land, agriculture, water, community, industry, technology and science are some of the enduring issues of India’s environmental and political traditions. In comparison with Gandhi, credited with having an intuitive critique of modern civilization, Ambedkar has often been criticized for his modernization vision, which it is argued, drew heavily on the west for inspiration (Nagaraj 2010: 56-7)
The past few months have been exceptional, in one respect at least, for the Indian press: a serious structural problem has actually been given the attention it deserves. The Economic Times continues to play a prominent part in discussing air pollution in Delhi – there is no other city in the world where it is so bad. Nor is this all: including Delhi, India now boasts thirteen out of twenty cities with the worst air. More recently, the uproar over supposedly high levels of lead in a brand of junk food led to a (very) few articles on groundwater contamination: after all, the reason why lead and other poisons get into food is because they are present in the soil in which crops grow. Another piece, in the Guardian this time, speculated that the recent Sahelian heat wave in the Deccan might be a symptom of climate change (an “extreme” climate event of the kind likely to become all too common).
These stories are only a tiny fraction of those that could be reported, for we are already in the throes of an unprecedented environmental crisis. Large swathes of our agricultural soils are contaminated or saline. Pesticide residues and heavy metals form part of our food. The air of our major cities is unfit to breathe. Freshwater availability is declining; most rivers, especially in the south, do not flow at all, or only seasonally, since their runoff is impounded in dams and used for irrigation (with very high rates of seepage and evaporation loss). Groundwater tables are falling as a consequence of over extraction and the disappearance of vegetative cover enabling percolation. The pattern of weather is being reset with gaps and lags – the available evidence indicates that the onset of the monsoon is changing and precipitation becoming more uneven. Our offshore seas are denuded of marine life thanks to trawler fishing at ever greater distances. Himalayan glaciers are shrinking with obvious long-term consequences for the hydrology of river systems dependent upon snow-melt. Sudden, destructive floods, exacerbated by embankments and dams, the building over of river valleys and floodplains, have become a regular occurrence. Continue reading Who cares about the environment? Some notes on the ecological crisis in India: Shashank Kela→
High Level Committee of Ministry of Environment and Forests and Climate Change walks out of Public Consultation in Bangalore
The High Level Committee headed by Mr. T. S. R. Subramanian, former Union Cabinet Secretary, constituted by the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests and Climate Change to review environment, pollution control and forest conservation laws, invited the public at large for a consultation between 12 and 1.30 pm today (27th September) at Vikas Soudha, the high security office complex of the Government of Karnataka. Advertisements to this effect had been issued by the Karnataka Department of Forest, Ecology and Environment in various newspapers on 21st September 2014, followed up by various press releases inviting the public to interact with the Committee.
When various individuals and representatives of public interest environmental and social action groups turned up for the meeting, the police prevented their entry at the gates. It was only following a spot protest that the police consented to allow them to participate in the consultation. Despite this indignifying experience, all who gathered proceeded to the meeting hall with the intent of engaging with the High Level Committee.
My book Green and Saffron is just out. The book details and an interview are on the blog of Permanent Black. From the publishers’ notice:
This book examines contemporary environmental issues and movements in independent India on the one hand, and the development of Hindu conservative ideology and politics on the other. It includes the first thorough investigation of Anna Hazare’s movement in Maharashtra.
Mukul Sharma argues that these two social currents—environmental conservation and Hindu politics—have forged bonds which reveal the hijacking of environmentalism by conservative and retrograde worldviews. This, he says, constitutes a major aspect of hinterland political life which neither academics nor journalists have seriously analysed. Environmentalism and politics cannot be seen as separate from each other, for environmental issues are being defined in new ways by an anti-secular form of Hinduism. In turn, Hindu ideologues are gaining mileage for their ideology by espousing major environmental projects. Continue reading Green and Saffron: Hindu Nationalism and Indian Environmental Politics→
This press release was put out by theNATIONAL ALLIANCE FOR PEOPLE’S MOVEMENTSon 14 November 2011
Post-facto Green signal to Phase-I of Lavasa by the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) given on the November 9th is a blot on the democratic process and a shockingly dangerous precedent in the history of environmental action in India. MoEF’s improper action has infact sent shock-waves to eco-activists within the country and also across the world. Although it is not the first time in the long history of Indian Environmental clearance regime that political highhandedness has been used to subvert rule of law and the ends of justice, this case is unique since the clearance has disregarded well established evidence based on facts collected by no other than the MoEF itself. It is surprising that the Ministry’s decision has come in the wake of the case filed by the Maharashtra government against 15 persons including promoters of Lavasa Corporation for alleged violations of the Environment Protection Act (EPA), while the Maharashtra Chief Minister on the other hand has recommended that Lavasa be considered for environmental clearance, exposes the double standards of the state government.Continue reading Clean Chit to Law-Breaker Lavasa, a Blot on India’s Democracy and Environmentalism: NAPM→
(I am posting a much longer version of my previous article that will also respond to some of the queries and comments. This article is based on my research, field work and interviews in Ralegan Sidhi since 1991.)
This article is focussed mainly on understanding how exactly the rural environmental works in the journey of Anna Hazare and Ralegan Sidhi are articulated within a coherent ideological framework, to acquire their legitimacy and authority, which are fed by, and fed into, some dominant political cultures of the state. Any political theory and practice, built on this framework, can open the possibilities of a strengthening of the conservative and nationalist forces. Certainly, the ideology of a rural organisation or a movement and its appeal is not based on a single plank. In the case of Anna Hazare and his programme, though the developmental and the environmental works form the core of its ideological structures, it includes other issues as well. At times it provides a different scale of activities to its audience, but eventually reinforces its principal ideological framework. Some understanding of the ideological DNA of the green villagers and the fellow environmental travellers also gives us an idea as to what elements of this endeavour and ideology motivate villagers and environmentalists.
The Historical Context of Maharashtra
Anna Hazare and Ralegan Siddhi are not a new addition to the social history of the Maharashtra state. Indeed, the movement has borrowed many features from the historical evolution of the region, and the political culture of the state, with which it negotiates at different levels. There are many factors at play, though three are of prime importance in the context of this paper: (i) nativism and regionalism in Maharashtrian culture and politics (ii) structure and nature of caste and class and (iii) agrarian economy and local environmentalism. Continue reading The Making of an Authority: Anna Hazare in Ralegan Siddhi→