Sustainable Land Management

By: Staff Reporter and Prasad
India accounts for about 2.4 per cent of the world’s geographical area but supports about 17 per cent of the world’s human population and 15 per cent of the livestock.

Zafar Sheikh’s holding size of 2 bighas (about 0.3 acre) cannot support his growing family of five. Divided in numerous small patches between brothers and cousins, it is just too uneconomical for Zafar to engage in farming. So he looks for work in Lucknow – whatever odd and end that he can lay his hands on. A fairly common situation, statistics clearly reveal the strain on the country’s economy – India accounts for about 2.4 per cent of the world’s geographical area and 4 per cent of global water resources, but supports about 17 per cent of the world’s human population and more than 15 per cent of the livestock. The need for providing food and water for the growing population – while sustaining the natural resource base has emerged as one of the main challenges in the 21st century.

By 2050 the Indian population is expected to stabilise between 1600-1700 million. Over 65 per cent of Indian population depends upon agriculture, which now has a share of less than 30 per cent in the country’s GDP. Total forest cover of the country as per 2005 assessment is 76.96 million hectares which accounts for 23.41 per cent of total geographic area. Per capita availability of forests in India is 0.06 hectares which is much lower than the world average of 0.8 hectares. 0.93 million km2 of hills and mountains – the traditional water towers of India are themselves faced with water shortage due to loss of perenniality of springs, nalas and streams of small orders. Much of 0.031 million km2 of water bodies are turning seasonal and even drying up due to lack of support areas under appropriate cover management that would ensure steady and delayed inflows or prolonged recharge in no rain weeks and months. Social wastes from settlements, industries, mining and from agriculture and irrigation by way of secondary salinisation and contamination due to overuse of pesticides have been deteriorating available land, water and life forms and thus shrinking the utilisable land resource base. The issue of shifting cultivation, especially in northeast India is a land use practice which has been and continues to be a subject of divergent views in the context of land degradation. Further, diversion of productive land to other uses has been aggravating the situation. An inescapable challenge stares at us to counter and remove these pressures while enhancing the carrying capacity (CC) or population support capacity (PSC) of the country’s limited land resources.

Land Computations: Land resource represents land area, soil fertility, availability of water and is a source of life forms. The increasing pressure on land strains all these. The deterioration in land quality is visible through food insecurity, lack of livelihood opportunities, malnutrition and poor quality of life for a vast majority of rural as well as urban population. To harness the full potential of the available land resources and prevent its further degradation, wasteland development is of great significance. A major initiative taken to achieve the transparency in land management system is computerisation of land records (CLR). Out of the total 3799 blocks, 3324 have set up computer records and in 2877 blocks computerised copies of record of rights, RoRs, are being issued to landowners on demand. As a result, the states of Karnataka, Goa, Tamil Nadu and Gujarat have stopped manual distribution of RoRs and rely on the computerised system. The innovative Bhoomi e-Governance project has computerised all 20 million land records of 6.7 million land owners in 176 talukas of Karnataka. The System enables online updation of records to ensure that farmers are given real time and accurate information. Making manual land recording in the operationalised talukas illegal, the compulsory online land transactions have increased transparency, security and reliability in land records administration.

In order to manage the land resources more adroitly, initiatives for collection of timely data, its analysis and consequently drawing of appropriate strategies have been worked out. A wasteland mapping has been carried out in five phases during 1986-2000 on a 1:50,000 scale by the Ministry of Rural Development (MoRD). 13 categories of wastelands in three broad categories have been identified – barren rocky/sheet rock; gullied area/ravines; and mining/industrial wastelands. A digitised Wasteland Atlas of India has been generated and the information is used for planning several developmental programmes. Generation of data for Integrated Mission for Sustainable Development (IMSD) for 84 million hectares area covering 175 districts located in 28 states has been completed and similar work has been extended to Koraput, Bolangir, Kalahandi (KBK) region of Orissa. The Common Guidelines for Watershed Development Projects, 2008, finalised by the National Rainfed Area Authority (NRAA), integrates livestock management and production and marketing of dairy products; dedicated institutional structures with multi disciplinary professional teams at national, state and district level; capacity building for all stakeholders, watershed development through cluster of micro watersheds with average size of 1000-5000 hectares; scientific planning for wasteland development with the help of Geographical Information System; coordination with programmes like National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme and Backward Region Grant Fund. Three area development programmes on watershed basis, have been operating in India, namely the Drought Prone Areas Programme (DPAP), Desert Development Programme (DDP) and Integrated Wasteland Development Programme (IWDP). In a recent move, all the related schemes within the MoRD namely DPAP, DDP and IWDP have been merged into Integrated Watershed Management Programme (IWMP) from 2007-2008 for planning sustainable outcomes and rural livelihoods of communities. IWMP is a major shift from the ongoing watershed projects in the country. It involves a simultaneous thrust on four major components, namely, institutional and capacity building; development of natural resources; management of developed natural resource; and development of rainfed farming systems including non farm based livelihoods.

