Wa­ter­shed Devel­op­ment In In­dia

Economic Challenger - - CONTENTS - − Dr. R.P. Sa­haria


Wa­ter­shed pro­gramme is a de­mand driven par­tic­i­pa­tory ap­proach which is be­ing grad­u­ally in­sti­tu­tion­al­ized. This kind of in­no­va­tive project was started af­ter 1998 through large scale adop­tion of com­mon guide­lines is­sued by Min­istry of Agri­cul­ture and Min­istry of Ru­ral Devel­op­ment, Government of In­dia. Since it is a com­plete shift from con­ven­tional pro­grammes im­ple­mented so far by Government agen­cies, peo­ple in­volved in the pro­grammes have ex­pe­ri­enced a new par­a­digm. Still they could not be able to come out of the con­ven­tional type of project im­ple­men­ta­tion, they need some more time to un­der­stand fully about this par­tic­i­pa­tory stake hold­ers’ ap­proach. Here is an ur­gent need for ac­tion re­search on the grass­roots of wa­ter­shed man­age­ment.


In­dia is one of the ma­jor agri­cul­tural coun­tries with more than 70% of the pop­u­la­tion de­pend­ing on it. In­dian agri­cul­ture is de­pen­dent on mon­soon which is not uni­form over the years. Nearly three fourths of the cul­tivable land in In­dia is de­pen­dent on mon­soon, which is con­tribut­ing nearly 42% of the to­tal pro­duc­tion from agri­cul­ture. The pro­duc­tiv­ity of any crop mainly de­pends on two nat­u­ral re­sources− land and water in ad­di­tion to man­age­ment prac­tices. There­fore the con­ser­va­tion, upgra­da­tion and uti­liza­tion of th­ese two nat­u­ral re­sources on sci­en­tific prin­ci­ples is es­sen­tial for the sus­tain­abil­ity of rain­fed agri­cul­ture.

The wa­ter­shed con­cept for devel­op­ment of rain fed agri­cul­ture is gain­ing im­por­tance over the years and it am­ply demon­strates that wa­ter­shed devel­op­men­tal tools are very ef­fec­tive in meet­ing the ob­jec­tives and the mis­sion. In the words of em­i­nent econ­o­mist, C.H. Hanu­man­tha Rao "Wa­ter­shed devel­op­ment has been con­ceived ba­si­cally as a strat­egy for pro­tect­ing the liveli­hoods of the peo­ple in­hab­it­ing the frag­ile ecosys­tems ex­pe­ri­enc­ing soil ero­sion and mois­ture stress".

The lit­er­a­ture on wa­ter­shed devel­op­ment in In­dia is grow­ing rapidly, but most of it is con­fined to qual­i­ta­tive de­scrip­tions of success sto­ries. Some of th­ese con­tain ex­cel­lent in­sights into the so­cial pro­cesses that con­trib­ute to suc­cess­ful wa­ter­shed devel­op­ment, but there is lit­tle frank dis­cus­sion of less suc­cess­ful projects. The few quan­ti­ta­tive stud­ies avail­able tend to be based on a small num­ber of heav­ily su­per­vised projects, with no in­for­ma­tion about long−term ef­fects. Ben­e­fits af­ter the first year or two were typ­i­cally as­sumed, and, not sur­pris­ingly, cost−ben­e­fit find­ings were al­most al­ways fa­vor­able. At the same time, the vast ma­jor­ity of projects were never eval­u­ated, and there were good rea­sons to sus­pect that most of them had lit­tle im­pact (Kerr and Sanghi 1992).


In our coun­try, devel­op­men­tal ac­tiv­i­ties are charted out through Five−year plans. Five year plans are for­mu­lated with four di­men­sions viz., im­prove­ment of qual­ity of life, gen­er­a­tion of pro­duc­tive em­ploy­ment, re­gional bal­ance, and self−re­liance. Th­ese di­men­sions are re­flected by pro­grammes devel­oped on wa­ter­shed ba­sis. In

ad­di­tion it also sup­ports agri­cul­ture and ru­ral devel­op­ment, food se­cu­rity, em­pow­er­ment of women, gen­der equal­ity, en­vi­ron­men­tal sus­tain­abil­ity and en­cour­ag­ing peo­ple’s rep­re­sen­ta­tive bod­ies.

