NEW DELHI, India — Perhaps because India is so big, so bewildering and chaotic, and so determined to update its elusive rural identity with sleek urban flare, Indians and the national press are fascinated by how the nation’s wild animals are faring amid the dizzying change. In many cases, not well.
Elephants, chased out of their natural habitat, trample forest hamlets. Tigers hunt outside of national reserves and are killed by poachers. Monkeys, hungry and thirsty in an era of declining water reserves, steal food and drink from festival banquet tables.
But of all the allegorical reports about wild animals confronting the ruinous consequences of modernization, none so pointedly define India’s erratic and risky patterns of growth, or attract more attention, than the regular stories of sleek, stealthy, powerful leopards that become trapped in wells.
On December 8, 2012, for example, newspapers in northern India’s Punjab state reported on a team of rescuers in Ratta Khera that pulled an eight-year-old male leopard out of a seven-meter-deep (22-foot) irrigation and drinking well. The leopard, thirsty and pacing precariously on the well’s narrow wall, had apparently slipped and fallen to the bottom. Though he was not injured, the powerful cat could neither claw his way up the well’s slick walls, nor launch himself out of the narrow space. Despite his strength and drive to succeed, the young leopard was, in a word, stuck.
As a metaphor for modern India, the story of the leopard in the well is especially apt. This is a 66-year-old democracy, touched by boundless energy and driven by endless ambition. But it also is a nation trapped by seemingly inescapable walls of resource waste, management disarray, and cultural divides of its own making.
During the last week of November and the first three weeks of December 2012, a Circle of Blue team studied the heroic and the enormously unstable paradox that is modern India. As our teams have done in Australia, China, the United States, and most recently in Qatar, Circle of Blue focused on India’s formative and globally significant contest between water, food, and energy in a nation that has doubled in population since the 1970s.
Circle of Blue’s research encompassed the businesses, think tanks, and government agencies in New Delhi, the rice farms and mills of Punjab and Haryana in the north, and the open-pit coal mines and the renewable energy fields of Chhattisgarh in the east. Over the next four weeks, in comprehensive articles, infographics, and photographs, Circle of Blue will report our findings in Choke Point: India, the fourth major project in our Global Choke Point series, done in partnership with the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, based in Washington, D.C.
Visit Circle of Blue's website for the full story, plus graphics and video.
Choke Point: India is produced in collaboration with the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and its China Environment Forum. The Center’s Asia Program has produced ample work on natural resource issues in India, including numerous articles and commentaries on energy, water, and the links between natural resource constraints and stability.