1st Five Year Plan
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Introduction || APPENDIX (CH-4) || APPENDIX (CH-9) || ANNEXURE (CH-12) || APPENDIX (CH-14) || APPENDIX (CH-24) || APPENDIX (CH-29) || Conclusion
1 || 2 || 3 || 4 || 5 || 6 || 7 || 8 || 9 || 10 || 11 || 12 || 13 || 14 || 15 || 16 || 17 || 18 || 19 || 20 || 21 || 22 || 23 || 24 || 25 || 26 || 27 || 28 || 29 || 30 || 31 || 32 || 33 || 34 || 35 || 36 || 37 || 38 || 39

Chapter 22:
Soil Conservation

Soil conservation in its widest sense includes not only control over erosion but all those measures like correction of soil defects, application of manures and fertilizers, proper crop rotations, irrigation, drainage etc. which aim at maintaining the productivity of the soil at a high level. In this sense, soil conservation is closely allied to improvement of land use in general. In this chapter, however, we are concerned only with the measures for control over soil erosion, which is one of the most serious problems facing the country. Large areas in all parts of the country have been rendered useless as a result of soil erosion and areas which suffer from moderate or slight erosion and whose productivity is reduced as a result of soil losses are very much larger still. Sheet erosion, which consists in the washing away of the fertile top layers of the soil, is the most extensive form of erosion, occurring even on moderately sloping lands. It causes enormous losses to agriculture every year by reducing the productive capacity of lands. Gully erosion, which generally starts after sheet erosion has remained unchecked for some time, has already rendered large areas useless, and is steadily increasing. In the dry western part of the country, erosion as a result of wind action and covering of croplands by desert sands along the margins of the Rajasthan Desert constitute serious problems.

2. The most important cause of erosion is destruction of forests and other vegetation from sloping lands, desert margins and other areas susceptible to erosion. Vegetation acts as a protective cover against the forces of wind and water, protecting the soil from being washed or blown away and preserving the physical and-hydrographic balance of nature. Forests-for instance, provide the most effective protection against erosion on hill slopes. They break the force of run-off by impeding the flow of rainwater down the slopes and .by absorbing large quantities of it in their dense mat of undergrowth. This absorbed water flows away slowly over a period of time; a large part goes into the soil, flows under-grounds, feeds springs and streams and is available for utilisation in the foothills and plains. In this way, the hill slopes are protected from erosion, the flow of streams is regulated, the danger of floods is reduced and sufficient quantities of water are available in dry periods. But, when the protective cover of forests is destroyed, this natural balance is disturbed. Rainwater flows down the slopes unimpeded at great speed and carries with it large quantities of soil and other loose material. The hill-slopes are denud ed of valuable soil and lands'in the foot-•hill zone where this unassorted mass of sands and gravels is deposited are in turn rendered unproductive. Most of the water flows away during the rainy periods with the result that on the one hand floods are more frequent and more severe and, on the other, little water is available during the dry periods. Ground-water, supplies are also reduced as much less water is absorbed in the soil than before.

Destruction of trees and natural grasses in dry areas has similar harmful effects. Trees act as wind-breaks, reducing the force of the wind, and the grasses bind the sandy soils. But, when such protective vegetation is destroyed, the sandy soils, exposed to the full force of the wind, begin to be blown away. Large areas in the marginal zones of deserts are thus rendered unproductive by the deposition of sand. It is believed that many deserts of the world (including the Thar Desert of India) have increased in area in historical times by this process.

3. The causes of destruction of forests and soil erosion, and the nature and severity of the erosion problem vary greatly in different parts of the country. In some areas as in the forests of Assam, Bihar, Orissa and Madhya Pradesh, shifting cultivation, which is practised by the tribal people living in these areas, is a major cause of destruction of forests. Unregulated grazing is the cause of destruction of forests and consequent soil erosion over large areas in all pares of the country. In the north-western Himalayas, for instance, grazing by cattle, sheep and goats is the most important cause of depletion of the vegetation cover and soil erosion. Similarly, over large parts of peninsular India, the destruction of forests and soil erosion are due mainly to over-grazing. Intensive felling to obtain supplies of fuel or timber, and clearance of forests for extension of cultivation Under the pressure of demand for agricultural land from the increasing population are other important causes of deforestation and soil erosion.

