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Wastelands: Types and Status in India

 What is essentially a wasteland?

  • The non technical definition of wasteland from the Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary is  ‘An empty area of land, especially in or near a city, which is not  used to grow crops or built on, or used in any way and/or a place, time or situation containing nothing positive or productive, or completely without a particular quality or activity’.
  • The Technical Task Group Report of the National Wastelands Development Board Defines the Wasteland as a Land Which is Presently Lying Unutilized due to Different Constraints
  • ICAR proposed that Wastelands are Lands which Due to Neglect or Due to Degradation are not Being Utilized to Their Full Potential.  These can result from inherent or imposed disabilities or both, such as location, environment, chemical and physical properties, and even suffer from management conditions
  • According to Integrated Wasteland Development Programme, Wasteland is a degraded land which can be brought under vegetative cover, with reasonable effort, and which is currently under utilised and land which is deteriorating for lack of appropriate water and soil management or on account of natural causes.

Accelerating growth of wastelands/degraded lands created a buzz to the Government.  The growing concern to prevent this extraordinary growth,  Government of India have set up the National Wastelands Development Board in 1985 under the Ministry of Environment & Forests.

Categories of wasteland for Identification

Culturable Wasteland- The land which is has potential for the development of vegetative cover and is not being used due to different constraints of varying degrees, such as erosion, water logging, salinity etc.

Unculturable Wasteland– The land that cannot be developed for vegetative cover, for instance the barren rocky areas and snow covered glacier areas.

Categories of wasteland for Identification (Based on causative agents);

Sheet Erosion Sand Dunes Mine Spoils Land Slides
Rill Erosion Sand Bar Shifting Cultivation Shallow Soils
Gully Erosion Coastal Industrial Wasteland
Ravinous Land Sand
Saline Soil
Marshy Land
Water Logged
Alkali Soil

Wasteland status in India

Estimated Area under the Wastelands provided by different organization


Area (m.ha.)

Ministry of Agriculture and the JNU, Deptt. Of Geography (1986)                                175
National Land Use and Wasteland  Development Council (First Meeting 1986)                                123
Society for Promotion of Wasteland Development  (1982)                                145
Ministry of Rural Development  & NRSA (2000)                                  64
State wise wastelands of India- NRSA (Information as on year 2003)
State Wasteland (Area: In square km)
Andhra Pradesh 45267.15
Arunachal Pradesh 18175.95
Assam 14034.08
Bihar 5443.68
Chhattisgarh 7584.15
Goa 531.29
Gujarat 20377.74
Haryana 3266.45
Himachal Pradesh 28336.80
J & K 70201.99
Jharkhand 11165.26
Karnataka 13536.58
Kerala 1788.80
Madhya Pradesh 57134.03
Maharashtra 49275.41
Manipur 13174.74
Meghalaya 3411.41
Mizoram 4469.88
Nagaland 3709.40
Orissa 18952.74
Punjab 1172.84
Rajasthan 101453.86
Sikkim 3808.21
Tripura 1322.97
Tamil Nadu 17303.29
Uttarakhand 16097.46
Uttar Pradesh 16984.16
West Bengal 4397.56
Union Territory 314.38
Total 552692.26

The trick to solve any problem is to first have a reliable data set; the problem of wastelands can be addressed only if there is concrete baseline data that can be used for analysis. The data collected can be Climatic (rainfall, temperature, wind velocity,); Topography (angle of slope, length of slope); Erosion (the extent and intensity of erosion); Soil Properties (physical and chemical).

There is a need for site-matched technology to make the soil productive at a rapid rate because in nature the changes that occur rapidly take 200 – 400 years to attain equilibrium.

The method used for improvement for wasteland will depend on the type of wasteland. Some traditional methods can be the in-situ conservation methods for improving the moisture content of soil (bunding, terracing etc.); to promote natural regeneration; water harvesting; promoting agro- forestry.


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