The Government of India wants to converge various land and water schemes to mainstream land degradation issues in national programmes. With “enough” budget in its kitty, the government is working on transformative projects and is setting targets for land degradation neutrality, said Anuradha Singh, Director, Desertification Cell in the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change.
She said budgetary allocations made for various programmes, including MGNREGA, are enough to tackle land degradation, but convergence is needed to achieve the goal.
Singh was speaking to the media at The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) Retreat Centre at Gwal Pahari in Gurugram as a part of a media training for the ‘United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD)’. “Nearly 30 per cent of India’s land is degraded and we are committed to addressing this challenge,” she said, adding, “Budgets available for all land- and water-related schemes in Centre and States are enough to solve the problem, but we need to bring convergence to utilise these resources better.” Singh added, “India is committed to the goal of land degradation neutrality. The exercise of voluntary target setting is still on.”
The 14th session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 14) to the UNCCD will be held from September 2-13 in New Delhi where Governments are expected to agree on strategic and effective land use and sustainable land management goals.
The annual economic costs of land degradation and land use change in the country have been estimated at ₹3,17,739 crore, which is 2.54 per cent of India’s GDP in 2014-15 and about 15.9 per cent of the GVA from agriculture, forestry and fishing sectors. Almost 82 per cent of the estimated cost is on account of land degradation and only 18 per cent due to land use change.
The land area that is likely to be degraded in 2030 under two different scenarios is projected at 94.53 mha and 106.15 mha. The area affected by water erosion and area under open forests (as compared with moderately dense and very dense forests) is projected to rise in both scenarios, suggesting that India will need to strengthen reclamation efforts in these sectors.
The TERI report titled ‘Economics of Desertification, Land Degradation and Drought in India’ stated that while loss of productive land for forests, wetlands, rangelands and other ecosystems is a concern, a larger concern is the degradation of existing ecosystems.
“This is a serious concern, particularly given that India aims to be land degradation-neutral in 2030, where any increases in land degradation are balanced by equivalent gains in land reclamation to ensure no additional net loss of land-based natural capital,” the report stated.