The Gist of Kurukshetra: May + June 2013

The Gist of Kurukshetra: May + June 2013


  • Poverty in India
  • Strategy to Develop Degraded Land
  • Land Acqusition in India Need for a Paradigm Shift
  • Global Hunger Index, 2012
  • Panel on Climate Change


Land is a
finite resource and there is
conflicting and competing demands on
it. For 80% of the world, agriculture land
is the primary source of life and livelihood. India
holds 2.4% of the world’s geographical area (328.73
mha) but supports 17.5% of the world’s population.
India is home to 18% of the cattle population of the
world while owning a mere 0.5% of the total grazing area. Of the total 328 mha (total geographical area},
land- use statistics is available for approximately 305
mha (93%) of the total land. 228 million ha (69%) of
its geographical area falls within dry land that
encompasses arid, semi-arid, dry and sub-humid land
as per Thornthewaite classification.

India is blessed with a wide range of soil
pattern, each particular to the locale. The alluvial soil
(78 mha) that covers the great Indo- Gangetic Plains,
the valleys of the rivers Narmada and Tapti {Madhya
Pradesh), the Cauvery Basin (Tamil Nadu) supports
cereals, oil, pulses, potato and sugar cane. The Black
Cotton soil (51.8 mha) found in Maharashtra, Gujarat,
Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka, Rajasthan
and Andhra Pradesh supports cereals, cotton, citrus fruits, pulses, oil seeds and vegetables.
The red soil of South India and Madhya Pradesh, West-Bengal and Bihar supports rice, millets, tobacco
and vegetables. The laterite soil (12.6 mha) and desert
soil (37 mha) are not found suitable for agriculture.

Water is a resource precious and scarce in
India. The variability of precipitation spatially and in
quantity can be inferred by the fact that rainfall has
been recorded as low as 100 mm in West Rajasthan
and 9000mm in Meghalaya in North Eastern India.
India receives 4000 cubic kilometre of precipitation in
Gist of


the country in its 35 meteorological sub-divisions. Of
this amount, only 50% is put to benefit due to topographical and other constraints. The fact that
water is crucial to agriculture in a country that has
68% of its net cultivated area as rain-fed, can hardly
be exaggerated. Of the total cultivated area of 142
mha, 97 mha is rainfed. The full irrigation potential of
the country has been revised to 139.5 mha out of
which 58.5 mha is watered by major and minor
irrigation schemes, 15 mha by minor irrigation schemes and 40 mha by groundwater exploitation.
India’s irrigation potential increased from 22.6 mha
(1951) to 90 mha (1995-96) but water usage efficiency
is a meagre 30-40%. That is why more than 50% of the
total cultivated area is still rainfed. The state of soil
and water that mainly determine land and its utility in
agriculture is of prime importance to maintain sustainable development. We need to define and
examine land use pattern with an emphasis on a viable land use policy taking the above factors into

Land degradation indicates temporary or
permanent long-term decline in ecosystem function
and productive capacity. It may refer to the destruction or deterioration in health of terrestrial
ecosystems, thus affecting the associated
biodiversity, natural ecological processes and ecosystem resilience. It also considers the reduction
or loss of biological/economic productivity and complexity of croplands, pasture, woodland, forest,


Land degradation is increasing in severity and
extent in many parts of the world, with more than
20% of all cultivated areas, 30% of forests and 10%
of grasslands undergoing degradation (Bai et al.,
2008). Millions of hectares of land per year
are being degraded in all climatic regions. It is
estimated that 2.6 billion people are affected by land
degradation and desertification in more than a hundred
countries, influencing over 33% of the
earth’s land surface (Adams and Eswaran, 2000).
This is a global development and environmental issue
highlighted at the United Nations Convention to Combat
Desertification, the Convention on Biodiversity, the
Kyoto protocol on global climate change and the
millennium development goal (UNCED, 1992; UNEP,

The decline in land quality caused by human
activities has been a major global issue since the 20th
century and will remain high on the international
agenda in the 21st century (Eswaran et al., 2001). The
immediate causes of land degradation are
inappropriate land use that leads to degradation of
soil, water and vegetative cover and loss of both soil
and vegetative biological diversity, affecting
ecosystem structure and functions (Snel and Bot,
2003). Degraded lands are more susceptible to the
adverse effects of climatic change such as increased
temperature and more severe droughts.

