Nobel laureate Elinor Ostrom (second from right) with Minister for Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh at the meet. Photo: Manak Matiyani
On a cold January night in Hyderabad, Jairam Ramesh, Minister for Environment and Forests, was led to an open-air dinner by folk drummers and body-painted tiger dancers as an appreciative audience of international academics and grassroots workers cheered and milled around him. Ramesh had become the toast of the evening after he asked the world’s top scholars working on issues related to the commons to help shape his ministry’s thinking.
It was a gesture that could be construed as bold, or politic, as around 600 delegates to the biennial conference of the International Association for the Study of the Commons (IASC) got down to work, sharing experiences on saving (or losing the commons) and discussing new theoretical frameworks to understand the dynamics of the commons.
The big draw at the five-day event that ended on January 15 was, of course, Nobel laureate Elinor Ostrom, whose unflagging energy galvanized the plenary sessions and panel discussions. But it was the presence of dynamic policymakers that helped elevate the event to a more pragmatic level. Ramesh’s invitation along with a more earnest appeal from Herman Rosa Chavez, El Salvador Minister of Environment and Natural Resources, to the knowledge community to treat his country as a laboratory for their work, set the tone for IASC 2011.
Two things have happened to the commons of late. The assaults on common pool resources (CPRs), both by state and the private sector, have become intense on account of “development imperatives”. Conflict over the appropriation of common resources, particularly those belonging to indigenous communities, has become more frequent, leading to violent confrontation at times. India and Peru are just two examples of this trend. India, in fact, has earned notoriety for the appropriation of the commons by the government by a simple ruse: declaring them wastelands and then handing them over to private enterprise.