Land Resources and Management

Land Resources: In terms of area India ranks seventh in the world with a total area of 32, 87.263 sq. km. (32.87 crore hectare). It accounts for 2.42% of total area of the world. In absolute terms India is really a big country. However, land man ratio is not favourable because of the huge population size.

Land utilisation figures are available for about 92.9% of total geographical area, that is, for 3,287.3 lakh hectare. Forest constitutes 24.01 % of the total geographical area of country. Out of a total land area of 304.2 million hectares about 170.0 million hectares is under cultivation. Food grains have preponderance in gross cropped areas as compared to non food grains. According to Agricultural Census, the area operated by large holdings (10 hectares and above) has declined and area operated under marginal holdings (less than one hectare) has increased. This indicates that land is being fragmented.


  • Land and water have been the basic elements of life support system on our planet since the dawn of civilization. All great civilizations, flourished where these resources were available in plenty and they declined or perished with the depletion of these resources.
  • In recent years, the land resource has been subjected to a variety of pressures. Still it is surviving and sustaining mankind. What is alarming in the way land is being used is the tendency towards over-exploitation on account of a number of reasons leading this pristine resource being robbed of its resilience.
  • Of all the species on the earth, man is the chief culprit of this degradation. He views land in terms of its utility, meaning the capability to meet his perceived needs and wants. The most easily categorised varieties of land from the utility point of view are – land fit for use, land with potential for use and land which appears useless at least in the foreseeable future.
  • Here probably lies the genesis of the problem of land degradation and erosion of ecosystems. Mahatma Gandhi had said -“The Earth has enough for everybody’s need but not for everybody’s greed”. Preserving, protecting and defending the land resources has been part of our age-old culture.
  • The respect for the importance of land resources is best depicted in the conventional concept of Panchabhutas – land, water, fire, sky and air that constitute a set of divine forces.
  • There are innumerable examples of the traditional conservation practices and systems, which are still surviving and are effective. But with the advent of modern age and the advent of newer forces, this tradition is fast deteriorating mainly on account of – consumerism, materialistic value systems, short-term profit-driven motives and greed of the users.
  • As a result, land has degraded, soil fertility depleted, the rivers polluted and the forests destroyed.

The Indian Scenario

  • India constitutes 18 per cent of the world’s population, 15 per cent of the live stock population and only 2 per cent of the geographic area, one per cent of the forest area and 0.5 per cent of pasture lands.
  • The per capita availability of forests in India is only 0.08 per ha. as against the world average of 0.8 per cent , thus leading to the pressure on land and forests. This poses a major and urgent concern.
  • In accordance with the National Remote Sensing Agency’s (NRSA) findings there are 75.5 million ha. of wastelands in the country. In has been estimated that out of these around 58 million ha. are treatable and can be brought back to original productive levels through appropriate measures.
  • At the moment, taking into account the efforts being made by all the various players in this field treating facilities are in place only for around 1 million ha. per year.
  • At this rate, that there is no further degradation and also assuming that our efforts are 100 per cent successful, it will take around 58 years to complete the process.
  • Watershed degradation in the third world countries threatens the livelihood of millions of people and constraints the ability of countries to develop a healthy agricultural and natural resource base.
  • Increasing population and livestock are rapidly depleting the existing natural resource base because the soil and vegetation system cannot support present level of use.
  • As population continues to rise, the pressure on forests, community lands and marginal agricultural lands lead to inappropriate cultivation practices, forests removal and grazing intensities that leave a barren environment yielding unwanted sediment and damaging stream flow to down stream communities.
  • Watershed is a geo-hydrological unit which drains at a common point. Rains falling on the mountain start flowing down into small rivulets. Many of them, as they come down, join to form small streams.
  • The small streams form bigger streams and then finally the bigger streams join to form a nallah to drain out of a village. The entire area that supplies water to a stream or river, i.e. the drainage basin or catchment area, is called the watershed of that particular stream or river.


  • Management of watershed thus entails the rational utilisation of land and water resources for optimum production but with minimum hazard to natural and human resources.
  • The main objectives of watershed management are to protect the natural resources such as soil, water and vegetation from degradation.
  • In the broader sense, it is an undertaking to maintain the equilibrium between elements of natural ecosystem of vegetation, land or water on the one hand and man’s activities on the other hand.
  • When all possible inputs are obtaining, the man in the watershed still remains the most important component of the entire watershed system. The key issue is how far the people can be motivated, involved and organised to drive the movement. No significant improvement can be expected without the people being brought to centre-stage.

A wide range of approaches have been employed to address problems of land degradation, some of which include:

  1. Prevention of soil loss from the catchments
  2. Promotion of multi-disciplinary integrated approach to catchment treatment.
  3. Improvement of land capability and moisture regime in the watersheds.
  4. Promotion of land use to match land capability
  5. Reduction of run-off from the catchments to reduce peak flow into the river system.
  6. Upgrading of skills in the planning and execution of watershed development programme.
  7. Increase of productivity of land affected by alkalinity for increasing sustainable agriculture production.
  8. Identification of critical degraded areas,
  9. Generation of data on land suitability and capability for regulating land use.
  10. Preparation of soil resource map and inventory of soil and land resources.
  11. Development of technical skills in soil and water conservation
  12. Building up and strengthening of land capability of State Land Use Boards.

Role of Ministry of Rural Development

  • The Ministry of Rural Development, Government of India, has recently created a Department of Land Resources to act as a nodal department in the field of watershed management and development.
  • This has the mandate of developing the valuable land resources of India, which are presently under various stages of degradation and it also endeavors to prevent further degradation of these resources through appropriate management and necessary measures.
  • The Department of Land Resources, being the nodal department has taken up certain new initiatives to play a more pro-active role in the Land Resource management in the country.
  • At the conceptual level it has been realised that the management rather than the mere use of land is the central theme. There is no dearth of land, the real issue is management which should include: dynamic conservation, sustainable development and equitable access to the benefits of intervention.
  • The concept of sustainable development focuses on help for the very poor because they are left with no option but to destroy their own environment.
  • It also includes the idea of cost-effective development using differing economic criteria to the traditional approach; that is to say development should not degrade environment quality, or reduce productivity in the long run.
  • The greater issues of health control, appropriate technologies, food self-reliance, clean water and shelter for all are to be addressed.
  • Sustainable development should seek to maintain an acceptable rate of growth in per capita real incomes without depleting the national capital asset stock or the natural environmental asset stock.
  • Equitable access to the benefits of development could be achieved either through land reforms or a dedicated and institutionalised mode of people’s participation. Here, besides the Government, other players like the corporate sector, NGOs, various institutions and self-help groups can be involved.
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