Land degradation encompasses the whole
environment but includes individual factors
concerning soils, water resources (surface, ground),
forests (woodlands), grasslands (rangelands),
croplands (rain fed, irrigated) and biodiversity
(animals, vegetative cover, soil) (FAO, 2005). On the
other hand the NRC (1994) stressed that land
degradation is complex and involves the interaction of
changes in the physical, chemical and biological
properties of the soil and vegetation. The complexity
of land degradation means its definition differs from
area to area, depending on the subject to be


Poverty is one of the main problems which have
attracted attention of sociologists and economists. It
indicates a condition in which a person fails to
maintain a living standard adequate for his physical
and mental efficienty.

According to 2010 data from the United
Nations Development Programme, an estimated
37.2% of Indians live below the country’s national
poverty line. A recent report by the Oxford Poverty
and Human Development Initiative (OPHI) states that
8 Indian states have more poor than 26 poorest
African nations combined which totals to more than 410
million poor in the poorest African countries.

According to a new UN Millennium
Development Goals Report, as many as 320 million
people in India and China are expected to come out of
extreme poverty in the next four years, while India’s
poverty rate is projected to drop to 22% in 2015. The
report also indicates that in Southern Asia, however,
only India, where the poverty rate is projected to fall
from 51% in 1990 to about 22% in 2015, is on track to
cut poverty half by the 2015 target date. The
latest UNICEF data shows that one in three
malnourished children worldwide are found in India. 42
percent of children under five were underweight. It
also showed that a total of 58 percent of children
under five surveyed were stunted. The 2011
Global Hunger Index (GHI) Report ranked India 45th,
amongst leading countries with hunger situation. It
also places India amongst the three countries where
the GHI between 1996 and
2011 went up from 22.9 to 23.7, while 78 out of the 81
developing countries studied, including Pakistan,
Nepal, Bangladesh, Vietnam, Kenya, Nigeria, Myanmar,
Uganda, Zimabwe and Malawi, succeded in
improving hunger condition.

Classification of Drylands

Dryland ecosystems are mainly categorised into four subtypes according to
aridity index and annual rainfall levels into hyperarid, arid, semi-arid and dry
sub-humid areas..

World Drylands

Dryland ecosystems occupy over 41 per cent of the earth’s
land surface. Desertification affects 70 per cent of the world drylands,
amounting to 3.6 billion ha or one-fourth of worlds land surface (IFAD, 1995). 
Asia possesses the largest land area affected by desertification, 71 per cent of
which is moderately to severely degraded. In Africa two-thirds of which is
desert or drylands. 73 per cent of agricultural drylands are moderately to
severely degraded (IFAD, 1995). Africa is under greatest desertification threat,
with a rate of disappearance of forest cover of 3.5 to 5 million ha per year
bearing down on both surface and ground water resources and with half the
contents farmland suffering from soil degradation and erosion.

Causes of Dryland Formation

Limited rainfall, poor soil quality, fragile environments are
the main factor behind dryland formation. There is always water scarcity in
drylands. The dryness of drylands is due to negative balance between mean annual
precipitation and potential evapotranspiration rates. Besides, limited rainfall,
the soils are of poor quality, low in organic matter, hence less fertile. Harsh
climates are another important issue which limits crop diversification in

What makes the drylands a difficult environment is not only less rainfall,
but also its erratic distribution. Inter-annual rainfall can vary from 20-100
per cent and periodic draughts are common (Zurayk and Haider, 2002).

