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Important Points of this chapter
  • Our resources like forests, wild life, water, coal and petroleum need to be used in a sustainable manner.
  • We can reduce pressure on the environment by sincerely applying the maxim of ‘Reduce, Reuse and Recycle’ in our lives.
  • Management of forest resources has to take into account the interests of various stakeholders.
  • The harnessing of water resources by building dams has social, economic and environmental implications. Alternatives to large dams exist. These are locale-specific and may be developed so as to give local people control over their local resources.
  • The fossil fuels, coal and petroleum, will ultimately be exhausted. Because of this and because their combustion pollutes our environment, we need to use these resources judiciously.

  1. Because these are not unlimited and with the human population increasing at a tremendous rate due to improvement in health-care, the demand for all resources is increasing at an exponential rate
  2. The management of natural resources requires a long-term perspective so that these will last for the generations to come and will not merely be exploited to the hilt for short term gains.
  3. This management should also ensure equitable distribution of resources so that all, and not just a handful of rich and powerful people, benefit from the development of these resources
  4. Another factor to be considered while we exploit these natural resources is the damage we cause to the environment while these resources are either extracted or used.
  5. Mining causes pollution because of the large amount of slag which is discarded for every tonne of metal extracted. Hence, sustainable natural resource management demands that we plan for the safe disposal of these wastes too.
The three R’s to save the environment: Reduce, Recycle and Reuse.


  1. This means that you use less. You save electricity by switching off unnecessary lights and fans. You save water by repairing leaky taps. You do not waste food.


  1. This means that you collect plastic, paper, glass and metal items and recycle these materials to make required things instead of synthesising or extracting fresh plastic, paper, glass or metal.
  2. In order to recycle, we first need to segregate our wastes so that the material that can be recycled is not dumped along with other wastes.


  1. This is actually even better than recycling because the process of recycling uses some energy.
  2. In the ‘reuse’ strategy, you simply use things again and again. Instead of throwing away used envelopes, you can reverse it and use it again.
  3. The plastic bottles in which you buy various food-items like jam or pickle can be used for storing things in the kitchen.
  4. The concept of sustainable development encourages forms of growth that meet current basic human needs, while preserving the resources for the needs of future generations.
  5. Economic development is linked to environmental conservation. Thus sustainable development implies a change in all aspects of life.
  6. It depends upon the willingness of the people to change their perceptions of the socio-economic and environmental conditions around them, and the readiness of each individual to alter their present use of natural resources

  •  the people who live in or around forests are dependent on forest produce for various aspects of their life
  • the Forest Department of the Government which owns the land and controls the resources from forests.
  • the industrialists – from those who use ‘tendu’ leaves to make bidis to the ones with paper mills – who use various forest produce, but are not dependent on the forests in any one area.
  •  the wild life and nature enthusiasts who want to conserve nature in its pristine form
  •  before the British came and took over most of our forest areas, people had been living in these forests for centuries. 
  • They had developed practices to ensure that the resources were used in a sustainable manner.
  • After the British took control of the forests (which they exploited ruthlessly for their own purposes), these people were forced to depend on much smaller areas and forest resources started becoming over-exploited to some extent.
  • The Forest Department in independent India took over from the British but local knowledge and local needs continued to be ignored in the management practices.
  • Thus vast tracts of forests have been converted to monocultures of pine, teak or eucalyptus
  • In order to plant these trees, huge areas are first cleared of all vegetation.
  • This destroys a large amount of biodiversity in the area.
  • There have been enough instances of local people working traditionally for conservation of forests.
  • For example, the case of the Bishnoi community in Rajasthan, for whom conservation of forest and wildlife has been a religious tenet.
  • The Government of India has recently instituted an ‘Amrita Devi Bishnoi National Award for Wildlife

Conservation’ in the memory of Amrita Devi Bishnoi, who in 1731 sacrificed her life along with 363 others
for the protection of ‘khejri’ trees in Khejrali village near Jodhpur in Rajasthan

Sustainable Management
  • Forest resources are often made available for industrial use at rates far below the market value while these are denied to the local people.
  • The Chipko Andolan (‘Hug the Trees Movement’) was the result of a grassroot level effort to end the alienation of people from their forests.
  • The movement originated from an incident in a remote village called Reni in Garhwal, high-up in the Himalayas during the early 1970s.
  • There was a dispute between the local villagers and a logging contractor who had been allowed to fell trees in a forest close to the village.
  • On a particular day, the contractor’s workers appeared in the forest to cut the trees while the men folk were absent.
  • Undeterred, the women of the village reached the forest quickly and clasped the tree trunks thus preventing the workers from felling the trees.
  • Thus thwarted, the contractor had to withdraw. Inherent in such a competition to control a natural resource is the conservation of a replenishable resource. Specifically the method of use was being called into question.
  • The contractor would have felled the trees, destroying them forever.
  • The communities traditionally lop the branches and pluck the leaves, allowing the resource to replenish over time.
  • The Chipko movement quickly spread across communities and media, and forced the government, to whom the forest belongs, to rethink their priorities in the use of forest produce.
  • Experience has taught people that the destruction of forests affected not just the availability of forest products, but also the quality of soil and the sources of water.
  • Participation of the local people can indeed lead to the efficient management of forests
  • An Example of People’s Participation in the Management of Forests In 1972, the West Bengal Forest Department recognised its failures in reviving the degraded Sal forests in the southwestern districts of the state.
  • Traditional methods of surveillance and policing had led to a Management of Natural Resources 273 ‘complete alienation of the people from the administration’, resulting in frequent clashes between forest officials and villagers.
  • Forest and land related conflicts in the region were also a major factor in fuelling the militant peasant movements led by the Naxalites
Kulhs in Himachal Pradesh

