Book Review: Blue Infrastructures by Dr. Jenia Mukherjee

Dr. Jenia Mukherjee, Assistant Professor at the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, IIT Kharagpur, has published a pioneering volume on Kolkata’s ecological history – Blue Infrastructures: Natural History, Political Ecology and Urban Development in Kolkata.

Sponsored by ISIRD, SRIC, IIT Kharagpur, this book is a strong manifestation of interdisciplinary research on the urban environment. The author focuses on Kolkata, formerly the colonial capital of and currently a major megacity in India, in terms of its extensive blue infrastructures, i.e., its rivers, canals and wetlands as an integrated composite whole.

“I have tried to unfold ways in which this reclaimed urban space could determine, and in turn, could get determined by political fate, economic calculations and social livelihoods across changing political-economic imperatives and with large-scale implications on urban sustainability. Employing historical urban political ecology (HUPE) as the methodological framework by combining urban environmental history and urban political ecology, I have studied the changing urban environmental equations through several centuries, and their impact on the city and its people,” says Dr. Mukherjee.

In the book, Dr. Mukherjee has woven the past, present and posterity of deltaic Kolkata and demonstrated that it is in these ‘blue infrastructures’ that the anecdote of origin, the account of functioning and the apprehension of survival of the city is rooted. By emphasizing the ecology ‘of’ cities instead of ecology ‘in’ cities’ approach, she exposes the limitations of contemporary ecological restructuring efforts regarding Indian cities. Further, it offers a blueprint for future innovative and empirical research focusing on other major cities.

The book is drawing wide attention from the international fraternity on environmental humanities. It has been included in the syllabi on environmental studies and programs offered by universities and institutes in the United States and Europe. It has already been reviewed in Frontiers in Water by Dana Hellman and Melissa Haeffner, School of the Environment Portland State University, the United States and Biblio by Emeritus Professor Sukanta Chaudhuri, Jadavpur University.

In their review, Dana Hellman and Melissa Haeffner from the School of the Environment Portland State University, United States argue: “This work adds to scant literature on India’s urban environmental history, and the HUPE framework offers a novel way to conceptualize resilience and ecosystem management. Individual chapters would make excellent reading assignments for courses in urban planning, water management, political ecology, environmental justice, and related fields. For scholars, this work provides a useful example of how historical and political analyses might be combined in any socio-ecological study. For practitioners, a strong case is made that natural resources (blue infrastructures and beyond) are inextricably connected to culture, politics, and history, and must be managed accordingly. Just and resilient urban futures call for holistic consideration of environmental transformations, opportunities, and risks played out across space, time, and culture. Blue Infrastructures is a compelling, informative contribution to this practice.”

Dr Jenia Mukherjee also received the prestigious Carson Writing Fellowship from the Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society, Munich Germany to complete the book project.

Published by Singapore: Springer Nature the book is part of the prestigious ‘Exploring Urban Change in South Asia‘ series edited by Marie-Hélène Zérah.

Being topical and original book is relevant for students and researchers of environmental humanities, political ecology and urban studies, opines Dr. Mukherjee.

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