Article written by DPDF 2009 Critical Agrarian Studies fellow Jennifer Baka, featured in Antipode.
This paper analyzes why and how wasteland development narratives persist through an evaluation of wasteland development policies in India from 1970 to present. Integrating critical scholarship on environmental narratives and enclosures, I find that narratives of wastelands as “empty” spaces available for “improvement” continue because they are metaphors for entrenched struggles between the government’s shifting visions of “improvement” and communities whose land use practices contradict these logics. Since the 1970s, “improvement” has meant establishing different types of tree plantations on wastelands to ostensibly provide energy security. These projects have dispossessed land users by enclosing common property lands and by providing forms of energy incommensurate with local needs, a trend I term “energy dispossessions”. Factors enabling energy dispossessions include the government’s increased attempts to establish public–private partnerships to carry out “improvement” and a “field of observation” constructed to obscure local livelihoods. Unveiling these logics will help to problematize and contest future iterations of wasteland development.