The University of Arizona

Looking beyond the idyllic representations of the rural: The Konkan Railway controversy and middle-class environmentalism in India

Sreeja Jaiswal


Post-independence India has had its share of controversies around mega-infrastructure projects that have pitted environmental preservation against development concerns. This article studies the environmental controversy around one such megaproject, the Konkan Railway, employing a framework that integrates the environmental values, beliefs and behaviour of individuals and groups with a historical understanding of political economy and ecology (science). Essentialist and over-simplified environmental discourses, without scientific credibility and not based on historical facts, are often influential in policy making, especially when channelled by the middle classes.  Better understanding our present concerns and guiding decisions and policies to deal with the problems we currently face, requires unmasking the romanticization of the countryside. We must replace the idyllic version of the past with a nuanced historical understanding of the interaction between nature and culture. This article also locates the controversy over the Konkan Railway within the frames used to study Indian environmentalism. The aim is to improve our understanding of the regional, ideological and cultural pluralities in environmental values, beliefs and behaviour of the middle class in India.

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