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From soil and water conservation to watershed management...    

Other than air and water, everything we physically consume is derived from three basic sources namely, plant life, animal life and mining. The management of these natural resources therefore assumes immense importance and holds the key for survival of future generations.

At the prevailing growth rate, experts estimate that India’s population would nearly double in the next 50 years. This would mean that the country would require about double the quantity of everything it consumes today.

It has been estimated that in India, on an average, 16.75 to/ha/yr (or approximately 1mm/10 yrs) of soil is lost through erosion. With a view to check erosion, since the early 1950s, the Government of India’s (GOI's) as well as various state governments have launched soil and water conservation programmes. In tackling the problem of land degradation, the GOI's approach has gradually moved from mere soil conservation to that of integrated land management. In the years that followed, the watershed, which was a compact homogeneous unit, became the obvious choice for planning and management of natural resources. The watershed concept went beyond a physical soil conservation approach to a wider perspective for development, conservation and management of land and water resources. Subsequently, watershed prioritization was taken up as a strategy for planning, and a national policy for watershed development was formulated to take into account the physical situation and availability of resources along with the needs of the people.

The Need

The GOI as well as various state governments have launched various programmes. The centrally sponsored scheme for Soil Conservation for enhancement of productivity of degraded areas in the catchments of River Valley Projects and Flood Prone Rivers (RVP and FPR) is being implemented on a watershed basis in 45 selected catchments throughout the country. Others are the Drought Prone Areas Programme (DPAP), Desert Development Programme(DDP), National Watershed Development Programme for Rainfed Areas (NWDPRA), Soil, Water and Tree Conservation (Operation Soil Watch), Operational research projects on Integrated Watershed Management, Jawahar Rojgar Yojana (JRY).  All these had definite objectives: improvement of productivity of catchment areas, optimum use of soil, land, water and their conservation, employment generation, etc.

Although the potential of watershed management for optimal use of natural resources to meet the needs of the people in a sustained manner has been proven beyond doubt, the success achieved was actually rather limited. Even as various nodal State Government Departments (SGDs) implemented several schemes with considerable financial investment, the results were neither commensurate nor visible. One of the major reasons for watershed management programmes not generating the desired results is the lack of involvement and sensitivity of the local community in these activities.

NGOs - A Different Approach

From the 1980s the role of Non Governmental Organizations (NGOs) became increasingly important in the developmental sector in India as they have demonstrated their ability to bridge the gap between people’s needs and available resources and services. Several projects implemented by NGOs have demonstrated their ability for new approaches and techniques for mobilizing local economies.

People’s Participation

Although some SGDs have sufficient technical expertise in implementing soil and water conservation measures, the activities are undertaken on government land and do not involve local people. The local people remain largely unaware of such activities and objectives. They often lack sensitivity to the problem of soil erosion and the means to solve it. The desire to work collectively is lacking and in most cases, there is no further maintenance once the government hand is withdrawn. Of late, the government planners have come to recognize the need for community level participation.

Capacity Building

Field level staff belonging to both SGDs and NGOs, in most cases possess neither adequate comprehension of the magnitude of the task nor the technical and organizational expertise to see it through. Training, a priority area, has not received adequate attention.

Impact Monitoring

Monitoring of impacts in any developmental activity is a major necessity and in the area of watershed management too, facilities for adequate monitoring of impact are lacking. Indicators for monitoring socio-economic impacts cannot be applied across a country characterized by diversity and rapid changes in its socio-economic conditions.

Sustainability and Replicability

The efforts of the GOI and the SGDs are often sporadic or unidirectional, while , what is required is an integrated, comprehensive and multi-faceted approach. It calls for coordinated effort among different players with an eye to long-term sustainability. Sustainability of the programmes through local participation must be ensured. India is a country characterized by diversity in its agro-climatic, cultural and socio-economic spheres and no rigid blueprint approach can be applied to the country as a whole. The need of the hour is implementation of field tested techniques and schemes on a regional basis. Micro watershed projects may provide solutions that are regionally applicable.


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