I am not sure what to call myself … perhaps most appropriate would be an Indian environmentalist working on development – environment interface, biodiversity policy, and alternatives. Environment and wildlife have been passions since high school in Delhi, when (in 1978-79) I helped found Kalpavriksh, a non-profit organisation in India which deals with environmental and development issues. From that time onwards I’ve been associated with peoples’ movements like Narmada Bachao Andolan and Beej Bachao Andolan. I finished my Masters in Sociology in mid-1980s, but did not continue in regular academics. From then till mid-1990s I taught environmental issues at Indian Institute of Public Administration (IIPA), New Delhi, though I was involved more in this period both with Kalpavriksh and with a series of research projects on environment, biodiversity, and wildlife at IIPA. Subsequently I’ve been a guest faculty at several universities and institutes, including as Mellon Fellow at Bowdoin College, USA, and as Professor of Practice at National Law School of India University, Bengaluru.
Through my work on wildlife and biodiversity policy issues, and the interface amongst conservation, governance and livelihoods, I was a member of the Steering Committees of the World Commission on Protected Areas (WCPA) and IUCN Commission on Environmental, Economic, and Social Policy (CEESP) from 1998 to 2008. I helped initiate, and co-chaired the IUCN Inter-commission Strategic Direction on Governance, Equity, and Livelihoods in Relation to Protected Areas (TILCEPA) from 1998 to 2008. I was also fortunate to serve on the steering group or governing board of the CBD (Convention on Biodiversity) Alliance, the ICCA Consortium (another global forum I helped initiate), and Greenpeace International. For over a decade I’ve also been on Greenpeace India’s Board, including for 7 years as its chair.
In the 1990s and early 2000s, I was a member of some Government of India committees, including Environmental Appraisal Committee on River Valley Projects of the Ministry of Environment and Forests, the committee to Assess Implementation of the Forest Rights Act, and Committees to draft the National Wildlife Action Plan and India’s Biological Diversity Act. Most exciting was the opportunity to coordinate, on behalf of Kalpavriksh, India’s National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan process in 2000-2003, commissioned by the Government of India.
During this entire period I’ve remained involved with critiquing ‘development’, and supporting people’s movements against the destruction caused by development projects. But I’ve also felt increasingly unsatisfied with a predominantly critical perspective, and the urge to work on radical alternatives to development as emerging from people’s own efforts in India and elsewhere. This became especially acute when co-writing the book Churning the Earth with Aseem Shrivastava, which critiqued economic globalisation but also presented a preliminary view of alternatives. So I helped start the Vikalp Sangam (Alternatives Confluence) process, as a forum for organisations and individuals working on alternatives in various fields across India to come together; I currently help coordinate this as part of Kalpavriksh.
During these years our global connections also continued growing, from the initial processes within IUCN and then the ICCA Consortium, amidst others. From 2016 to 2019 I co-coordinated the Academic-Activist Co-produced Knowledge for Environmental Justice (ACKnowl-EJ) project, an international, multi-partner process sponsored by the International Social Science Council. In 2016 I also suggested at an international forum, the established of a global process similar to Vikalp Sangam. This finally came into being, in 2019, as the Global Tapestry of Alternatives, which I am currently on a core team of. I’ve also been for the past 3-4 years a member of the Global Working Group ‘Beyond Development’, and more recently became an Associate Fellow of the Tellus Institute.
Since the early Kalpavriksh years I’ve been passionate about writing. Over these 40+ years, I’ve been privileged to have been able to author/co-author, and co-edit about 30 books, and write/co-write about 600 articles on the various topics mentioned above. Most of these are available on this website.
Also over all these decades, I’ve taken lots of photographs, and more recently been indulging in some doodling and some cartooning in collaboration with two young people. A link to some photographs and doodles that I’ve put up on Flickr or other sites is given in the Menu; the cartoons are available on my Instagram and Twitter pages. For all my social media pages, check the icons below. For links to the networks and organisations I’ve been part of, please see Affiliations.