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April 6, 2011

In 1985, Rajiv Gandhi, then Prime Minister of India, in an address to the Nation, acknowledged and made a public statement on a matter of grave concern. Over a third of the nation’s land, he said, was degraded and laid bare, and our ecological security, indeed the survival of the people of India, inextricably linked with this degraded forest base. He said that the restoration of the degraded lands of this magnitude could clearly be set in motion only if it were put into the hands of the people.

This led to the creation of the National Wastelands Development Board (NWDB) and in order  to evolve an institutional structure to manage common lands so that it meets the basic fuelwood and fodder needs of the rural poor, they set up the National Tree Growers’ Cooperatives Federation (NTGCF). N organizations and committees later, this led to the formation of the Foundation for Ecological Security, FES, in 2001, to address the critical task of ecological restoration in the country.

Their website is, simply put, brilliant. A wealth of information is presented in a most attractive manner, and while it is largely (wholly?) in English, many of the issues they address are of wide interest.  Take, for instance,  the Atlas of Development Trends: Orissa which was released last year. The first of many that are planned, this summarizes the present state of affairs:

Many development programmes are being implemented by various agencies in the State of Orissa. A well-informed and holistic approach with a detailed understanding of various developmental parameters, underlying factors and their inter-linkages is necessary for effective planning. An understanding of the emerging trends and patterns over the decades can help place critical issues in a larger perspective and formulate appropriate intervention strategies.

Usually, data is not available on a single platform or through a single window. It needs to be collected from several sources, duly collated and harmonized, to derive valuable information. What makes the task more challenging is that in several instances the data is not consistent in its maintenance or availability over the years, which makes comparison difficult and time consuming. Further, the lack of access to mapping tools limits interpretation and comparison on a spatial basis.

It is in this context that Foundation for Ecological Security (FES), with financial support from Concern Worldwide and with the active support of various Government and non government agencies, embarked on an exercise of developing an information base on various aspects of the development context of the State of Orissa (and some selected districts). We aimed at creating an information base that would aid in the improved understanding of the development context of the State, which would hopefully lead to the formulation of better developmental policies and programs.

More specifically this Atlas is aimed at building a comprehensive database that would consist of district and State level information of various development indicators which were broadly clubbed under six thematic areas viz agriculture, livestock, natural resources, demography, infrastructure and vulnerability. Secondly, the effort was aimed at depicting the development trends on a spatial platform with a historical perspective (mostly decadal changes from 1950s) which would set the context and trajectories and there by help locate our current and future course of action. The preparation of this Atlas involved intensive engagement with various agencies in the State – both government and non-government. The Atlas is an amalgamation of statistics and Geographical Information System (GIS), capturing both spatial and temporal patterns.

Along with this Atlas is an interactive CD, which would assist the users in analysing the developmental patterns as per their requirements. We would disseminate the findings of the Atlas among various interested parties at the State and district levels. We hope that this document will prove to be a handy tool to policy makers, development planners, academia, researchers, development practitioners, students, in shaping the development agenda of the State of Orissa.

As can be seen, this is invaluable material for anyone seriously involved in environmental and developmental issues. The Atlas is priced at Rs 2000 and can be got by writing in to FES. Or to us, of course. In addition, the FES publishes a large number of reports and working papers, all of which can be downloaded free from their website.

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