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Greening the 'Wastelands': Evolving Discourse on Wastelands and its Impact on Community Rights in India

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Type: Conference Paper
Author: Saigal, Sushil
Conference: Sustaining Commons: Sustaining Our Future, the Thirteenth Biennial Conference of the International Association for the Study of the Commons
Location: Hyderabad, India
Conf. Date: January 10-14
Date: 2011
URI: https://hdl.handle.net/10535/7204
Sector: Forestry
Region: Middle East & South Asia
Subject(s): wastelands
Abstract: "This paper explores the evolution of 'wastelands' discourse in India – from the colonial time to the present – and how it has shaped India’s land and forest policies, and though them community rights on these two vital natural resources. The concept of wastelands originated in India during the colonial period. All lands that were not under cultivation (revenue-yielding lands) were classified as wastelands and the state asserted its proprietary rights over them. Some of these were later reclassified as forests or allotted for cultivation and plantation. Thus, the idea of wastelands originated from the perspective of revenue rather than ecology. After independence, the discourse surrounding wastelands changed. The national government was less interested in land revenue but was keen on expanding agriculture to make the country self-sufficient in food. During this period, wastelands came to be viewed as empty lands available for expanding agriculture and settling agricultural labourers. With the country achieving food self-sufficiency in the 1970s, the discourse surrounding wastelands changed again. Now degradation of forests and shortages of fuelwood and fodder were seen as the main challenges. A massive afforestation programme was launched in the 1980s to bring 33% of the country under tree cover. Subsequently, the emphasis shifted more towards the watershed role of wastelands and a watershed development programme was launched for soil and moisture conservation. More recently, the wastelands discourse has moved towards addressing the challenges posed by climate change. This changing national discourse on wastelands has profoundly impacted India’s land and forest policies, and through them livelihoods of many people, especially rural communities. An awareness of this continually evolving discourse helps in better understanding of various land- and forest-related programmes and projects and their outcomes."

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