‘Tragedy of Commons’ in Nagaland

Moa Jamir

Two social risks, among many others, are confronting Nagaland today – corruption and environmental degradation. While the former has already entrenched in the society, the latter is catching up fast having serious negative implication for the future. These risks, interlinked at assorted level, are gradually attaining permanent status particularly in the urban landscapes.


Social risks, according to Oxfam, are perceived or real negative impacts on, and threats to individuals, groups of individuals, communities, and societies from social changes triggered by development related activities and the actions of various stakeholders. Violations of human rights, environmental degradation, corruption, undue social and economic stratification etc are some social risks.


For instance, the rapid deterioration of air quality in the state capital Kohima and commercial capital Dimapur as highlighted through various independent reports need to be taken seriously by each stakeholder. Other environmental issues like pollution of rivers, over-exploitation of resources without proper mechanism etc. are equally paramount.


The various tentacles of corruption in the society have been discussed ad nauseam and need not repeated. However, it can also act as one of the biggest impediment to live in a clean and safe environment.


For instance, experts concur bad road as one of the main contributors to pollution in Nagaland. Needless to say, it has linkages to corrupt practices in development of road infrastructure. Ditto for other regulatory mechanisms and guidelines established to ensure environmental standard.


At the other spectrum, on both counts, the scenario looks like a serious case of ‘Tragedy of Commons” (1883) famously coined by Garrett Hardin to explain why people overuse common resources. Taking the idea of overgrazing on common land by herders in England, he contended that, “individual farmers have incentives to put as many of their cattle on ‘the commons’ as possible. Without regulation, the commons will be abused and everyone will suffer from its abuse when grass no longer grows at all on the commons.” The ‘commons’ are natural resources, like land for grazing, fishing areas, forests for timber etc as well as intangible values or commodities.


In such a scenario, people either opportunistically free-ride in the ‘common resources’ to maximize their “private benefits but neglect, or collectivize, the costs.”


In a peculiar way, corruption has become ‘tragedy of commons’ in Nagaland. The practice is pervasively so common that each individual has an incentive to practice the same. Ultimately, the society suffers collectively.


The same is the case for environment. Everyone thinks that it is someone’s duty to follow guidelines or to establish norms. For example, a common trend is the building of houses occupying as much space as possible and often close to the roads without any space for drainage and other concerns. The sprawling and expanding satellite localities in and around Dimapur can be cited here. Each house contended with itself without concern over future eventualities.


Hardin argued for private ownership and regulation. Political scientist Elinor Ostrom, the first woman Nobel Prize awardee in Economic Sciences (2009), however, demonstrated that, within communities, rules and institutions not resulting from market concern or government intervention can “emerge from the bottom up to ensure a sustainable, shared management of resources.”


In others words, coming up with solutions to the commons problem themselves with the notion that it is of common interest to find solution for the existing problems from social as well as economic point of view.
It requires personal actions culminating into social action with or without an external stimulus through collective and democratic decision-making involving all stakeholders.


Naga society is known for such actions on many issues. Can we do the same to the social risks confronting us?


For any comment, drop a line to moajamir@live.com