Nobel Prize winner Elinor Ostrom visits Kaikondrahalli lake

Last month, Kaikondrahalli lake on Sarjapur road had a distinguished visitor, Nobel Prize winner for Economics, 2009, Elinor Ostrom. She was here to see the results of collective action in Bangalore lakes.

Dr. Ostrom planting at KK Lake. Pic: Priya Ramasubban.

Elinor along with Harini Nagendra, an urban ecology coordinator, ATREE, Bengaluru, has been working to understand when exactly communities step in to conserve. Having heard of citizens initiative at Kaikondrahalli lake, Elinor who was in Bangalore for the Khoshoo Memorial Lecture at ATREE, decided to visit the lake and plant a tree.

Citizen Matters caught up with the Nobel prize winner.

Can you share your thoughts on your visit to the lake? Did it feel special in any way?

Great! I enjoyed visiting the lake and meeting the community. I think it is very important to have long term monitoring of such locations, both in terms of social and ecological impacts as these can provide us with very important insights for future programmes.

Elinor Ostrom, a professor from Indiana University, won the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences, 2009. This is an achievement that honors a lifetime of groundbreaking research and teaching. Elinor is the first woman to win the prize in economics, which has been awarded since 1969. She was recognised by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences for her analysis of economic governance.

There is increasing volunteering from well-heeled citizens to protect lakes as open spaces. For where India and Indian cities are today, do you feel this is the way to the future in terms of protecting the commons?

Well, sure, but not for all urban commons. Citizen action on its own will find it hard to be effective against large-scale challenges such as pollution, without Government support. There is also a potential problem with equity. As soon as you require compliance with a set of community devised rules, disproportionate distributions of benefits and costs are likely to happen, with the poor or disadvantaged being especially affected. Communities need to be aware of this and make steps to address this.

Is there anything unique about Indian cities you’d like to make an observation based on the economic governance of the commons?

Traffic patterns – roads are congested in part because people do not follow the rules. Garret Hardin in his famous paper on the Tragedy of the Commons stated that people would not follow rules designed to benefit the collective when breaking the rules provided individual benefits.

This is a special challenge for traffic management, where it is difficult to build a sense of community, since you are very unlikely to meet the same person on the roads the next time. This is of course a challenge that is not unique to Indian cities, and you can see the same situation in places across the world.

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