The Union Min­istry of Agri­cul­ture (MOA), Min­istry of Ru­ral Devel­op­ment (MORD), and Min­istry of En­vi­ron­ment and Forests (MOEF) along with their re­spec­tive de­part­ments in the states, are the three main government min­istries in­charge of wa­ter­shed devel­op­ment pro­grammes in the coun­try. Each pro­gramme fo­cuses on dif­fer­ent as­pects and ac­tiv­i­ties within the min­istry’s devel­op­ment cri­te­ria. The MOA has worked in wa­ter­shed devel­op­ment since the 1960s and mainly deals with is­sues, in­clud­ing ero­sion−prone agri­cul­tural lands, op­ti­miz­ing pro­duc­tion in rain−fed ar­eas and re­claim­ing de­graded land.

The De­part­ment of Agri­cul­ture and Co− op­er­a­tion and the De­part­ment of Agri­cul­tural Re­search and Ed­u­ca­tion of the MOA are in­volved in all as­pects of wa­ter­shed devel­op­ment. They are sup­ported by two au­tonomous bod­ies; the In­dian Coun­cil of Agri­cul­tural Re­search, and the Na­tional In­sti­tute for Agri­cul­tural Ex­ten­sion and Man­age­ment. The MOA is cur­rently im­ple­ment­ing sev­eral schemes/pro­grammes, in­clud­ing the Na­tional Wa­ter­shed Devel­op­ment Project for Rain−fed Ar­eas, Soil and Water Con­ser­va­tion in the Catch­ments of River Val­ley Projects (RVPs) and Flood Prone Rivers, Wa­ter­shed Devel­op­ment Project in Shift­ing Cul­ti­va­tion Ar­eas, Recla­ma­tion of Al­kali Soil, Wa­ter­shed Devel­op­ment Fund and Ex­ter­nally Aided Projects (EAPs).

The MORD has been im­ple­ment­ing wa­ter­shed devel­op­ment projects only since the late 1980s. It deals with non−for­est waste­lands and poverty al­le­vi­a­tion pro­grammes hav­ing com­po­nents of soil and water con­ser­va­tion. Wa­ter­shed pro­grammes im­ple­mented by MORD in­clude the Drought Prone Ar­eas Pro­gramme, Desert Devel­op­ment Pro­gramme, In­te­grated Waste­lands Devel­op­ment Pro­gramme, and EAPs. Since 1989, the MOEF has been im­ple­ment­ing the Na­tional Af­foresta­tion and Eco−devel­op­ment Project, with the in­ten­tion of pro­mot­ing af­foresta­tion and devel­op­ment of de­graded forests within an in­te­grated wa­ter­shed ap­proach. Up to the X Plan (2002−07), nearly 51 mha has been devel­oped on wa­ter­shed ba­sis. The MORD ac­counted for 63% of the ’treated’ area, spend­ing nearly 50% of the to­tal funds and the MOA ’devel­oped’ the re­main­ing 37% of the area, but used slightly more than 50% of the to­tal funds. The MOEF and Plan­ning Com­mis­sion had only lim­ited involvement in it.

Over the past three decades, In­dia has ad­dressed th­ese chal­lenges head−on and made ma­jor in­vest­ments in the area of wa­ter­shed man­age­ment through an ap­pro­pri­ate mix of tech­ni­cal in­no­va­tions, par­tic­i­pa­tory ap­proaches, and an en­abling pol­icy en­vi­ron­ment. There is cer­tainly ev­i­dence of pos­i­tive im­pacts in terms of im­proved soil and water con­ser­va­tion and agri­cul­tural pro­duc­tiv­ity in nor­mal rain­fall years in re­gions which have been ig­nored in the con­ven­tional green−rev­o­lu­tion based ru­ral devel­op­ment. Coun­tries in Sub−Sa­ha­ran Africa, South−East Asia and even China look to­wards In­dia to learn from th­ese ex­pe­ri­ences and adopt this unique nat­u­ral re­source based ru­ral devel­op­ment model. How­ever, over­all gains from wa­ter­shed devel­op­ment have not been eq­ui­tably shared, ei­ther within the farm­ing com­mu­nity or be­tween dif­fer­ent ge­o­graph­i­cal set­tings. This calls for an as­sess­ment of wa­ter­shed devel­op­ment and man­age­ment ap­proaches with a view to ad­dress­ing bio­phys­i­cal, so­cio− eco­nomic, and in­sti­tu­tional and pol­icy is­sues.

The var­i­ous lim­i­ta­tions of wa­ter­shed pro­grammes, are as fol­lows:−

1. Pro­duc­tiv­ity gains are of­ten lim­ited and tem­po­rary.

2. Land­less and mar­ginal farm­ers of­ten ben­e­fit only marginally or not at all, in­creas­ing in­equities at the vil­lage level.

3. Com­mon lands do not get ad­e­quately treated and re−veg­e­ta­tion does not take place as ex­pected.

4. Gains from recharge of ground­wa­ter are rapidly dis­si­pated through in­creased with­drawal. 5. Domestic, live­stock and ecosys­tem water needs of­ten do not get ad­e­quately ad­dressed and may even suf­fer as a re­sult of in­creased with­drawal. 6. Down­stream im­pacts of in­ten­sive up­stream water con­ser­va­tion are not be­ing con­sid­ered. 7. Costs at which the gains are achieved are

con­sid­ered to be high. 8. Peo­ple’s par­tic­i­pa­tion is lim­ited to the wa­ter­shed project im­ple­men­ta­tion stage and 9. No/lit­tle build­ing of in­sti­tu­tions for long−term

col­lec­tive man­age­ment of re­sources.


Wa­ter­sheds could be clas­si­fied into a num­ber of groups de­pend­ing upon the mode of clas­si­fi­ca­tion. The com­mon modes of cat­e­go­riza­tion are the size, drainage, shape and land use pat­tern. The cat­e­go­riza­tion could be based on the size of the stream or river, the point of in­ter­cep­tion of the stream or the river and the drainage den­sity and its distri­bu­tion. The All In­dia Soil and Land Use Sur­veys (AIS&LUS) of the Min­istry of Agri­cul­ture, Government of In­dia, has devel­oped a sys­tem for wa­ter­shed de­lin­eation like water re­source re­gion, basin, catch­ment, sub−catch­ment, and wa­ter­shed. The usu­ally ac­cepted five lev­els of wa­ter­shed de­lin­eation based on ge­o­graph­i­cal area of the wa­ter­shed are: 1. Macro wa­ter­shed (> 50,000 Hect) 2. Sub−wa­ter­shed (10,000 to 50,000 Hect) 3.Milli−wa­ter­shed (1000 to10000 Hect) 4.Mi­cro wa­ter­shed (100 to 1000 Hect) 5.Mini wa­ter­shed (1−100 Hect)

Hy­dro­log­i­cally, the shape of the wa­ter­shed is im­por­tant be­cause it con­trols the time taken for the runoff to con­cen­trate at the out­let. Wa­ter­sheds may also be cat­e­go­rized as hill or flat wa­ter­sheds, hu­mid or arid wa­ter­sheds, red soil wa­ter­shed or black soil wa­ter­shed based on cri­te­ria like soil, slope, cli­mate etc. De­pend­ing on the land use pat­tern, wa­ter­shed could again be clas­si­fied as high­land wa­ter­sheds, tribal set­tle­ments and wa­ter­sheds in ar­eas of set­tled cul­ti­va­tion.

Wa­ter­shed man­age­ment has emerged as a new par­a­digm for plan­ning, devel­op­ment and man­age­ment of land, water and biomass re­sources with a fo­cus on so­cial and en­vi­ron­men­tal as­pects fol­low­ing a par­tic­i­pa­tory ap­proach. Wa­ter­shed Man­age­ment is more a phi­los­o­phy of com­pre­hen­sive in­te­grated ap­proach to nat­u­ral re­sources man­age­ment. It aims at in­te­gra­tion of so­cial re­sources man­age­ment with nat­u­ral re­source man­age­ment. The ap­proach is gen­er­ally pre­ven­tive, pro­gres­sive, cor­rec­tive and cu­ra­tive. Wa­ter­shed man­age­ment in­volves the ju­di­cious use of nat­u­ral re­source with ac­tive par­tic­i­pa­tion of

in­sti­tu­tions, or­ga­ni­za­tions, in har­mony with the ecosys­tem.


Wa­ter­shed Devel­op­ment Fund in Ch­hat­tis­garh has been cre­ated to treat 100 wa­ter­shed projects at a cost of Rs. 60 crore with the as­sis­tance of Na­tional Bank for Agri­cul­ture and Ru­ral Devel­op­ment (NABARD). The scheme has been in op­er­a­tion since 2004− 05 and the du­ra­tion of the scheme is six years. Un­der Re­struc­tured Na­tional Wa­ter­shed Devel­op­ment Project for Rain­fed Ar­eas (RNWDPRA) for XI Five Year Plan pe­riod (2007− 2012), it is pro­posed to take up 500 wa­ter­sheds in 28 dis­tricts, where the area has less than 30% as­sured means of ir­ri­ga­tion in arable lands and hav­ing slopes less than 8%. The pat­tern of as­sis­tance is in the ra­tio of 90:10 for the Cen­tre and State re­spec­tively. The min­i­mum area for a wa­ter­shed is 500 Ha.


There is an ur­gent need for ac­tive re­search on the grass­roots of wa­ter­shed man­age­ment. Many of the aca­demic re­spon­dents com­mented that there has been so lit­tle com­pre­hen­sive re­search on the wa­ter­shed devel­op­ment that the whole de­bate over how they func­tion is be­ing steered by anec­do­tal in­for­ma­tion. There is, there­fore, a se­ri­ous knowl­edge gap on the process of lo­cal politi­ci­sa­tion and lo­cal un­der­stand­ing of the wa­ter­shed devel­op­ment sys­tem. NGOs in­volved in nat­u­ral re­source man­age­ment ac­tiv­i­ties, whether this is wa­ter­shed, waste­land, water or for­est based, have been rel­a­tively slow in forg­ing work­ing al­liances with Gram Pan­chay­ats. Many NGOs work with wa­ter­shed devel­op­ment sim­ply be­cause they can­not avoid do­ing so, but have no ac­tive pro­gramme or ide­ol­ogy of sup­port.


1. Sharma, Bharat R, and Christo­pher A. Scott, (2005) Wa­ter­shed Man­age­ment Chal­lenges:In­tro­duc­tion and Over­view, Mal­ho­tra Pub­lish­ing House, New Delhi. 2. Far­ring­ton J., Tur­ton C., and James, A.J. Ed. "1999. Par­tic­pa­tory wa­ter­shed devel­op­ment: Chal­lenges for the Twenty− first Cen­tury, New Delhi: Ox­ford Univer­sity Press. 3. In­dia, Min­istry of Agri­cul­ture, 1991 WARASA: Na­tional Wa­ter­shed Devel­op­ment Project for Rain­fed Ar­eas (NWDPRA) Guide­lines, 2nd Ed. New Delhi: Min­istry of Agri­cul­ture. 4. In­dia, Min­istry of Ru­ral Devel­op­ment, 1994 Guide­lines for wa­ter­shed devel­op­ment, New Delhi 5. Na­tional Com­mis­sion on Farm­ers, Min­istry

of Agri­cul­ture, New Delhi, 2011−12. 6. NRAA, Report, Na­tional Rain−fed Area Author­ity, Min­istry of Agri­cul­ture, New Delhi, 2008. 7. Pan­chay­ati Raj and Nat­u­ral Re­sources

Man­age­ment, Report, 2006−12. 8. Plan­ning Com­mis­sion, Report of the Work­ing Group on Nat­u­ral Re­sources Man­age­ment: Eleventh Five Year Plan (2007−2012), Plan­ning Com­mis­sion, Govt. of In­dia, New Delhi, 2007 9. Sikka, Alok, K. 2002. Par­tic­i­pa­tory wa­ter­shed man­age­ment for land and water care: Plan­ning, im­pact eval­u­a­tion, sus­tain­abil­ity and fu­ture. In: Wa­ter­shed Man­age­ment: Is­sues and Poli­cies for 21" Cen­tury.As­so­ci­ated Pub­lish­ing Com­pany, New Delhi, In­dia. 10. Wani, Suhas P. and Ra­makr­ishna, Y.S. ( 2005) Sus­tain­able Man­age­ment of Rain­wa­ter through In­te­grated Wa­ter­shed Ap­proach for Im­proved Ru­ral Liveli­hoods, Mal­ho­tra Pub­lish­ing House, New Delhi.

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