Problems of Drylands

Water scarcity due to limited rainfall, low soil fertility,
mostly deep sandy soil with poor water holding capacity, shallow and rocky soils
with low organic matter content. Fragile environments with unpredictable floods
and droughts are other factors limiting drylands to become productive
ecosystems. Lack of technologies limitation of resources and biotic pressures
contribute further in conversion of drylands into deserts.

Strategy to Develop Degraded Land

India has world’s 2% of geographical area and 1.5% of forest
and pasture lands to support 18% of world’s population and 15% of livestock
population. The increasing human and animal population has been instrumental in
the reduction in the availability of land over the decades. While the per capita
availability of land has declined from 0.89 hectare in 1951 to 0.37 hectare in
1991 and is projected to decline to 0.20 hectare in 2035, per capita
agricultural land has declined from 0.48 hectare to 0.16 hectare and likely to
decline to 0.08 hectare in respective years.

Extent of Land Degradation

Agencies that have so far estimated land degradation include
National Commission on Agriculture [1976], Society for Promotion of Wasteland
Developments [1984], National Remote Sensing Agencies [1985], Ministry of
Agriculture [1985], National Bureau of Soil Survey and Land Use Planning [1985
&2005]. The estimates on the extent of land degradation in India vary widely
from 63.9 million hectares to 187.0 million hectares due to different
approaches, methodologies, defining degraded soils, adopting various criteria
for delineation, among others. However, one cannot underestimate the challenging
nature and extent of land degradation in India. The National Bureau of Soil
Survey &Land Use Planning [NBSS&LUP] of the ICAR, Nagpur in 2005 has reported
that out of 328.60 million hectares of geographical area in India Net Cultivated
Area is about 141 million hectares [42.9%] of which irrigated area is about 57
million hectares [40.4%] and about 84 million hectares [59.6%] are rainfed. Area
of around 146.82 million hectares [44.7%] out of 328.60 million hectares
issuffering from various kinds of land degradation. In absence of comprehensive
and periodic scientific surveys, the figures reported by NBSS&LUP based on
studies and several estimates [2005] for various land degradation have been
considered as logically concluded and are being used for various purposes.

Land degradation is caused by several factors viz. water and
wind erosion, water logging, salinity/alkalinity, soil acidity, among others.
India has been experiencing a very high degree of land degradation as 44.7% of
its geographical area is classified as degraded. Of this 93.68 million hectares
[63.8%] are affected by water erosion, 16.03 million hectares [10.9%] by soil
acidity, 14.30 million hectares [9.7%] by water logging, 9.48 million hectares
[6.5%] by wind erosion, 5.94 million hectares [4.1%] by salinity/alkalinity and
7.38 million hectares [5.0%] by complex problems.

Across regions, all six regions had very high percentage of
geographical area as degraded ranging from as high as 56.3% for Central region
to 35.4% for Northern region and even 29.5% for Delhi and Union Territories.
Among States, 11 States had extremely high percentage of geographical area
degraded above mean value of 44.7% ranging from 52.0% to 89.2% and other 15
States too had significantly high percentage of geographical area degraded
varying from 25.4% to 43.9%. In particular Mizoram [89.2%] Himachal [75.0%] Nagaland [60.0%] Madhya Pradesh and Chhatisgarh combined [59.1%] were States
with very severe intensity of degradation.

Policy and Programs

Acknowledging the acute problem of land degradation, the
Government, in its efforts to sustain ecological environment, agricultural
productivity and production, has initiated from time to time several policies
and programs to prevent land degradation on one hand and take remedial measures
to improve the quality of degraded land on the other.

