Wildlife’s infrastructure nightmare

Dear Friends,

I’m very honored and excited to be invited as a guest blogger on Installing (Social) Order and am hoping I can make some interesting and valuable contributions. And I start here on the issue of infrastructure, but from a completely different vantage point – that of wilderness and wildlife. One on my key interests going back more than 2 decades is wildlife conservation in South Asia, the part of the planet I belong to and have been living in since I was born. As part of my work with the environmental NGO Kalpavriksh, I have been editing a newsletter on wildlife for over 18 years now. It is called the Protected Area Update, and one issue that comes up repeatedly is the impact on wildlife, wilderness and the environment on account of our relentless drive to create more and more and more ‘infrastructure’. It is something I keep reporting and commenting on and here is one small editorial I wrote for the February 2012 issue of the newsletter. It’s a little old if one goes by the date, but the concerns on the ground today are just as real if not actually more acute. The piece is also a little India specific, but I think it captures the challenges and that is why I’m sharing it here.

And here’s where you can access the entire 24 page newsletter in case you are interested in reading the specific newsletter or the entire set check Protected Area Update – 2012

WILDLIFE’S INFRASTRUCTURE NIGHTMARE

(Editorial, Protected Area Update Vol. XVIII, No. 1, February 2012)

More roads that penetrate deeper, railway lines that connect better and faster, dam projects for power and irrigation, coal mining for more electricity, high-tension power lines to evacuate that electricity…. This is one side of India’s infrastructure and constantly lauded growth story.

There is another side to that very story which reads something like the following: Roads that cut through rich forests, railways lines that regularly kill elephants, dam projects that drown pristine forests and wildlife habitats, coal mining that rips apart tiger corridors, high tension lines that kill elephants in Orissa and flamingoes in Gujarat…

From the Nallamalla forests of Andhra Pradesh to the valley of the Alaknanda in Uttarakhand; from the elephant forests of Orissa to the Great Rann of Kutch in Gujarat – the story is the same – what is unfolding is nothing short of a nightmare for India’s wildlife. The infrastructure for our automobiles, power and lifestyles is leaving nothing of the natural infrastructure that the wild denizens need. As we travel faster, longer, and deeper and as the GDP becomes the only mantra, the elephants, the tigers, the leopards and even the flamingoes are getting hemmed in more and more with every passing day.

The fate of the flamingoes in Gujarat highlights this starkly. Their only option on being disturbed at night by vehicular noise in the Great Rann was to fly into high-tension wires hanging above and get charred instantly. Between the vehicle and the wire, India’s beleaguered wildlife is getting sandwiched and slaughtered like never before.

One ‘eco’ – the economic is soaring as everything ecologic is being torn to shreds. The tragic irony is that the same system sells to us and to the world the prowling tiger, the gamboling elephant, the soaring birds and, yes, the dancing tribal as ‘Incredible India’. We at the PA Update are part of a small crowd that’s watching on with incredulity. And with despair.

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About Pankaj Sekhsaria

Pankaj Sekhsaria is author of 'The Last Wave', (http://tinyurl.com/njatxm2) a novel based in the Andaman islands of India. He is also a journalist, photographer and researcher with four books, a dozen peer reviewed papers and nearly 200 newspaper and magazine articles to his credit. He is currently a doctoral candidate in Science and Technology Studies (STS) at Maastricht University Science and Technology Studies (MUSTS). His Phd research involves studying the techno-scientific practices inside nanotechnology labs in India to understand and articulate the idea of a 'culture of innovation'

9 thoughts on “Wildlife’s infrastructure nightmare

  1. Pankaj, we are happy that you are our guest. This post is timely, especially as I was just teaching students about the (supposed) difference between man-made and natural disasters (the upshot is that next time, after we have learned the distinction, comes the dichotomy smashing!). At any rate, how do you think that this “natural” infrastructure or “environing” (that states so often do) squares with more common understandings of infrastructure? (like those found on wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Infrastructure)

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  2. thanks for this I’ve been worrying/wondering if there is another means of valuing public/common ‘goods’ beyond economic/exchange values that would resonate with our political/legal systems in ways that would allow for counter “ecos” to be assembled but so far I’ve been coming up empty, are we doomed to have to try and price these matters, to bring them to the markets?
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b006r4wn

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  3. Pingback: More on the wildlife-infrastructure conundrum | Installing (Social) Order

  4. Hi Pankaj! So great to see you here. Yay!!!

    Your post made me wonder if forests, in and of themselves, are an infrastructure or natural infrastructures (for the lack of a better word). Is the notion of “infrastructure” constrained to human relationalities within a material world?

    Anyway, this is a great topic to think with. Thank you so much.

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    • I feel Nicholas, we don’t really acknowledge nature’s infrastructures the way we should be, leave alone giving them the importance that they deserve. A ‘aha!’ moment in this context for me was when listening to Geoff Bowker on ‘infrastructures’ at the WTMC summer school a couple of years ago in the Netherlands. One of the key characteristics of good infrastructure, I learnt, was that it’s not meant to be visible – and it’s visibility is the break down of something serious. It just struck me then that we take nature completely for granted in so many ways just like we take an infrastructure (water pipe line, road, internet connectivity) for granted unless it stops operating. Nature and natural resources drives life on the planet and perhaps, understanding nature and nature’s infrastructures is crucial for us, if for nothing else. Not sure how much conceptual and theoretical work’s been done on this, but it has great promise, I would thinK!

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    • I think, Ranjit, there is a lot of work that can be done here and needs to be done. And not just forests, but also nature’s different dimensions – forests, wetlands, rivers, grasslands, coasts, the oceans – they form the fundamentals, the infrastructures for life on the planet and much else. They form the backbone of everything that exists here and it has been performing so well over here, that we’ve taken it completely for granted and forgotten about it – a key character of good infrastructure…Only now, when it’s beginning to come apart are we beginning to notice it…!

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