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Dossier Introduction

Environmental and social movements in India and Colombia

, par MENON Manju

My presentation of 15 articles are on the subject of environmental and social movements in India and Colombia. Through them, I have attempted to show the immense environmental pressure caused by a development model that is based on economic growth. The rhetoric of economic progress being a necessity for developing countries is repeated in various policy documents, project reports and judicial orders. In an effort to realise this, several regions that are critical for their biodiversity value, that support the livelihoods of marginal communities such as indigenous and forest dwelling people, fishworkers and landless farmers are assumed to be available for transforming into sites of industrial production of energy, goods and services. In these articles there are numerous examples of projects such as dams, industries and nuclear plants that have been constructed or are in the process of coming up in different parts of India. While several of them threaten to displace the communities from where they live, most projects intrude upon the landscapes populated by local people and leave the latter with almost no choice but to suffer the consequences of the changes caused by these projects. Impacts such as human illness due to pollution, falling productivity of land and livestock, failure of crops and artisanal fisheries are insidious and cannot be directly related to the functioning of projects. Projects such as dams and nuclear plants also immensely add to the risks that large populations face in case of accidents or natural disasters such as earthquakes and cyclones.

The environmental regulatory framework comprising laws and the practices of implementation of these laws on the ground have left their own signature on the manner in which environmental issues are understood by the bureaucracy and by the judiciary. The introduction of the procedures of Environmental Impact Assessment studies and Public Hearings offered opportunities for undertaking development projects in a carefully planned manner. However, corporate interests have been allowed to capture these creative spaces of regulation. With the bureaucratic system of expert driven, environment protection having more or less failed the citizen, a large number of discussions on projects and impacts are drawn into courts. Most ‘cases’ of environmental negligence, violations of laws and the impacts of non-compliance have to be proven in court through very tedious procedures by which time human lives are affected.

In an effort to analyse the interrelationships between nature and culture, I have focussed on two regions in this presentation. They are the Northeast region of India and the Choco in Colombia. Through the articles on these two regions, I have tried to show how politics is enmeshed in the questions of nature/environment, identity and citizenship. Both these regions have a unique history that created them as marginal areas of their nations, ignored and forgotten. With changes in the global economic order and the opening up of the national economies, a new discourse on sustainable development emerged and since then the biological resources of these regions have become very critical for the economic progress of their respective countries. From being ‘backward’ areas that were hidden to the bureaucratic eye, these areas have become commercial hotspots on the national map. The new plans and schemes for the ‘development’ of these regions meets the historical experience that the people of the region have had as being indigenous people and afro-descendents located within the national boundaries of India and Colombia respectively. I try to elaborate that such meetings result in rearranging the environment and development discourse around nature and culture, identity and territory.

I am grateful to friends and colleagues both in India and Colombia for helping realise this opportunity to travel to their homes and regions, for talking about their personal and public lives and asking me about mine. Such opportunities of learning are a rare privilege, not available to all.

This dossier is available in French : Mouvements sociaux et environnementaux en Inde et en Colombie

Manju Menon is a researcher who has been investigating and writing on the conflicts between environment and development in India. She is currently a PhD candidate at the Centre for Studies in Science Policy, JNU, New Delhi. She can be contacted at : manjumenon1975(@)

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