New Delhi, April 25: Here’s a “growth story” that Standard and Poor’s missed: a piece of official statistics shows good old India has grown — literally.
Over 5,000sqkm of wasteland has been converted into “net” usable terrain between 2005 and 2008, according to the Wasteland Atlas of India that was released today.
Even Bengal, pilloried for profligacy and other wasteful pastimes, has done its modest bit to transform wasteland. But the big battles against barren land have been fought in states like Rajasthan, Manipur, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka.
According to the Atlas, 32,000sqkm of wasteland — which refers to land remaining unused or barren because of poor fertility or difficult geographical location — has been converted into usable land.
But the country has lost 27,000sqkm of usable land in this period, says the Atlas, brought out by the department of land resource and the National Remote Sensing Centre (NRSC).
In other words, a “net gain” of over 5,000sqkm, as rural development minister Jairam Ramesh put it.
Arunachal Pradesh and Bihar are among the states that witnessed a high rate of conversion of non-wasteland to wasteland.
Bengal has witnessed a marginal decrease in wasteland — from 1994sqkm to 1929sqkm — in this period.
“Our department had requested the NRSC to map wastelands by taking satellite imagery and suggest what change has occurred. The report suggests that the country has achieved a net gain of 5,000sqkm of usable land between 2005 and 2008,” Ramesh said after releasing the report.
The NRSC had mapped land use in 2005 and repeated the exercise in 2008 to know the changes. It found that Rajasthan, Andhra, Manipur, Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh and Karnataka witnessed a significant decrease in wasteland area.
“The main reasons for the decrease in wasteland are conversion of wasteland into cropland, forest, plantation, water bodies and industries. The changes have been witnessed in 42,886 locations in various states,” NRSC director V.K. Dadhwal said.
The 32,000sqkm of converted wasteland include 13,401sqkm of cropland, followed by 7,675sqkm of forests, 1,885sqkm of plantations, water bodies (over 1,267sqkm) and industrial establishments (137sqkm).
The conversion of wasteland for industrial use has mainly taken place in Karnataka (2,965 hectares), Gujarat (2,390 hectares), Rajasthan (1,638 hectares), Tamil Nadu (1,537 hectares) and Haryana (1,011 hectares).
In Bengal, only 100 hectares of wasteland has been used for setting up industry.
“In West Bengal, Punjab and Kerala, there is very less amount of wasteland available. It is natural that the conversion of wasteland will be less in these states. It should not be construed that these states are laggards or least bothered for upgrading their wasteland,” Ramesh said.
However, states like Arunachal Pradesh and Bihar have witnessed conversion of non-wasteland into wasteland because of various reasons like shifting cultivation and sediments left behind by floods.
“Shifting cultivation is a practice in Arunachal Pradesh. People burn scrubs and trees to make the land fit for agriculture. But after some years, these lands become barren and (turn into) wasteland. There has been increase in wasteland in Bihar because of sediments left by floods in the Kosi,” Dadhwal said.
Arunachal also witnesses seasonal snowfall, which makes many areas unfit for any use, he said.
N.C. Saxena, a member of the Sonia Gandhi-headed National Advisory Council, said the rural job scheme (MGNREGA) should give priority to converting wasteland to usable land.
“I do not know whether MGNREGA is being implemented for converting wasteland. The government does not have any data on this. This scheme can help in a big way for improving barren land,” he said.
The department of land resource is conducting an Integrated Watershed Management Programme to convert wasteland to productive land.
Ramesh said the Planning Commission today agreed to allocate Rs 35,000 crore for this in the 12th Plan, up from Rs 15,349 crore in the 11th Plan.
The minister has asked states to devise ways to upgrade existing wasteland over the next 10 years.