Signal Green

Environmental history in India has generated a rich literature on forests, wildlife, human–animal conflict, tribal rights and commercial degradation, displacement and development, pastoralism and desertification, famine and disease, sedentarism and mobility, wildness and civility, and the ecology versus equity debate. This reader brings together some of the best and most interesting writing on India’s ecological pasts. It looks at a variety of the country’s regions, landscapes, and arenas as settings for strife or harmony, as topography and ecological fabric, in the process covering a vast historical terrain.

Of late the environmental sciences have become increasingly popular as a subject of study. With new courses on environmental issues being introduced in the topmost universities of the country, the need to have comprehensive books on the subject has been growing from quiet some time. For a very long time, the only reliable, and available comprehensive reader on the subject has been Madhav Gadgil and Ramachandra Guha’s This Fissured Land, which offered an extensive insight into the ecological history of India.

India’s Environmental History, by Mahesh Rangarajan and K. Sivaramakrishnan, both professors, and eminent scholars in the field of environmental studies, fulfils this long awaited need. Published almost a decade after Guha and Gadgil’s book, this Reader offers a fresh perspective on the ecological history of the country. A concise collection of some of the best works on the subject, this reader, published in two volumes, provides a detailed account of the historiography of the country, from prehistoric India to the recent times. Tracing the environmental concern in India through this big a time span could not have been an easy task to attempt, and therein lies the best part of the book. In lucid, easy language, the book takes the reader through a histriographic journey through the forest and water disputes, frictions over rural and urban space, issues over natural resources and the struggles over land and water, and the ecological changes due to industrialization, canalization and hunting etc, and offers a different perspective on the environmental issues, and their management from early age to the recent postcolonial times.

The two volumes, needless to say, are supplementary to each other. While the first Volume concentrates on the early and medieval times, and the country’s environmental history through these times, the second volume pays attention to the changes incurred to the country’s demographics during the colonial rule, and it’s after effects. The Reader wins hands down on the account of its inclusion of the prehistoric ecological facts, as in doing so, it does something very few books before it have even attempted, and certainly never with this precision. Also, the effective time bound progress that the ecological events been neatly organized in makes it easy for the reader to trace the significant issues of a given time period. All the essays included in the collection are mostly prominent works of relatively well known environmentalists or historians, which gives the reader an astute
academic credibility.

Whether you want a good sourcebook for academic purposes, or India’s environmental studies interest you in general, in India’s Environmental History you’re most likely to find all the information you need. After all it’s not every day that a collection of the best scholarships on India’s environment is out there for grabs. Mahesh Rangarajan is Director of the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library in New Delhi, and  K. Sivaramakrishnan is Professor of Anthropology, and of Forestry and Environmental Studies at Yale University.  

In hardcover, 1096 pages, Rs 1850. ISBN 9788178243160