Besides the damage caused as a result of the destruction of forests, considerable erosion results from faulty land use practices on farmlands themselves. Failure to practise such measures as ploughing along the contours on sloping lands, proper crop rotations and in particular growing of cover crops are causes of erosion over large areas. Much damage originates also in fallows, grazing lands or uncultivated waste lands which are generally neglected.

4. Measures for controlling erosion and restoring the productivity of eroded lands can be divided into four classes:

  1. Regulation of land use.—This includes all measures for securing such alterations in the existing patterns of land use as are necessary to ensure that the different types of lands are used according to their land use capability i.e. the use for which, in view of their physical characteristics, they are best fitted. Retiring cultivated lands in highly erodable areas from cultivation and bringing them under forests or grazing ; restrictions on or closure of grazing in badly eroded forests or grazing lands, and settlement of shifting cultivators to permanent cultivation are some examples of the types of alterations which are needed.
  2. Afforestation and preservation of forests by scientific forest management.
  3. Improvement of land use practices on farm lands. This includes such measures as ploughing along the contours and strip-cropping on sloping lands; proper crop rotations ; application of adequate manures and fertilizers ; care of fallows and other uncultivated lands.
  4. Engineering measures.—Under this are included construction of bunds and terraces, check dams, channels for drainage of surplus water, gully plugging, etc.

A comprehensive programme of soil conservation for an area would include all four types of measures, although the relative importance of the different measures would vary greatly in different areas depending upon the particular conditions of the area.

5. As a large part of the sail conservation work has to be done by the farmers, proper understanding on their part of the nature of the erosion problem, and their active participation in soil conservation programmes are essential for the success of these programmes. Improvements in farming practices depend entirely upon the farmers. Government's function is mainly one of convincing them of the need for such improvements and demonstrating the correct methods of adopting them. Financial assistance, in the shape of supplies at reduced rates or in other forms may also be given. Engineering measures have to be taken mostly on the farmers' fields. These may be taken by the farmers, individually or in cooperation, with technical or financial assistance from the Government; or the work may be done by Government and the cost (or a part thereof) recovered from the farmers. Finally, restrictions on usage in forests can be really effective only if ths farmers, graziers and other users of forests understand the importance of these and feel that they are essential in their own long-term interest, besides being vital for the welfare of large populations in the plains. Education for soil conservation, publicity and demonstration aimed at creating among the general public and especially among the farmers an awareness of the erosion problem, its causes and effects, and what they can do to control it must form a very important part of soil conservation programmes. Formation of associations of farmers for soil conservation work has also been proposed in order to provide a suitable medium through which soil conservation measures can be taken on a cooperative basis at the village level.

6. Steps for the control of erosion and conservation of soil have been taken for a number of years in certain States like the Punjab (afforestation in the Sivalik Hills) and Bombay (bunding and terracing work in the Deccan). More recently, soil conservation work has been taken up in several other States also. But there has been no country-wide effort in this direction so far, and even in States where the work has been going on, this has been on a very limited scale. The programme for soil conservation in the Plan, though small in comparison with the magnitude of the problem, marks the beginning of a. country-wide effort to tackle it. There are many limitations to undertaking a larger programme at this stage. Very little work has been done on soil conservation so far ; data on such basic items as soil characteristics and type and severity of erosion in different parts of the country is lacking, and technical personnel with the necessary training and experience is limited and has to be drawn from many different fields. These limitations will be largely overcome during the period of the Plan. The necessary administrative machinery will be set up at the Central and State levels; survey and research organisations will be established and essential data collected ; suitable legislation enacted, and a much greater consciousness of the erosion problem will be created. As a result, it will be possible to take up a more adequate programme in subsequent years.

