News & Events

Special Lecture | Sub Continental Transitions: Ecology, Society, Economy in India (1930s to 2020s)


Allen & Overy Conference Room, First Floor, Training Centre, NLSIU


Friday, January 5, 2024, 5:00 pm

The National Law School Of India University (NLSIU) invites you to a special lecture on “Sub Continental Transitions: Ecology, Society, Economy in India (1930s to 2020s)”, to be delivered by Professor Mahesh Rangarajan, on Friday, 5th January 2024.

About the speaker

Prof. Mahesh Rangarajan is Professor of History and Environmental Studies and Honorary Chair Of Archives of Contemporary India, Ashoka University.

He was educated at Hindu College, University of Delhi and then at Balliol and Nuffield Colleges, both in Oxford, where he was a Rhodes Scholar. Dr. Rangarajan has worked as an Assistant Editor with The Telegraph, Kolkata and has been a current affairs commentator with the audio visual media in both English and Hindi. He has previously taught at the University of Delhi and at the Krea University. He has also been a Visiting Faculty at Cornell University, Jadavpur University and at the National Center for Biological Sciences, Bengaluru.

He was Director, at the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library (2011-15) and has also served as Vice-Chancellor, Krea University (2021-22). He was Chair of the Elephant Task Force of the Government of India in 2010 and member of the Forest Advisory Committee with the Ministry of Environment, Government of India (2008-2012).


The 1930s were momentous in many ways political and economic and ended with the outbreak of World War Two.  What is often not realised is that the ideas, debates  and practices on development had long term consequences for the larger environment. The changes unleashed during and after war time led to growth as first priority powering major shifts in human-nature ties right till the end of the 1960s. Drawing on critiques in selective ways systems of protection and repair came into being. By the early 90s these were under strain. There are challenges of keeping the environment habitable, safe and productive for the future and for non-human inhabitants of land, water and air. India Ekologika has to tackle futures while critically learning from the past.

Selected Excerpts from the Lecture

“We are living through very epochal transitions. India is not alone in that respect. There are political transitions and there is a large demographic transitions, there are economic transitions, there are social transitions. Each of these is complex and contested, as it should be. In many ways, I think the environment moved over the last fifty years, from being a subject which was important for livelihood and dignity for some, important in terms of ways of reconciling the multiple ways in which the very technologies that enable longer life spans, better nutrition, better outcomes in health, also exert enormous stress on the bio-physical environment.”

“This notion of polities which are geared to war, is a very important force shaping not only human societies, and polities and empires, but which has implications for the bio-physical environment. I want to emphasize this because the 1930s see the Japanese attempt to take over China, i.e., in 1937 and a lot of it was about warfare for resources.”

“A major issue that was debated in the thirties and forties – if there is to be an independent India, can it be independent in a manner, more self-assertive than the very sad history of the Latin American countries which become independent in the 1820s or many Arab countries, which become independent in the 1920s. So this notion of an independent India, which is not part of that larger military machine, has huge implications, surprising as this may seem, for the larger resources and endowments of the sub-continents.”

“India that emerges in 1947, is shaped both by the debates of the inter-war years and by the experience of the second world war. The second world war was a crucible and many of the policies and ideas that we see emerging in independent India, you can see their roots going back to the second world war. Take the Grow More food campaign, its given a lot of emphasis in the early years of independent India. It becomes a very important lynchpin of the first three five year plans, and the idea of growing more food, did make sense. From the 1920s, we enter a period of more rapid demographic growth… the newly independent country, this is true in India as much as is it in Pakistan, increasing production of agriculture, particularly of grain is seen as a priority, and one of the ways to do it is to expand the area of cultivable land. The expansion of cultivable arable land is given huge incentive.”