If you are aware of the “tragedy of the commons”, you will know it is playing out today at its egregious worst in India’s Himalayan belt.
In the modern context, “commons” goes beyond the original idea of grazing lands to encompass all natural resources such as air, water, mountains, soil or fish in the sea. And, by civilisational compact, governments are mandated to manage such resources. Common sense dictates that the best way to do so is by rules and frameworks that are followed by everyone and allow everyone the benefits.
In India, however, cupidity and stupidity regularly trump common sense. The Joshimath region began to be developed in the 1960s. By the 1970s, the town was already subsiding. And since then, numerous experts and committees have steadily warned of the area’s geological instability and recommended that big townships, big roads, and big dams be avoided. In response, each government has broken rules, circumvented guidelines, built bigger.
While development is indeed required in the Himalaya, it must come with meticulous planning. With science to understand the terrain and humility to heed its warnings. We are seeing the exact opposite.
This government is particularly quick to paint all environmental concerns and activists as anti-development and anti-national. As Joshimath’s people lose their homes, one must pause to ask what is truly anti-national — benign development that keeps the land and people at its core or one that expands like a malignant tumour.
Frontline examines this question in detail. Alongside, we have all your usual favourites—interviews and book reviews, photo features and columns. As always, I look forward to your feedback. Until next fortnight,