Local Environmentalism in Peri-Urban Spaces in India: Emergent Ecological Democracy?

Working Paper
  • Published 06/07/17

STEPS Working Paper 96

This paper explores the potential of a range of peri-urban environmentalisms to come together in support of sustainable urbanisation. The present-day ‘urban,’ along with the dominant planning visions of urbanisation, lack in inclusivity, deliberative democracy, grassroots innovations, and bottom-up processes of knowledge generation. To sustainably transform this scenario, there is a need for the participation of various sections of citizens, who should be seen not just as subjects of planning, but as creators of a planning framework that emerges from both contestations and innovations in everyday living. Our earlier research on a peri-urban village situated between Delhi city and Ghaziabad town suggested that there is little support for continuation of agriculture in such areas, despite its strategic importance for sustainable urban development. Agriculture could contribute to the greening of urban spaces while enhancing the livelihoods of the poor, recycling urban waste and producing perishable food items for the urban populations. However, we found that present-day government schemes, as they unfold–often under the banner of sustainability–tend to exacerbate peri-urban inequalities. Having observed local citizen environmental action in Ghaziabad, we wanted to understand the potential role it could play in dealing with the environmental crises facing the district and region. During the course of our research we came across a distinctive peri-urban civil society activism, which cannot be viewed in binaries and reflects a pluralist spectrum that allows for alliance building. This environmentalism in Ghaziabad is distinct from the ‘environmentalism of the poor’ practiced by rural and forest dwelling groups; from the dominant elite urban ‘green development’ practices and discourses of ‘bourgeois environmentalism’; and from the urban politics of the poor. It reflects the possibility of creating bridges across sectional interests–rural and urban, red and green ideological streams– and across classes.