7. Programmes for soil conservation and improvement of land use during the period of the Plan should be worked out for each State by its Land Utilization and Soil Conservation Board, the formation of which we are recommending {vide para. 19). These programmes should be based on an assessment of the erosion problem in the State. Such an assessment can best be made by a rapid survey of the reconnaissance type by.which the major erosion affected areas are demarcated and the types and degree of erosion in each area broadly indicated. One or more areas of suitable size should be selected for work during the period of the Plan. Preference should be given in making this selection to areas which are representative of much larger region? suffering from erosion so that the experience gained in these would be applicable to the largei areas. In States where soil conservation work is already going on, the possibility of extending the scope of this work should be carefully examined. The State Plais would be reviewed and approved by the Central Land Utilization and Soil Conservation Organisation. Assistance from the experts of the Central Organisation may be obtained by States which may need them in drawing up these programmes or subsequently in their execution. A sum of Rs. 2 Crores has been provided by the Central Government for soil conservation work during the period of of the Plan*. Out of this, allocations will be made to finance approved soil conservation programmes of States.

Soil Conservation Associations

8. As much of the soil conservation work has to be done by the farmers themselves, constitution of co-operative associations of farmers for soil conservation work would be most useful. Such associations should be constituted by law after a specified proportion of the farmers in an area decide upon their establishment. All the farmers in the area covered by such associations would then be required to make such improvements in their farming practices, and on their fields as may be specified by the association. The establishment of such associations is especially necessary in such areas as the catchments of small streams and nullahs, in case of which soil conservation programmes can be successful only with the cooperation of all the farmers in the area. These associations should be given preference in the matter of technical guidance and financial help for approved soil conservation programmes. In the United States, considerable success has been achieved by organisation offarn-i2rs into Soil Conservation Districts for carrying out soil conservation programmes. This experience should be drawn upon for the constitution of these associations. The Central Land Utilization and Soil Conservation Organisation should prepare a model law for the constitution of such associations which can be adopted by the States with suitable modifications to suit their particular needs. Encouraging the formation of such associations should be one of the main functions of the State Land Utilization and Soil Conservation Boards.


9. Suitable legislation for soil conservation should be undertaken by the States. In the main legislation should provide for:

  1. Powers to execute specified improvements on the farmers' fields and allocation of the costs of these improvements between farmers and the State.
  2. Constitution of co-operative associations of farmers for soil conservation work.This sum is in addition to the expenditure on soil conservation and land improvement measures provided for in the Plans of several States.
  3. Powers to restrict usage practices in certain areas, which may be declared "protection areas" i.e., areas in which restriction of such practfces is necessary for protection of much larger areas from erosion, floods, silting and desiccation.

Research And Demonstration

10. The Plan provides for the establishment of a Soil Conservation Branch at the Forest Research Institute, Dehra Dun, at which research on various problems connected with soil conservation will be undertaken. In addition, six research and demonstration centres will be established in different parts of the country*. Each of these centres will'be located in an area of wide spread erosion, and one which has been chosen for a soil conservation programme during the period of the Plan. Each centre will serve as a Pilot station (or laboratory) for the programmes in its respective area and the site for the centre will be selected with this end in view. Data on soils, land-use, rainfall, run-off, soil-wash under different conditions, and effectiveness of various types of vegetation cover in arresting soil erosion will be collected at these centres. They will also serve a? centres for demonstration of improved land-ui>e and soil conservation practices to cultivators in their respective areas.

Soil And Land Utilisation Survey

11. For the execution of a long term programme of soil conservation as also for the wider objects of improving land use and increasing crop yields, a soil and land utilisation survey of the country is most essential. Lack of such a survey is one of the major handicaps in the improvement of agriculture. Data on soils and utilisation has been collected by Irrigation Departments of various States, by agricultural experiment stations, universities and other institutions. But such data is confined to limited areas scattered in different parts of the country, and as different agencies have employed different techniques of classification and survey, the data is not corn' parable. An all India survey of soils and land utilisation should be instituted. Through this survey, data on soil characteristics and the present position regarding land use in different parts of the country should be collected and lands classified according-to their land use capability (i.e., the use for which the lands are best filled). The survey should be carried out by a central agency so that, there is uniformity in tt\e system of classification and in surveying and mapping techniques and scientific nomenclature, so that results from different areas are comparable. Programmes of soil survey and testing of soils which are being carried out at present by the Indian Agricultural Research Institute and by other agencies should be co-ordinated with the work of the survey.

