New Delhi: Wastelands in India are reducing rapidly. The government, keen to expand area under cultivation to boost food output, has launched a project to find out the reasons for shrinking wastelands.
The Department of Land Resources (DoLR) in the Rural Development Ministry is collaborating with the National Remote Sensing Centre (NRSC) to find out the change in the pattern of wastelands over the past two decades with the help of data provided by satellites.
Officials said a study by NRSC, expected to be completed by the year end, will throw light on why and how wastelands have reduced over the years.
According to data available with DoLR, the area occupied by wastelands in the country was assessed at 63.85 million hectare in a project spanning five phases -- between 1986 and 2000. A similar exercise in 2003 revealed that wastelands had shrunk by 8.21 million hectares.
The latest Wasteland Atlas of India, based on mapping done in 2005-06 with satellite data, showed a further fall in wastelands, to 47.22 million hectares - a decrease of 8.41 million hectares.
DoLR officials said one of the handicaps in determining the reasons for the sharp decline was lack of three-season comparative data.
The three-seasons - kharif (autumn), rabi (spring) and zaid (extra harvest) - comparative data gives a far more accurate spatial distribution of wastelands compared to mapping in a single season, an official said.
"The three season data was used for the first time in 2005-06. The study being done by NRSC will be based on three-season data for 2008-09 and help us make analysis," an official of the department said.
Elaborating, he said: "A piece of land may look barren during summer but green in monsoon. During winter, the images of the same piece of land may show a different colour. It is only when three-season data is available that a reasonably accurate estimation about the land use can be done."
The satellite data is also verified by "ground toothing", which involves field visits to randomly selected areas.
Officials said that shrinking of wastelands can be due to reclamation programmes of the rural development ministry and other wings of the state and central governments as well as the inconsistencies in definition and number of categories.
The DoLR is tasked with improving rain-fed areas including wastelands in drought- and desert-prone regions as part of its mandate to develop land resources.
With the government laying thrust on increasing area under cultivation and boosting productivity to ensure food security, officials said that knowledge of accurate change pattern in use of wastelands was needed to plan strategies for the future.
"There is also competing demand for land for housing, industry and special economic zones. All this makes it desirable to know where and how wastelands have reduced," said the official.
He said the spatial changes in wastelands between 2006 and 2009 were being studied in the project titled `National Wasteland Change Analysis`.
The National Commission of Agriculture, in its study in 1976 based on secondary sources, estimated degraded lands at 175 million hectares. The estimate of the ministry of agriculture in 1994, based on land degradation statistics from states, put the figure at 107 million hectares.