Discourse in India on the environment as a resource has, for too long, been confined to relatively narrow domains — either restricted to improvement of quality of non-renewable resources such as air and water or the challenge of addressing global issues such as reducing emissions in the face of increasing demand for energy in an energy-starved society. The domain of environmental governance has been the forte of a motley group of environmentalists and later, environmental economists. In the absence of a holistic and trans-disciplinary approach to understanding environmental governance, action has been too late (the State of the Environment Report was brought out by the environment ministry only in 2009 and the Economic Survey started adding a chapter on Sustainable Development only from 2012) or too little (recurring conflicts on competing usage of land, forests and river water).
Against this backdrop, the essays compiled in the book Environmental Governance — Approaches, Imperatives and Methods provides a fresh perspective to the multitude of vexed issues of not just protecting the environment but managing the sustainable extraction of environmental benefits for private welfare. The freshness of perspectives arrives from the diversity in the backgrounds of the authors — economists, policy makers, historians et al. The collection of essays, mostly based on papers presented at the Conference of the Indian Society of Ecological Economics, 2009, have been edited by three experts at the forefront of research in the field of ecological economics.
The freshness is evident in the attempt to show how questions on sustainability can hopefully be met through inter-disciplinary, policy-oriented research and participative human institutions. The editors say that bottom-up perspectives on environmental governance demand that ‘public interest science’ play a crucial role in supporting environmental movements. Noted economist Kirit Parikh focuses on the role of natural resource accounting in guiding national developmental policies, while well-known educationist YK Alagh highlights the issues of land and water management in achieving sustainable agriculture.
Further enriching this collection is the section devoted to case studies drawn from different parts of South Asia. Sudeshna Banerjee’s illustration of government failure to conserve the wetlands of Kolkata stands out as a stark reminder of strengthening institutions towards governance.
The editors have done a highly commendable job of demonstrating the linkages among various contributions. The inter-disciplinary value of this collection is its most outstanding feature and one, therefore, hopes that it attracts the attention of academics and policy makers alike.