In view of the national goal to increase the forest and tree cover of the country to one third of the geographical area from the present 23.39 per cent, governments green non arable areas and install agroforestry models as part of the farming system on marginal private cultivable lands. It is also recognised that wastes are not actually wastes, but are locked up production inputs of nutrients and water. There is now a renewed programmatic emphasis to recycle these to raise vegetation and to prepare compost probably vermicompost and thus reuse landfills. The pace of greening contaminated land through wastewater programme formulation and implementation is being enlarged and accelerated. Industries release waste water ranging from 34 kg for leather to 250 kg for paper and pulp per unit of finished product. The land fill requirement has been estimated at 1150 hectares per year with an average depth of 3 metres. As these wastes are the principal source of contamination of adjoining productive lands and also for pollution of surface and groundwater, research institutes under ICAR, universities, forest departments, civic bodies and some civil societies have demonstrated the potential of these wastes to restore the productive potential of land and thus prevent them from polluting more land and water while creating economically attractive renewable assets.

Article 8 Map 1

Policies towards sustainability

To overcome the problem of gap between land availability and demand, strategies are being adopted in formulating and implementing watershed management. For cultivated crops increasing gross cropped area by cultivating same land more than once, during the year, is being practiced. India’s net sown area increased from 119 million hectares in 1950-1951 to 141 million hectares by 2001-2002 registering a rise of 18 per cent over half a century. During the same period gross cropped area increased from 132 to 191 million hectares or a rise of 45 per cent. Consequently cropping intensity rose from 111 per cent to 135 per cent. This increase in cropping intensity depicts better land management.

Creation of forest/biomass resources in all the culturable vacant lands has been taken up for strengthening life support system of communities and maintaining soil and water regimes. A number of environmentally fragile hill state areas were improved by planting horticultural, fuel wood, fodder and other trees and thus land use alienation was moderated significantly. The effectiveness of the enlarged or existing green area can also be assessed by Watershed Eco Index (WEI) computed with effective or ecologically adjusted green area as per cent of total geographical area. An application of this showed that WEI had improved by 100 per cent in some areas due to massive greening works carried out.

Use of organic manure in addition to the chemical fertilisers is considered a potent way of achieving environmental sustainability. Apart from organic farming, making of better compost (NADEP method), slurry from biogas plants and vermicompost are being popularised so that land degradation is arrested. Similarly application of biofertilisers, organic chemicals and integrated nutrient and pest management are additional strategies besides seed replacement, mechanisation, etc., used for attaining better soil health. Soil Health Card is another tool developed for sustainable land management and is popular specially in the states of Gujarat, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal.

The National Policy on Resettlement and Rehabilitation, 2007 builds upon the previous policy of 2003 to further decentralise the rehabilitation process thereby increasing transparency and accountability, integrate the displaced persons in new development and secure livelihoods by sequencing rehabilitation before displacement. It introduces mandatory Social Impact Assessment for displacement of 400 or more families, while this requirement has been made obligatory for displacement of 200 or more families in case of certain disadvantaged and special regions. The Policy further seeks to protect the displaced disadvantaged groups by making Tribal Development Plan necessary in case of 200 or more displaced ST families, and providing for monthly pension to the vulnerable such as disabled, destitute, orphans, widows, unmarried girls, etc. The landmark ‘Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006’ recognises and vests the forest rights and occupation in forestland in forest dwelling Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers who have been residing in such forests for generations but whose rights could not be recorded in the pre or post Independence India, thereby augmenting their livelihoods and food security. At the same time the Act also enjoins the responsibilities for sustainable use, conservation of biodiversity, maintenance of ecological balance and thereby strengthening the conservation regime of the forests.

The total quantum of land declared surplus in the entire country is 68.73 lakh acres, out of which about 60.27 lakh acres have been taken possession of and 49 lakh acres have been distributed to 54.01 lakh beneficiaries of whom 39 per cent belong to Scheduled Castes and 16 per cent belong to Scheduled Tribes. Out of a total area of 21.59 lakh acres of Bhoodan land donated, 16.57 lakh acres have been distributed. Distribution of Government wastelands has been one of the key strategies of land reforms in the country. It has been the accepted policy of the Central Government that wastelands at the disposal of the State Governments should be distributed amongst eligible rural poor.

Legislative measures have been taken in many states of the country for conferment of ownership rights on tenants or protecting them from willful eviction or allowing cultivating tenants to acquire ownership rights on payment of compensation. Some of the states have acquired ownership of land from certain categories of land owners and transferred the same to tenants. Sub tenancies have generally been prohibited all over the country except in certain cases, viz., widows, members of armed forces, minors,
unmarried women, persons suffering from disabilities, etc. Till September, 2006, 125.85 lakh tenants have got their rights protected over an area of 167.16 lakh acres.

Upscaling Joint Forest Management Committees (JFMCs) to Small and Micro Forest Enterprises (SMFE) stage through microfinance based livelihood initiatives is developed in a participatory manner. Linkages with financial institutions, technical service providers and trade partners is achieved through capacity building, while dedicated project staff provide initial guidance. The SMFE generates local people’s long term interest in forest regeneration and conservation. The global environment objective of the India Sustainable Land and Ecosystem Management Partnership Programme (SLEM) is to maintain and restore globally significant ecosystem functions and services.

Disparity amongst men and women in terms of right and access to land and other resources still persists and the women are burdened with most of land based hardship and drudgery. Many states have improved women’s access to land and landed property. States like Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh have amended the Hindu Succession Act, 1956, to formalise issues related to women’s right to property including land. States like Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh have decided that issues relating to property, including landed property, would be dealt with in accordance with the appropriate personal laws. Empowerment of women, to a great extent has been achieved in the nation by integrating area specific intervention with the concept of Self Help Groups. Till 31st March, 2007 more than 4.6 million SHGs had opened savings bank account in different banks of the country.

Extract: Sustainable Rural Lives and Livelihoods, Ministry of Environment and Forests, 2008

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