Land Acqusition in India Need for a Paradigm Shift

Land is the base for economic development and poverty
alleviation of a country. In recent years, land acquisition for private sector
projects and Public-Private Partnership (PPP) projects like Singur, Nandigram,
Yamuna Expressway, POSCO, etc created a lot of noise. Few lakhs crores rupees of
investment is hanging in balance in the country from both domestic and Foreign
Direct Investment (FDI) sources because of failure of government to provide land
for the projects and also failure of the land-market to provide sufficient land
for development. Is land acquisition process in India seriously flawed? Is The
Right to Fair Compensation Resettlement Rehabilitation and Transparency in Land
Acquisition Bill 2012 (RFCRRTLA Bill 2012) solution to this problem? Are land
institutions of India not market friendly in the post 1991 economic reform era?
These questions, which provide the basis for this paper, are examined through
field observation and field experience of the authors.

Doctrine of Eminent Domain

The power of the sovereign state to acquire or expropriate
private property for public use/purpose is driven from doctrine of Eminent
Domain. The origin of the term “Eminent Domain” can be traced to the legal
treatise written by the Dutch Jurist Hugo Grotius in 1625 and described as

“The property of subjects is under the eminent domain of the
state, so that the state or he who acts for it may use and even alienate and
destroy such property, not only in the case of extreme necessity, in which even
private persons have a right over the property of others but for ends of public
utility, to which ends those who founded civil society must be supposed to have
intended that private end should give way. But it is to be added that when this
done the state in bound to make good the loss to those who lose their property”.

Almost all sovereign states in the world have law for land
acquisition or expropriation. Pakistan and Bangladesh are using the same Land
Acquisition Act 1894 (LA Act 1894). Even through all sovereign state are
acquiring or expropriating private properties, why land acquisition becomes a
hindrance for economic development in India? The fundamental conceptual
difference is defining the purpose of land acquisition: public use Vs public
purpose. Most of the western countries acquire land for public use like roads,
public safety, health, etc and not for the project in which private profit
motive is involved even though project has public purpose. On the other hand in
UK common law system, land is acquired for public purpose, which is followed
throughout all Commonwealth Nations including India.

In Indian Jurisprudence also, when LA Act 1894 was enacted
public purpose included in the definition was roads, canals and social purpose
of state-run schools and hospitals. By an amendment in 1933, railway companies
were included in public purpose. But the amendments introduced in 1984 in the LA
Act 1894 by amending section of the original act to insert the words “or for a
Company” after “any public purpose”. This opened the floodgates to acquisition
of land by the state for private and public sector companies and again this is
embellished in the proposed bill. If we put ban on land acquisition for private
projects and PPP project with present land system in India, we strongly believe,
the economic development of India will be seriously affected because of inherent
problem in our land institutions.

Land System of India

The problem of land acquisition in India can be better
appreciated by understanding the land system of India. -Modern day land system
of India has its base from the land revenue system introduced by Akbar’s
revenues minister Todar Mal. The salient features of Todar Mal’s systems were
measurement of land, classification of land and fixation of rates (Appu 1996).
After the decline of Mughal dynasty, East India Company and the British Raj were
established extractive land institutions on the Todar Mal principle called
Zamindhari system, Mahalwari system and Raiyatwari system to extract maximum
land revenue from peasants, which was the major source of revenue. In the
Zamindari area, British had not hold elaborate administrative arrangement and
lowest functionary level was sub-divisional level and no proper land records
maintained either by British administration or by Zamindars. Only land record
maintained was land record created- after each survey and settlement operation
and again by revisional settlement. Because of this reason, elsewhere Zamindari
area does not have proper land records and weak administration. In Mahalwari
areas, the land revenues were fixed for each or group of villages in which one
family or person who was responsible to collect and pay land revenue.

