A joint report on forest fires released recently by the Ministry of Environment and Forests and Climate Change and the World Bank (The Indian Express, October 10) contains two telling findings on the distribution of such fires. In terms of frequency of forest fires, 16 of the top 20 districts are in the Northeast. And in terms of area, almost half of the affected area is in just 20 districts; the largest affected area is in Central India.
Two-thirds of the country’s forest cover is concentrated in these two regions, the Northeast accounting for 36%; Central India for 28%. The 20 districts that had the largest number of fires (40% of total) during 2003-16 , however, account for only 16% of India’s forest cover (and 3% of the land area). Of the 20 districts, 5 are in Mizoram, 4 in Manipur, 3 in Meghalaya and 2 each in Assam and Tripura. The 4 districts outside the NE are in Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh (2) and Odisha.
Of the total area affected by forest fires during 2003-16, 56% was in Central India, and 48% (24,000 sq km) in 20 districts. These districts account for just 12% of the country’s forest cover (as calculated for 2000) and 7% of its land area. The report cited an estimate that nearly 49,000 sq km of forests — an area larger than Haryana — were burnt in 2014.
Tip for Reading List | Understanding populism’s global rise
Yascha Mounk, a 36-year-old rising academic star at Harvard, is widely acknowledged as one of those who predicted the rise of populism in America long before the 2016 presidential election. His first book, Stranger in My Own Country: A Jewish Family in Modern Germany, was a memoir about Germany’s attempts to reconcile with its past, and his second, The Age of Responsibility: Luck, Choice, and the Welfare State, looked at how a growing obsession with the concept of individual responsibility had transformed western welfare states. His latest, The People vs. Democracy: Why Our Freedom Is in Danger & How to Save It, is a study of the causes of the rise of populism, and an exploration of the ways how liberal democracy can be renewed.
The book’s seemingly oxymoronic title (how can something that is by the people, of the people, for the people, also be versus the people?) underlines the increasingly escalating war between the two core components of liberal democracy: individual rights and the popular will. In many countries from the US to Turkey, and from Poland and Hungary to Greece, “the views of the people are trending illiberal and the preferences of the elites are turning undemocratic”, Mounk writes. “Liberal democracy, the unique mix of individual rights and popular rule that has long characterised most governments in North America and Western Europe, is coming apart at its seams. In its stead, we are seeing the rise of illiberal democracy, or democracy without rights, and undemocratic liberalism, or rights without democracy.”
So how did the liberal paradise of western democracies start to disintegrate? Mounk lists “three striking constants that characterised democracy since its founding but are no longer true today.” One, the rapid increases of income and living standards enjoyed by most citizens in the decades of democratic stability from the late 1930s onward, went flat from the 1990s on. In the US, citizens started to increasingly see politics as a zero-sum game. Two, as decades of mass migration and social activism finally started to visibly impact society’s established racial hierarchy, the resentment of a section triggered a revolt against ethnic and cultural pluralism. And three, the control over the means of communication that allowed the political establishment to marginalise extreme views and keep politics comparatively consensual, was swept away by the Internet and social media, giving the instigators of instability an advantage over the forces of order.