Saad Gulzar - Representation and Forest Conservation: Evidence from India’s Scheduled Areas (co-authored with A. Lal, and B. Pasquale)


Can representative institutions improve environmental conservation? We study the impact of a 1996 law that created local government with electoral quotas for Scheduled Tribes, a historically marginalized and impoverished community of 100 million in India. Using difference-in-differences designs paired with remote sensing data on deforestation, we find that formal representation reduces the rate of deforestation by thirty percent. These effects are larger in villages close to mines, where representation likely lowered commercial extraction. Combining these findings with research that the same institutions improved economic outcomes, our results challenge the commonly held assumption that there must be a trade-off between development and protecting the environment. While conservation policy tends to comprise environmentally focused institutions, we suggest more attention be given to umbrella institutions, such as political representation, which can address conservation and development in tandem.


I am an Assistant Professor of Political Science at Stanford University. My research asks under what conditions can representative government – one that provides equality of voice and influence – improve people’s lives?

Focusing on South Asia, I pose two broad sets of questions:
1. Does representative government improve redistribution at the cost of policy efficiency? My work shows that broadening political representation can redistribute welfare towards marginalized communities without incurring efficiency costs. I argue that taking electoral incentives seriously holds the key to making politics work for development.
2. How can societies transition towards more representative government? I examine long-term historical processes of transitions and their policy consequences. I also study how barriers that prevent broader political participation can be overcome both at the individual and organizational levels. My work shows that politics can be made more inclusive and that doing so can better align policy outcomes with the preferences of people.

I work closely with politicians, political parties, bureaucrats, and government agencies in Pakistan, India, and Nepal, and strive to make these collaborations meaningful for research and policy. My work has been published in the American Political Science Review, the Journal of Politics, the Journal of Development Economics, and the Journal of the European Economic Association.

I received my Ph.D. in Political Science at New York University in 2017, where my work received the Best Dissertation Award from the American Political Science Association’s Experiments Section.

Please visit my website for my cv and research: