Desertification in India - decline in water table, availability of water, reduced agricultural productivity, biodiversity

By Kalpana Palkhiwala
Deputy Director (M & C), Press Information Bureau, New Delhi.

New Delhi, Nov 10, 2010 (Washington Bangla Radio / PIB India) About 25% of the country’s geographical area is affected by desertification. The Space Application Centre in 2007 brought out the Desertification and Land Degradation Atlas which shows 81.45 million hectare land in the country has turned into arid, semi-arid or dry sub humid region. Desertification results in decline in water table and availability of water, reduced agricultural productivity, loss of bio-diversity in the affected regions. All these affect the lives and livelihoods of the populations, often eventually precipitating forced migration and socio-economic conflicts.

Desertification is caused by a number of factors including climatic variations and human activities. Some of the human activities that can cause desertification are expansion of agriculture- over cultivation of soils, or exposure to erosion by wind or water; reduction in the fallow period of soil, and lack of organic or mineral fertilizers; overgrazing – often selectively – of shrubs, herbs and grasses; overexploitation of forest resources; deforestation; uncontrolled use of fire for regenerating pasture, for hunting, agricultural clearing, or for settling; and  poor irrigation practices-irrigation of soils prone to salinisation, alkalinisation or even water logging.

India has always recognised the need for a concerted multi-sectoral strategy for arresting and reversing desertification in view of the cross cutting dimensions of drivers of desertification. The concern for arresting and reversing land degradation and desertification gets reflected in many of our national policies which have enabling provisions for addressing this problem. It is also implicit in the goals of sustainable forest management (SFM), sustainable agriculture, sustainable land management (SLM) and the overarching goal of sustainable development which the country has been pursuing.

Policy and legislative frameworks that contribute to combating desertification in India are National Water Policy, 1987; National Forest Policy, 1988; National Agricultural Policy, 2000; Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980; Environment (Protection) Act, 1986; National Environmental Policy, 2006; National Policy for Farmers, 2007; and National Rain fed Area Authority (NRAA)- 2007.

Programmes Controlling Desertification

India has always maintained that desertification is a function of the interplay of a number of causative factors and thus only a multi-sectoral approach alone will be able to arrest and reverse the process of desertification. Some major schemes/ programmes that have contributed to desertification control are  Drought Prone Areas Programme (DPAP), 1973-74; Watershed Development Project in Shifting Cultivation Areas (WDPSCA), 1974-75; Desert Development Programme (DDP), 1977-78; Reclamation & Development of Alkali Soil (RAS), 1985-86; Watershed Development Fund (WDF),  Integrated Wasteland Development Programme (IWDP), 1989; National Watershed Development Project for Rain fed Areas (NWDPRA) – 1990-91 and Soil Conservation in the Catchment of River Valley Projects (RVP) 1992. National Afforestation Programme (NAP) 2002-03 is also one of the major programmes in which  Association of Scheduled Tribes and Rural Poor in Regeneration of Degraded Forests (ASTRP), launched in 1992-93 and  Integrated Afforestation and Eco-Development Projects Scheme (LAEPS) 1989-90 were  merged into the  National Afforestation Programme.

The year mentioned against the name of the schemes above designates the year of inception. The three schemes of Desert Development Programme, Drought Prone Area Programme and Integrated Wasteland Development Programme have been consolidated into a single programme of Integrated Watershed Management Programme (IWMP) with effect from 01.04.2008.                                 Recent initiatives include sustainable Land and Ecosystem Management (SLEM Programmatic Approach) 2007; Common Guidelines for Watershed Development Programme- 2008; Integrated Watershed Management Programme (IWMP) and Guidelines for Convergence between NREGA and NAP 2009.


The basic object of the programme is to minimise the adverse effect of drought and control desertification through rejuvenation of natural resource base of the identified desert areas, achieve ecological balance and overall economic development in the programme areas. The programme has covered in 235 blocks of 40 districts in 7 States. The corresponding physical area under the programme is about 4.57 lakh sq. kms. (PIB Features)