Hemant Ojha

Himalayan environmental crisis of the 70s was one of the critical environmental challenges the planet has ever faced. This is also an issue receiving serious efforts of research and development have in the past 50 years.

I grew up in the region and confronted the environmental degradation first hand. As a boy, I had to travel  farther and farther away to collect fuel wood with my mother. I also remember the long queue in the community tap used by over 50 families in the village. That time I did not know the bigger environmental crisis ravaging the Himalayas – I was only experiencing it as a small boy in everyday life.

Later, I became a researcher on environmental issues in the Himalayas. I then began to confront the challenge intellectually. Over the years, science-politics interface has become an intriguing topic.

I worked with colleagues on various aspects of this topic, and one of papers (full details given below) presents a deliberative approach to doing science in a politically contested situation of resource management.

In this article, we identify how different aspects of managerialist, techno-bureaucratic domination (legitimated by principles of positivist science) are deliberatively challenged by local people, civil society activists, and action researchers to improve governance practices.

We also identify situations and deliberative processes through which forest managers themselves begin to realize the limits of an anti deliberative scientific approach, and apply more reflexive and deliberative approaches to knowledge and decision-making in forest management. In doing so, we eschew taking an absolute position for or against indigenous knowledge or scientific enterprise, but seek to demonstrate that neither technocratic prescription nor reliance on local knowledge alone is adequate for sustainable management of forests. What is needed is a deliberative engagement between the claims to knowledge by both scientists and citizens.

In our experience, this deliberative experiment led to less constrained dialogues, greater collaboration, and mutual learning in the direction of more evidence- based decision-making and social learning.

This approach is however not free from challenges related to power and techno-bureaucratic control, where more work is needed.