  • Parts of Himachal Pradesh had evolved a local system of canal irrigation called kulhs over four hundred years ago.
  • The water flowing in the streams was diverted into man-made channels which took this water to numerous villages down the hillside.
  • The management of the water flowing in these kulhs was by common agreement among all the villages.
  • Interestingly, during the planting season, water was first used by the village farthest away from the source of the kulh, then by villages progressively higher up.
  • These kulhs were managed by two or three people who were paid by the villagers.
  • In addition to irrigation, water from these kulhs also percolated into the soil and fed springs at various points.
  • After the kulhs were taken over by the Irrigation Department, most of them became defunct and there is no amicable sharing of water as before

  • Large dams can ensure the storage of adequate water not just for irrigation, but also for generating electricity
  • Canal systems leading from these dams can transfer large amounts of water great distances.
  • the Indira Gandhi Canal has brought greenery to considerable areas of Rajasthan.
  • However, mismanagement of the water has largely led to the benefits being cornered by a few people.
  • There is no equitable distributionof water, thus people close to the source grow water intensive crops like sugarcane and rice while people farther downstream do not get any water.
  • The woes of these people who have been promised benefits which never arrived are added to the discontentment among the people who have been displaced by the building of the dam and its canal network.
  • the protests by the Narmada Bachao Andolan (‘Save the Narmada Movement’) about raising the height of the Sardar Sarovar Dam on the river Narmada.

Criticisms about large dams address three problems in particular –
(i) Social problems because they displace large number of peasants and tribals without adequate compensation or
(ii) Economic problems because they swallow up huge amounts of public money without the generation of
proportionate benefits,
(iii) Environmental problems because they contribute enormously to deforestation and the loss of biological
  • The people who have been displaced by various development projects are largely poor tribals who do not get any benefits from these projects and are alienated from their lands and forests without adequate compensation.
  • The oustees of the Tawa Dam built in the 1970s are still fighting for the benefits they were promised.

Water Harvesting

  • Watershed management emphasises scientific soil and water conservation in order to increase the biomass production.
  • The aim is to develop primary resources of land and water, to produce secondary resources of plants and animals for use in a manner which will not cause ecological imbalance.
  • Watershed management not only increases the production and income of the watershed community, but also mitigates droughts and floods and increases the life of the downstream dam and reservoirs.
  •  indigenous water saving methods to capture every trickle of water that had fallen on their land; dug small pits and lakes, put in place simple watershed systems, built small earthen dams, constructed dykes, sand and limestone reservoirs, set up rooftop water-collecting units.
  • This has recharged groundwater levels and even brought rivers back to life.
  • Water harvesting is an age-old concept in India.
  • Khadins, tanks and nadis in Rajasthan, bandharas and tals in Maharashtra, bundhis in Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh, ahars and pynes in Bihar, kulhs in Himachal Pradesh, ponds in the Kandi belt of Jammu region, and eris (tanks) in Tamil Nadu, surangams in Kerala, and kattas in Karnataka are some of the ancient water harvesting, including water conveyance, structures still in use today
  • Water harvesting techniques are highly locale specific and the benefits are also localised.
  • Giving people control over their local water resources ensures that mismanagement and over-exploitation of these resources is reduced/removed
  • In largely level terrain, the water harvesting structures are mainly crescent shaped earthen embankments or low, straight concrete-andrubble “check dams” built across seasonally flooded gullies.
  • Monsoon rains fill ponds behind the structures.
  • Only the largest structures hold water year round; most dry up six months or less after the monsoons.
  • Their main purpose, however, is not to hold surface water but to recharge the ground water beneath.
  • The advantages of water stored in the ground are many.
  • It does not evaporate, but spreads out to recharge wells and provides moisture for vegetation over a wide area.
  • it does not provide breeding grounds for mosquitoes like stagnant water collected in ponds or artificial lakes.
  • The ground-water is also relatively protected from contamination by human and animal waste
  • Since coal and petroleum have been formed from bio–mass, in addition to carbon, these contain hydrogen, nitrogen and sulphur.
  • When these are burnt, the products are carbon dioxide, water, oxides of nitrogen and oxides of sulphur. When combustion takes place in insufficient air (oxygen), then carbon monoxide is formed instead of carbon dioxide.
  • Of these products, the oxides of sulphur and nitrogen and carbon monoxide are poisonous at high concentrations and carbon dioxide is a green-house gas.
  • Another way of looking at coal and petroleum is that they are huge reservoirs of carbon and if all of this carbon is converted to carbon dioxide, then the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is going to increase leading to intense global warming.
  • Thus, we need to use these resources judiciously.