"Watershed management is not equitable"

N K Sanghi , director, National Institute of Agriculture Extension and Management in Hyderabad (Andhra Pradesh), has been advocating a modified concept of watershed management that addresses the issue of equity. Sanghi, who spoke to Rakesh Agarwal , has done extensive research in the field of indigenous water and land resource management practices. Major policy issues emerged out of this research, culminating in the new guidelines in watershed management issued by the Government of India in 1994

By Rakesh Agarwal
Published: Tuesday 15 April 1997

On the higher value model of watershed development advocated by him:
Conventional watershed development models demand land and water resource development in an entire area which is classified as the watershed and does not discriminate between the land of the rich and the poor. But the higher value model of watershed development upgrades the concept of traditional watershed in favour of the poor people.

On the implementation of this higher model:
The concept is based on the models used in many parts of Andhra Pradesh. Some of the isolated components of watershed management are being implemented on the basis of this higher value concept. Unlike a conventional watershed development programme where private lands often get a priority, the modified approach first develops common land, as poor people depend more on common land for their requirements.

On the possibility of treating land in an isolated fashion:
It is possible to treat land in an isolated manner. The conventional concept of land treatment has come from the West where cultivable land is only 200-300 years old. But Indian farmers have been practising land management since ages and the assumption that they lack knowledge on land erosion and related concepts, is a fallacy. The same is true about water management. Indian farmers build bunds (dams) across their fields in such a way that water flows from various places to accumulate at one place and, after several such cycles, one non-erosive terrace is formed. Then, even if water goes outside, it does not erode the terrace. Thus, gully courses formed in 10 per cent of the land is not treated as a curse as the soil that concentrates in 90 per cent of the field increases foodgrain production. It allows farmers to raise two crops in places where cultivation of even one crop was uncertain. Even paddy, which is impossible to raise in drought-prone areas, could be cultivated.

On the shortcomings of the traditional concept of watershed management:
It relies completely on the technical aspect. The assumption is that people are facing a lot of problems and that scientists and technocrats just need to implement these solutions to put things right. But even after improving this concept, the results are highly discouraging and people are still facing the same problems. This means that watershed management may not just be a technical problem, but a social one too.

On whether advocacy of equity in watershed management has shown any tangible results:
The biggest achievement is the revised guidelines issued by the Central government in 1994. These guidelines aim to reverse the traditional concept of watershed management and seek people's participation in these programmes. These practices have been adopted by a few people -- not by all -- so our task is to examine why they have not been adopted by the rest and how they can be promoted. Of course, there are technical solutions for watershed management which have not been very effective, so our stress is to adopt and promote the solutions that people suggest. Developmental funds will be used for these solutions.

Another major change is that the developmental funds are not with us; they have been released to the community to whom the watersheds belong. The community operates these funds through a society which they have themselves established.

On how the community is going to share these resources:
That is the major issue to be discussed. The ngo sector is trying its best to reach a conclusion because if the issue is left unresolved, there are chances that poor people will not get their share.

On how it can be formulated:
First, we have to see who has the legal right over forests and other common lands. There are three kinds of alternatives. Where there is forest land, we have to see how many villages touch its boundary. If the forest land falls under the management of say village a , we have to check whether only the village a has the legal right on the said forest land, or whether the villages b , c and d whose boundaries also touch this forest, have this right.

The second point is that the forest land belongs only to the village under which its jurisdiction has been defined as per the revenue map of the village. The third point is the most crucial. There are three kinds of habitations near a forest. Some are within the forest itself, others are located very close to the forests, and the rest are located further away. Now the question is whether legal rights belong to adivasis who live within the forest, or also to people living outside but close to the forest. Also, we have to see whether it is a question of only the legal right or whether there is something known as a social right also.

On the meaning of social rights:
It means that if we have decided about a legal right, then we have to see whether all the people in that village enjoy equal rights on the forest. If not, the poor people should be given a priority. Land holdings are usually fragmented in villages. Some might be situated close to the forest and others far away. So we have to see whether all the people of that village, irrespective of the location of their land holdings, have legal rights on the forest. Then, the rights of the landless too have to be considered.

On whether indigenous management can help:
Definitely. Farmers practice their own concept of social fencing in forest land. This modified concept allows the entry of all animals, including goats, in the forest. The only ban is on the axe that goatherds carry with them.

On the reason for advocating indigenous practices, not traditional ones:
Indigenous practices are dynamic whereas traditional ones may not be. Many traditional practices have disappeared as they were no longer relevant. But there is a kind of informal research and constant modification going on in indigenous practices because of which they are being constantly updated, thus keeping the concept alive.

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