Jugaad – a creative quick fix – is great but we need more complex solutions when it comes to long-term sustainability.
On the road, documenting some of the most pressing environmental issues of our times for an upcoming visual series, the great Indian ‘Jugaad’ in almost all aspects of our lives is striking. I sit in a small government rest house, reflecting on the day spent in the heat and dust tracking a small herd of elephants in South Bengal, for a story on elephant-human interactions. I have come across a peculiar phenomenon: wild elephants are being lured like pet dogs to a corner of the forest floor that is strewn with vegetables for them to munch on for the next couple of hours. I learn the West Bengal Forest Department is supplementing the diet of wild elephants with vegetables to reduce human-elephant conflict.
Twice a day, a truck laden with papaya, potato, and cabbage is lowered into a small patch of forests to feed the herd. The human-elephant conflict has existed for a while now and requires long-term measures such as restoring ancient elephant corridors lost to big mining and infrastructure projects, planting trees that are useful to the pachyderms, instead of eucalyptus, and creating early warning systems in the surrounding villages. So why is so much effort going into feeding the wild elephants at this time of the year?
Environmental problems are ‘wicked’ problems with complex solutions, which is why jugaad can only take us so far.
As we probe further, we find that the 10th board exams are on, the penultimate exam for students, and so a quick fix solution is to stuff the pachyderms with easy food to ensure they will not attack students walking to their exam center. This is the great Indian jugaad.
While ‘jugaad’ spells innovation and therefore denotes a feeling of creativity and hope, it also means a quick fix, leading to helplessness. Environmental problems are ‘wicked’ problems with complex solutions, which is why jugaad can only take us so far. Take the problem of air pollution in the national capital region. We do not have a long-term solution so in the interim, we deploy thousands of trucks to mist-spray the city’s hot pollution points with water. This may temporarily control dust particles, but we need more radical interventions, shifting to cleaner fuels, reducing solid waste, and providing farmers with alternatives to crop burning.
We need to move from the ‘jugaad’ mindset to more long-term interventions that will be multi-sectoral. Fortuitously, in climate change we see various actors coming together from the state to the central government, to corporations, to think tanks. But when it comes to issues related to biodiversity, pollution, or even sustainability, this multi-sectoral collaboration is still missing.
When I was asked to write the opening editorial for this India Report, I was pleasantly surprised by the range of issues covered. In this report, there is a case presented for building homes out of the mud and another on the health of an ecosystem based on the number of otters found there! Nothing can be more inspiring than individual stories from ordinary people from Mumbai working on green issues to spur you into action.
Environmentalism now has many niche subjects from water conservation to energy, mobility, and just transitions. As we evaluate our work for the planet, perhaps there should be only one yardstick by which we measure our actions – how can we maintain the diversity of life in all its forms from species, to genetics, to ecosystem levels? A healthy ecosystem will have a ripple effect on the planet and our well-being. Whether we work on climate action, water conservation, or sustainability, this should be the one action guiding us onward. I hope you enjoy this issue, no matter which shade of green you support.