Soil Conservation In Community Development Projects

12. Improvements in land-use and agricultural practices form the major part of the work in the community projects areas. While the main emphasis in these projects has necessarily to be on increasing agricultural production, adequate steps should also be taken for the control of erosion and conservation of soil and water, wherever these are necessary. In case of projects located in the plains, erosion rriay not be a problem except in limited areas and soil conservation measures may be necessary only for these. But in projects located in hilly regions, soil conservation measures'should form an important part of the development programme. Large areas suffer from erosion in hilly regions and no permanent improvement is possible if the fertile soil of such large areas is continuously washed away by erosion. Similarly in the case of projects located in the desert and semi-desert areas (as in Rajasthan) afforestation and creation of vegetation belts composed of trees and soil binding grasses must form an important part of the programme. Instructions in soil conservation measures should be given to village level workers and to the other project staff, especially those who have to work in hilly or dry areas. Certain States may also find it suitable to select one or more of the community project areas for their soil conservation programmes during the peiod of the Plan.

Soil Conservation In River Valley Project Aeas

13. A programme of soil conservation should be taken up in the catchment area of every river valley project. Adequate steps for soil conservation in catchment areas are as essential to the proper development of water resources as construction of dams and reservoirs on the rivers. If these measures are not taken and erosion goes on unchecked, the catchment areas will be reduced in their productivity. The high ilt loads resulting from erosion will increase cost of operation, impair efficiency, and reduce the life of dams and reservoirs. The danger of damage to dams and othei structures by sudden and violent floods will also be greatly mcreased. Measures for control of erosion and improvement of land-use should, therefore, form an integral part of work in every river valley project. In the case of certain catchments like that of the Kosi in which the rate of silting is known to be very high, adequate soil conservation measures are a prerequisite to the undertaking of the project itself.

14. Surveys of soil erosion and land-use capability should be undertaken in the catchment areas and etailed plans for soil conservation should be drawn up on the basis of these surveys. Critical areas should be demarcated and a programme of preservation of forests and other natural vegetation by regualtion of grazing and felling, protection from fires, control over cultivation especially shifting cultivation, should be undertaken. Afforestation and other erosion control measures like gully plugging, construction of bunds and terraces should be taken up in suitable areas. Cultivators should be taught conservation practices and should be given technical and financial assistance for adopting them. The cultivators of each sub-catchment should be encouraged to form themselves into soil conservation associations and formulate a conservation programme with the sub-catchment as the unit. Approved conservation programmes of such associations should receive preference in respect of technical and financial assistance from the Government.

15. The adoption of conservation measures will generally involve curtailment of the customary rights of certain classes of persons like graziers and shifting cultivators. Such restrictions are, however, absolutely necessary in the interest of the entire population of the river valleys and should be strictly enforced. 'Suitable arrangements should, however, be made for resettling and providing alternative means of employment for the populations whose privileges or right and lmay have been restricted.

16. Most of the large rivers of the country pass through the territories of two or mor Sutes. In many cases, soil conservation measures are necessary in one State in which the catchment area of the river is-located while areas receiving irrigation or flood control benefits are located in other States. Soil conservation measures in such cases can be effective only with ths cooperative effort of all the States concerned, and if suitable arrangements arc made for financial contribution towards the cost of these measures by .States which would receive benefits from the projects. One of the principal functions of the Central Organisation which we are proposing would be to secure agreement among the various States concerned, and to see that a co-ordinated programme of soil conservation is adopted for .every river valley-project.

The Problem Of The Rajasthan Desert

17. Desert and semi-desert conditions prevail over a large area in western India—in Rajasthan and the adjoining areas of Punjnb, Pepsu, U. P., Saurashtra and Kurch. The Planning Commission in its Draft Outline Report drew attention to the reported advance of the desert and encroachment of sand on fertile lands. The Government of India recently appointed an ad hoc Committee of experts to investigate this problem. The Committee has recommended a comprehensive programme of action which includes creation of a vegetation belt—five miles wide—along with the western border of Rajasthan , afforestation measures so as to increase the proportion of forest area in Rajasthan , improvement of land-use practices, especially the creation of shelter belts of trees by cultivators, and establishment of a research station to investigate the problems of the desert. The report of the Committee has been considered by the Central Government. As a first step, a Desert Research Station is being set up at Jodhpur and a pilot scheme for the creation of vegetation belts and the improvement cf land use is being taken up. Research on soils, land-use and silvicultural practices would be undertaken at this station. The scope of research is proposed to be extended later to include detailed hydrological, meteorological, geological and geophysical, investigations. The station would serve also as a centre for the demonstration of improved land-use techniques and the distribution of seeds and other supplies.

