Livelihood Rights and Environmental Justice

Showcasing ATREE’s environmental justice research across the Western and Eastern Ghats, western coast and eastern Gangetic plains.


The Nilgiris, a Western Ghatian district of Tamil Nadu were colonized in the company era around 1820. Salubrious weather, sparse inhabitance, and conducive soil assisted colonization and capitalization. Space was a co-produced natural resource or ecosystem service that the open undulating shola-grassland ecosystem offered to Britisher settlers. Pastoral Todas, and the agro pastoral Badagas, grazed, fired, and cultivated the grasslands for many pre-colonial centuries. The British conducted ‘exotic’ experiments with the soil. Planted ‘English’ vegetables; Australian, south American and African trees; Chinese tea; and diverse European ornamental and shrubby plants. Lakes were created in the company era, and dams for water supply and power in the crown era. Vast grassy hectares were inundated. The two World Wars created military markets for Nilgiri produce, including potatoes, quinine, and wattle bark.
Post-independence development was a colonial legacy. Afforestation intensified, as did erosive and intensive agriculture. More dams were built and commissioned. The Nilgiri agrarian economy now entails the settled cultivation of grasslands with English vegetables like potato and carrots; wattle and eucalyptus afforestation for oil and tannin agent. Film and gelatin factories polluted dam waters that inundated grasslands. Today the once grassy upper plateau is a patchwork of chemicalized farms; tea monoculture; woody, invasive, thorny and predatory forests; and polluted reservoirs.
My presentation is a longue durée historical sociology of environmental change in the upper Nilgiris. It argues why this history is an environmentally unjust one. It tracks how local Badaga and Toda peasants and pastoralists have resisted or adapted to the changing landscape. Taking stock of a risk ridden present, its risks the projection of future scenarios.
Keywords: Environmental change, risks, human-wildlife interactions, forests, grasslands, pastoralism, farming, soil.

Environmental discourses and governance techniques play an important role in ensuring public participation and the growth of an environmental movement. However, peoples’ understanding of environmental crisis may not always come through environmental discourse and governance techniques, but also perceived and lived-in affective relations. Based on sociological research conducted around two environmental protests in Kerala, India, this paper demonstrates how people’s subjectivity is transformed through their experience of polluted waterscapes, memories of the material engagement with their immediate nature, and affective labour. For activists involved in Eloor and Kathikudam movement in Kerala, their interactions with the river- an “immediate nature” in both cases- and the memories associated with it act as a central force in the “becoming” of people who care for the environment. Through the everyday involvement in the movement and fighting for the protection of river from pollution, I argue that villagers transform their individual and collective subjectivities while attempting to save their riverscapes.
Keywords: environmental subjectivity, affective labour, immediate nature, environmentality, governmentality

The once sparsely spread out Chenchu1 hamlets of the Amrabad tiger reserve, Telangana, have transformed into villages. Different groups of people from outside the reserve have ‘made’ lands here and live in villages thus created. It is the process of ‘land-making’ by outsiders that has played a central role in transforming hamlets into villages. Evident in these villages are changes in the social, economic and political positioning of Chenchus and other caste outsiders alongside incremental embedding of Chenchus in the modern-day capitalist relations and politics that ensue from a village society. In these villages, there is now a sudden and increasing interest by the conservationist regime to regulate the land and agrarian livelihoods of people using the categories of tribal, non-tribal and outsider. Also, the relationships between non-tribal and tribal are being actively ruptured by pitching those categories as the basic reference points for relocation of villagers from inside the reserve. In this context of differential interference by the conservationist regime in the lives and livelihoods of people, for the people who are deeply embedded in societal relations of village, the story of varied processes and struggles of survival that led to the transformation of hamlets to villages is important to understand and emphasize.
Transformation of Chenchu hamlets to villages, consequential of a land making process by tribal and non-tribal outsiders is often ignored by the academic and developmental circles and even missing in public discourse. The silence of academic and public discourse around the transformed economy and polity of the village society is often reflected in not only essentializing the Chenchus as subsistence based, primitive hunters and gatherers but also in sidelining the varied struggles of survival and existence of otherwise singularly grouped category of homogenous ‘non-tribal’. This silence and blanketing of the struggles and processes of transformation is aiding Protected Area protection practices that focus on selective control and regulation of people based on the notions of local and outsider, tribal and non-tribal; the realm that is technically and definitely not of protected area rule. This is an environmental sociological study that seeks to question and correct the silence of academia in presenting the story of transformation of Chenchu hamlets to villages. Study that is sensitive to the history of land making processes, the central element of transformation.
Keywords: transformation, land-making, tribal, non-tribal, conservationist regime
1 Chenchus are Scheduled tribes, who are considered as the original and authentic tribes of the region. Chenchus, apart from being administratively categorized as scheduled tribes are also labeled as ‘Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Group’ and carry the identity of ‘adivasi’.

