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A cursory collection of platitudes

Dynamics of Mountain Geosystems Edited by R B Singh Publisher: Ashish Publishing House, Delhi Price: Rs 500

Published: Friday 15 January 1993

-- (Credit: Amar Talwar / cse)TO MOST people, mountains conjure a vision of a world of plentiful resources, populated by content and happy people. But this idyllic vision of mountain life is far removed from reality, for life in the mountains is a grim tale of a relentless battle against declining land productivity and ever fewer avenues for economic stability.

. Dynamics of Mountain Geosystems is a compilation of 22 papers presented at an international conference held in Delhi in 1991. It attempts a broad study of the various components of mountain ecosystems and the human impact on them, with the objective of formulating definite strategies to balance competing needs of consumption and conservation. However, this ambitious overview falls short on many counts.

The book lacks a clear focus. Thought-provoking, technical articles compete for space with general, descriptive pieces. The quality of the articles presented is uneven, with some just mere descriptions of the study area, studded with a few platitudes and home truths. Others are cursory, an example being a paper on which takes as a case study a 400-sq km micro-watershed in Almora district and says (p 123), "About half of the total forest area is now degraded with poor tree density. The optimum tree density necessary for effective soil and water conservation and management is now found only in a few remote pockets of the region." Nowhere does the author bother'to explain what is "poor density" or where the "few remote pockets" are in the study region. Formulae are proffered glibly and without any explanation of its constituent terms (p 339). And the conclusions, more often than not, are restatements of the opening lines, without any intervening analysis. As for grammatical and typographical errors, the legs said the better.

But not all is bleak. The articles in the opening section on the concepts and methods of studying mountain ecosystems are thoughtprovoking and tightly written. These few nuggets of erudition are the saving grace of an otherwise uninteresting and ill-planned book dealing with a subject of vital importance.

Admittedly, mountains are metaphors of resilience, but that should not be the excuse for not studying them. Such a neglect would be a Himalayan blunder.

---K Rojesh is a research associate at the Foundation to Aid Industrial Recovery, New Delhi.

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