Wasteland Development in India

By: Dr. Arvind Singh       Posted Date: 9/28/2012        11:50:27 PM


What is Wasteland? 

Wasteland is the land that is not used either for agriculture, forestry or pasture or the land which is not being used to its optimum potential due to various constraints. Increasing misuse of land resources through shortsighted development policies has also led to wasteland formation. More than half of the land area of the country is lying as wasteland of varying intensity of degradation.

What are the types of Wastelands?

Wastelands in India has been categorized into two types as follows:

1.      Culturable wasteland: It has the potential for development for agricultural, pastoral or forestry purposes. It is not being used presently due to certain constraints like scarcity of water, salinity and alkalinity of soil, soil erosion, water logging or unfavourable physiographic position or human neglect. If these underlying problems are solved these lands can be used for agricultural purposes. TheReh, the Bhur, the Usar and the Khola tracts of Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Punjab and many other tracts in several other states come under this class. Culturable wasteland constitutes 15 million hectares (5%) of the total land resources.


2.      Non-culturable wasteland : It is barren and uncultivated lands including mountains, deserts etc. cannot be put to any productive use, either for agriculture, forestry or pastoral purposes. Non-culturable wastelands constitute 20 million hectares (6%) of the total geographical area of the country.


The total wasteland in India is 53 million hectares and of these Jammu and Kashmir ranks first followed by Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Sikkim and Madhya Pradesh.


What are Causes of Wasteland Formation?


Wastelands are not put to any productive purpose due to low fertility, rockyness, shallowness of soils, salinity, alkalinity and swampyness. Lack of sufficient rainfall or irrigation facilities and also lack of ownership of land are the other important reasons for leaving the land unused. These problems are man-made. These lands are used without considering their capacity.


Wastelands are formed due to over-grazing, felling of the trees and shifting cultivation which result in soil erosion. Improper irrigation management leads to saline and water logged soils. However, some of the lands are unproductive owing to natural conditions such as rockyness, shallow depth etc.


Why Wasteland Development is the Need of the Hour?


Wasteland development provides a source of income for the rural poor. It ensures a constant supply of fuel, fodder and timber for local use. It makes the soil fertile by checking soil erosion and conserving moisture. The wasteland development helps in maintenance of ecological balance in the area; the increase in forest cover maintains the local climatic conditions. The regenerated vegetation cover helps in attracting birds which feeds on pests in the surrounding fields thus functioning as natural pest controllers. The trees help in holding moisture and reducing surface run-off rates thus controlling soil erosion.


Vegetative cover reduces diurnal variation in temperature. It increases relative humidity and reduces carbon dioxide (CO2) content of the atmosphere using it in photosynthesis. Air is polluted due to urbanization and industrialization and the pollutants form a canopy over the cities due to temperature inversion during winter months. Trees are helpful in mitigation of these pollutants up to some extent. The occurrence of natural disasters like floods and droughts can also be reduced by afforestation of wastelands.


Wastelands particularly culturable wasteland can be made productive by appropriate land management practices. The reclamation of such lands will be of great significance for India to raise productivity of food, fodder and fuel on the one hand and for the environment upgradation on the other. Food crops can be grown on recovered wasteland which will ensure faster growth of agricultural productivity, which is lagging behind at a rate of around 3.5% only.


Non-culturable wastelands can be turned into grasslands or minor forest lands which can improve the ecological balance by protecting soils from rapid erosion and soil moisture decline. It will also enhance the supplies of fodder and fuel at same time. Thus it will support pastoral activity which is one of the areas of major concern in India.


What are the steps taken for the Wasteland Development?


The Government of India has constituted an apex body headed by the Prime Minister, called the National Land Use and Wasteland Development Council (NLUWDC). At the second level there are two boards : National Land use and Conservation Board (NLBD) and Natonal Wasteland Development Board (NWDB) The National Wasteland Development Board was established in May, 1985 with the primary objective of undertaking wasteland development through a massive programme of afforestation and tree planting with peoples participation.

National Wasteland Development Board has set a target of foresting at least 5 million hectare of wasteland every year.


Integrated Wastelands Development Programme (IWDP) was launched in 1989-90 as centrally sponsored scheme with objective to take up integrated development of wastelands. The long term objective was to check land degradation and environmental conservation and sustainable integrated development for the general good of the people who inhabit these areas. The other objectives of the programme include:


1.      People participation in wasteland development through mechanisms to ensure equitable distribution of intermediate and find forest produce and also through preparing schemes according to local needs and prevailing condition of land capability etc.

2.      Generation of employment and alternative sources of income for the needy section by promoting area-specific activities.

3.      Augmenting the availability of food, fuel and fodder by developing wastelands into cultivable lands, if possible, forests and pastures; and

4.      Extension and dissemination of proven technologies for treatment of various categories of problem lands.


Besides providing adequate funds, technical inputs are also given to state governments. Steps are being taken to create public awareness on wasteland development its importance and the ongoing schemes. To give incentive to the states the scheme has been provided 100% central assistance. In order to acquire information and awareness of land degradation, changes therein and to plan for measures to such degradation and reclaim these lands for cultivation or forests, the National Remote Sensing Agency monitors the four categories of wastelands which include forest blanks, water logged areas, saline/alkaline area and ravenous areas.

Dr. Arvind Singh