Ranjeet Kumar Sahani1, Siddhartha Krishnan2, Shrinivas Badiger3, Sunil Chauhary4

1PhD Student, Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment (ATREE), Bangalore

2Fellow, Suri Sehgal Centre for Biodiversity and Conservation (ATREE), Bangalore

3Fellow, Centre for Environment and Development (ATREE), Bangalore

4 Professor, Tilka Manjhi Bhagalpur University-TMBU-Bhagalpur-Bihar

The study of flood management and its impact on the communities has been a common theme for natural hazard study in post-independence India. The flooding of river Kosi in the North Bihar region has been at the centre of disaster management in the past six decades in the state of Bihar. In the context of Kosi, there are a number of studies on the politics of flood control and the river embankments creating a permanent divide between the riverside and the countryside. These studies, however, are limited by their scope. They have looked at only the introduction of the river embankments in the Kosi floodplains and criticised the role of expert knowledge on flood control which undermines the local and traditional flood coping mechanisms in the Kosi region. They have not looked at the changes due to the permanent division between inside and outside in the last six decades in the Kosi region, and the differential vulnerabilities.
Most studies on Kosi flood consider the communities living inside the Kosi embankments as homogenous and equally vulnerable to flood, irrespective of their caste, class, gender and geographical locations in the Kosi region.
Through my environmental sociological work, I demonstrate that communities living inside and outside of Kosi embankments are heterogeneous and that the caste, class, gender and geographical locations of the communities condition their flood vulnerabilities. There is a disproportionate distribution of flood risk in the Kosi region. I conceptualise environmental justice not only as the disproportionate distribution of environmental risks such as flood risk in the context of Kosi but also as the lack of access to physical and institutional services such as flood proof land, roads, electricity, drinking water, healthcare units, schools and colleges and banks.
Data from oral history interviews and focus group discussions, reveal that marginality of the different caste communities affects their vulnerability to flood differently. The very marginality and the inequality created by embankments disproportionately expose them to flood risk in the Kosi floodplains.
Keywords: Environmental Justice, Vulnerability, Marginal Community, Kosi, Oral History, Focus Group Discussion.

Socio-ecological landscapes (SELs) are an important repository for biodiversity. Systematic documentation of mammals can be an important tool for identifying conservation measures. We recorded mammals from two major farming systems in Darjeeling-Sikkim Himalaya -Tea Cultivation (TCS) and Agro-ecosystem (AES) using camera traps, mist nets, bat detectors and sherman traps. Analysis were done using RStudio packages, camtrapR and Vegan. 41 species of mammals from nine orders were recorded, of which 19.5% are of global conservation significance. Camera trapping data from 8 sites showed non-significant differences between mammal communities in the two systems. Beta diversity analysis also showed low dissimilarity, low nestedness and low species turnover indicating that species composition across both systems are similar. Disentangling the effect of land-use mosaic on species richness at a finer scale along with the ability of each farming system to accommodate landscape connectivity at a coarser scale may be key to the process of devising effective conservation strategies for mammals in SELs.