We rarely speak of citizens’ assets, especially in the environmental context. Yes, we have the commons, like lakes, that belong to all of us. We have private lands where animals seek refuge. But citizens’ assets are something else, and not quite defined.
These are green assets that citizens nurture for public consumption. The land and even governance might be all in the hands of the government, but it is really run by others. They wouldn’t exist without the hard work, funds and vision of citizens.
And no, it isn’t the same as activists opposing a project. You could call the bio-diversity parks in Gurgaon and the bio-diversity protected by the Bishnois as examples. In fact, by stopping actor Salman Khan from shooting any more and fighting him, the Bishnois are protecting citizens’ assets.
Recently, the news that a road might be built through the Gurgaon Biodiversity Park shocked me. Why would anyone want to mow down one of the only patches that shows us what the indigenous vegetation in this part really is?
But it also made me think about the fragility of citizens’ assets. If, under the government’s eye, citizens have been allowed to nurture a piece of land, or birds, etc., they also have the authority to decide its fate. We simply cannot have the state trample the efforts.
It’s time to recognise such nation-building efforts and wrap them in some sanctity. In the case of a biodiversity park, I would ask why should it not be declared a protected area? A debate looms ahead: why should citizens’ assets be treated finally as land that the citizens never had any authority over?