18. As a number of States are affected by the advance of the desert, and as successful tackling of the problem would depend in large measure upon co-ordinated action by the various States concerned, the need for inter-State cooperation in this sphere cannot be over-emphasized. We recommend that a co-ordinated programme of action, indicating clearly measures to be taken in each State should be jointly worked out by the various States concerned, in consultation with representatives of the Central Organisation,


19. For carrying out the programmes outlined above and generally for formulation and implementation of suitable policies in the fields of land utilisation and soU conservation, we recommend the constitution of (a) a Central Land Utilisation and Soil Conservation Organisation at the Centre, and ( and ) a Land Utilisation and Soil Conservation Board in every State.

20. The Central Land Utilisation and Soil Conservation Organisation will have two parts :

(a) A Board in the Ministry of Agriculture which may consist of the following :—

  • The Board should have a full time Member-Secretary who should be a senior officer with experience
    of agriculture or forestry work.

(b) A council composed of representatives from the various States. This Council should meet once
or twice each year to frame general policies.

The Board should have an adequate technical staff for carrying out the various functions of the organisation which would be as follows :—

  1. Assessment of the soil erosion problem in the country on the basis of the reconnaissance survey which would be conducted.
  2. Framing a common policy for the control of erosion and for soil conservation in the country. The Board will scrutinize and review the States' plans for improvement of land-use and soil conservation. Officers of the Board may be loaned to State governments which do not have the necessary staff of their own for assessment of the erosion problem, preparation of soil conservation plans, and, if necessary, also for their execution.
  3. Helping the States Governments in drafting suitable legislation for soil conservation purposes.
  4. Bringing together State Governments with a view to evolving agreed programmes of action on problems like soil conservation in river valley projects areas and checking the advance of the Rajasthan Desert where inter-state cooperation is necessary.
  5. Research and demonstration—The soil Conservation Research Branch at the Forest Research Institute, Dehra Dun and the Desert Research Station at Jodhpur will be under the charge of the Organisation. The other soil conservation and demonstration centres will be managed jointly by the Central Organisation and the Board of the State in which they are located. The organisation may aid suitable research programmes at other institutions in India. It should also evaluate and publicise research on soil conservation, and secure adoption of results of such research in soil conservation programmes.
  6. Survey—The proposed Soil and Land Utilisation Survey will form part of the Organisation.
  7. Publicity and Training—The Organisation will have suitable programmes for publicity and for the training of personnel for soil conservation work.5

'21. A State Land Utilisation and Soil Conservation Board should be created in the Department of Agriculture or Forestry of every State, The composition of the Board may be as follows :—

The Board should have a full time Member-Secretary who should be a senior officer with experience of agriculture or forest management work,Other msmbsrs may be appainted as nscessary.

The Board should have adequate technical staff as well as field staff for the execution of its various programmes. The Member-Secretary of the Board will be the Director of such programmes and should be given a suitable status.

The functions of the Board will be :

  1. Assessment of the soil erosion problem in the State. For this purpose a reconnaissance soil erosion survey should be carried out.
  2. Preparation of plans for control of erosion and soil conservation in the State.
  3. Drawing up suitable legislation for the execution of improvement of land use and soil conservation programmes.
  4. Execution of plans, e.g., construction of bunds, terraces and other works ; demonstration of soil conservation practices ; aid to cultivators for execution of approved soil conservation programmes, and promoting formation of soil conservation asspciations. Those of the measures which lie in the sphere of action of other Departments should be undertaken through the regular agencies of the Department concerned. Thus the necessary restrictions on grazing, felling etc. should be enforced by the Forest Department. The presence of representatives of the various Departments concerned on the Board will ensure the co-operation of these Department.
  5. Framing suitable programmes for demonstration and research, publicity and training of personnel.
  6. Supervision and control of Soil Conservation Associations.
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