Land resources

In India, the near absence of integrated land use planning is leading to haphazard development, that is suggestive of an ambiguity about the very intent of land use and management. Following the country’s independence, the trend in changes in land use show that “while the lands under net sown area, forests and non-agricultural uses have increased, the land under “other area” uses have almost halved from 40.7 to 22.6 percent meaning that for future land demands, the forest lands and agricultural lands may have to be used” (Draft national land utilization policy, July 2013-DoLR, MoRD).

The increasing demand of land for housing, infrastructure, mining and industrialization is leading to diversion of agricultural land for non-agricultural uses and forest land for non-forest purposes. The stagnation of agricultural yields and degradation of forests have become serious issues. A large section of India’s population is still dependent on land-based activities on both private and common lands for their livelihoods.

In this backdrop, SPWD has been working on land use planning and management for sustainable resource regeneration and improving livelihoods. SPWD undertook a programme on ‘Developing an agro-ecoregion based approach for characterization of wastelands and their potential for enhancing livelihoods of marginalised rural population in the ongoing land-based developmental programmes‘ with support from Department of Land Resources, Ministry of Rural Development.

The objectives were:

  1. To develop approach for characterization of wastelands in different agro-ecoregions that would take into consideration the process of degradation in an area and also the institutional environment pertaining to natural resources management in the area
  2. To factor-in the characterization developed in the design of the land-based development projects being implemented in the agro-ecoregion(s)
  3. To develop capacity of civil society institutions for practical application of the approach for field level implementation purposes

There is a lack of appropriate datasets related to land’s physical status, distribution by ownership (common, shared, private etc.), use of particular parcels for different purposes and their access by different communities. SPWD’s focus is now on understanding the necessary conditions for grounding meaningful land use planning and management. It is involved in land use planning at the micro level (village or panchayat) using geographical information systems and participatory approach. At the microlevel the planning exercise have been linked to government schemes. The thrust is on the datasets required for land use planning and management and the steps required for bridging the gaps in available datasets.

SPWD’s work on this theme is primarily based in south Rajasthan where there are two initiatives at present supported by MoRD-GIZ and Ford Foundation. The former focuses on environment benefits of Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) and was initiated for improving the natural resource base of the rural population by promoting conservation, replenishment and sustainable use of natural resources as a part of the employment guarantee programme. The latter attempts to mainstream initiatives to support panchayati raj institutions and local institutions to leverage MGNREGA for sustaining natural resource based livelihoods.

SPWD provides technical inputs and backstopping to panchayats and community groups for integrating climate adaptation measures in planning, implementation and management of natural resource programmes. Specifically, it develops the capacity of project implementers, and the communities regarding natural resource management and production systems. It is demonstrating a decision support system at gram panchayat level for management of the natural resources initiatives.

Poor and marginalised peoples’ rights and demand for safe life and livelihoods including participation in the issues that affect their lives i.e. natural resource management is being focused through social mobilisation, solidarity building and knowledge management. The project is integrating crosscutting issues like gender, environment, governance and poverty, has a multi-stakeholder focus and promotes linking and learning.

SPWD’s work on the project on environment benefits of MGNREGA helps improve the natural resource base of the rural population by promoting conservation, replenishment and sustainable use of natural resources through MGNREGA. As a part of this, SPWD has been working on:

  1. developing model demonstration sites and creating awareness of environment benefits;
  2. training worksite supervisors;
  3. providing exposure visits for wasteland development, water management and conservation;
  4. GIS based participatory planning under MGNREGA, GIS based detailed project report preparation for Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchai Yojana’s convergence with MGNREGA; and
  5. facilitating convergence planning and implementation to leverage environment benefit through sustainable natural resource management in Rajasthan.

In future, SPWD will continue land based management work undertaken under MGNREGA keeping in view the environment benefits. It will also attempt to do away with the shortcomings in the wasteland characterization done earlier by looking at the process of degradation from institutional and economic angles. An exercise would be done involving select NGOs from different locations to understand left out aspects and to build capacities to intervene and to improve efficiency of resource use focusing especially on resource poor section. SPWD would build network to discuss and document land related policy issues.