Expanding energy production in India is seen as necessary to raise the 363 million poor out of poverty. The Gujarat Solar Park (GSP) is Asia’s largest solar power generating facility, representing 25% of India’s total solar energy generation, and is instrumental in helping India achieve their 2015 UN Paris Climate Agreement commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Despite being implemented in the highly socially stratified state of Gujarat, this solar park is embedded in international carbon market schemes to finance livelihood benefits for marginalized populations. But herein lies the paradox: UN-based mitigation schemes like the GSP are designed with “gender positive” methods to ostensibly empower women. As government-owned “marginal” lands or brownfield sites are enclosed for solar park development, resource-dependent smallholding farmers and rabari pastoralists, especially women from these communities tasked with daily household reproduction, are dispossessed of the land they depend upon for firewood collection and fodder. The GSP is the “gold standard” for future solar development in India and it is likely that resource-dependent women will continue to be negatively affected by similar solar projects that limit these livelihood practices, situating the GSP within a genealogy of rural development projects that exacerbate social difference across South Asia.
This dissertation research is informed by the disciplines of political ecology and critical development studies. Using qualitative methods, this study will seek to uncover the processes by which the development of GSP influences extant social power asymmetries along axes of caste, class and gender, particularly through the uneven distribution of material benefits, resource access and political representation. Additionally, this dissertation research will explore how land enclosures and narratives of sustainable development are contested by project-affected populations. Results will be utilized to collaborate with affected populations and write policy relevant recommendations to influence more equitable development outcomes during the expansion of the GSP. This project builds upon a pilot project I conducted in Gujarat state (2014-2015) with the Indian Institute of Management-Ahmedabad investigating vulnerability to climate change among farming communities.
Currently, the gender and caste-based impacts of “green grabs” via projects like the GSP have been insufficiently explored in the literature of political ecology. This research seeks to bridge this lacunae and is imperative, given the rapid spread of renewable energy technologies like the GSP, not only in India but throughout the Global South. While the Government of India develops more solar parks to profitably mitigate climate change and generate much-needed renewable energy, marginalized populations shouldn’t be left in the dark.