Rethinking inclusivity and justice agendas in restoration of urban ecological commons
Amrita Sen and Harini Nagendra highlight how the current participatory and community-driven initiatives of ecological restoration in Indian cities accord limited significance to the overarching questions of social justice and relations of power.
The present study analyses civic and community-based initiatives in conserving urban ecological commons in India, which have been increasingly polluted, encroached upon and degraded because of rapid land-use transformations.
Bengaluru, a city in south India, has one of the largest networks of manmade lakes, some of which are restored and managed by citizen groups, civil society, environmental activists and voluntary private bodies.
The restoration process interfaces with urban policy-making, shaping predominant management agendas in association with the State. Community initiatives in conserving the lakes are not only well-organised but also play a crucial role in making city commons vibrant and integral nodes of cultural and social identification.
However, the contemporary management system involving citizen groups in lake conservation is largely at odds with the tradition of community-managed lake systems previously existing in the city, which have eroded as the city became industrialised and increased in size and population, resulting in rapid landscape transformations.
Against this background, the present study aims to illustrate that a seemingly representative community management of city ecologies is often embedded in an overwhelming political context. It also discusses the need for an urgent deconstruction to better understand how overtly flexible and dynamic restoration actions interact with inequality, power and conflicts.
The results of the present study emphasise that the current participatory and community-driven initiatives of ecological restoration in Indian cities unfortunately accord limited significance to the overarching questions of social justice and relations of power.
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Amrita Sen and Harini Nagendra are faculty members at Azim Premji University.
Centre for Climate Change and Sustainability
Strengthening India's response to the climate crisis