The Raiyatwari system covered the erstwhile Madras (except
North Madras) and Bombay Presidencies and part of the central provinces and
Barer. The Raiyatwari System was based on the assessment of land revenue on
sight fields or holdings, surveyed, numbered and marked out on the ground (Appu
1996). Because of elaborate arrangement for revenue collection and
administrative step created during British Raj, these areas of India is having
better land records than rest of India even today. Another wisdom of British was
creation of primitive land institutions in excluded and partially excluded areas
to separate tribal and others deprived people of these areas with plain and
Hindu population by perpetuating divide and rule policy. This primitive land
institutions created by British was responsible for creation of Scheduled V and
VI areas and poverty and deprivation of these regions.

During the first four five year plan periods, India
introduced radical land reform on socialism land reform model to increase
agricultural production and to provide social justice without any role for
market forces. During this land reform period, there was no respect for private
property rights and no land institutions was created for allocation land
resources for industrialisation and urbanisation through market forces. Till
date, land system of India is suited for subsistence agriculture using manual
labour and does not have major provision for industrialisation, urbanisation and
mining activities. By introducing Zaminidari abolition law and ceiling law on
agriculture land and also on urban land into the India’s land system, Indian
land holding become too small and restriction on transfer and lease, which
further reduced the size of holding. In the name of distribution of government
land and redistribution of surplus land, we distributed waste land, barren land
and dry land for agriculture which could have been kept as construction land.
This led to non-availability of large plots of land in thousands of acres for
industrialisation and urbanisation.

Wastedland Development Initiatives a Review

The burgeoning population growth of India coupled with rapid
urban development has led to an increasing demand on the country’s land
resources. An indication of this burden on the natural resources is a simple
comparison between India’s share in total world land area and in the total world
population. While the former is a meagre 2 per cent of the world geographical
area, the latter constitutes 16 per cent of world’s population. Land resources
provide livelihood to two-thirds of India’s population. The increasing pressure
on land, relentless exploitation of this valuable resource for agricultural and
allied, housing, industrial and manufacturing activities has made the productive
farm lands less productive, leading to its constant degradation.

The total geographical area of the country is around 329 million hectares out
of which only 264 million hectares (80 percent) are fit for vegetation.

While 142 million hectares are covered under all types of
crops, 67 million hectares of land are under forest cover and 68.35 million
hectare area of land is lying as wastelands in India. The Government of India (Gol)
defines wastelands as the degraded land which is currently under-utilised and
can be brought under vegetative cover, with reasonable effort by resorting to
effective and appropriate water and soil management.  It is estimated that
approximately half of the wastelands in India which are not covered under
forests of any kind can be made productive if treated properly. It is the
unprotected and unpreserved non-forestlands, which are subjected to constant
degradation. The tremendously increasing biotic pressure on the land resources,
in the last six decades, have promoted deforestation and done irreversible
damage to the soil and environment. Land degradation is not only impacting the
livelihoods of the land-dependent communities but also disrupting the ecosystem
as a whole. Keeping this in view the government created the Department of
Wasteland Development (presently renamed as Department of Land Resources) in
July 1992 under the Ministry of Rural Development to restore ecological
imbalance through development of degraded non-forest wastelands.

Status of Wasteland in India

The status of wastelands in India between 1986-2000 and 2003
is highlighted. During 1986-2000, 6.38 lakh square KMs of land was categorised
as total wasteland. This fell by 2.71 per cent by 2003. As can be seen from the
Table, there were 5.52 lakh square KMs of land which required treatment to
become productive. While wastelands under the category of sands (either in the
coastal region or inland), shifting cultivation, degraded notified forestland
witnessed a sharp fall, the wastelands in the category of mining and industrial
and steep sloping areas increased.

Government Intervention

In 1985, the government created the National Wasteland
Development Board (NWDB) under the Ministry of Forests and Environment with a
view to tackle the problem of degradation of lands, restoration of ecology and
to meet the growing demands of fuel wood and fodder at the national level. In
1992, the NWDB was reconstituted and placed under the Ministry of Rural
Development, where emphasis was laid on treating wastelands in non-forest areas
with active involvement of the community. The programmes designed and
implemented by this Board aimed at improving productivity of waste and degraded

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