Home » Research Areas » Natural Resource Management » Multi-Sectoral Linkages

print this page

Long-term and Large-scale Impacts of Watershed Development in Dry and Semi-Arid Regions of south-central India

CISED Research Team: Shrinivas Badiger, Sharachchandra Lélé, Ananda G. Vadivelu, Rajeevakumar, Madhavi Latha G., Praveen G.S., Praveen P., in collaboration with researchers from SOPPECOM and GIDR]

Collaborating Institutions: Society for Promoting Participative Ecosystem Management and the Gujarat Institute of Development Research

Integrated and participatory watershed development is today seen as the key to rural development in the dry and semi-arid regions of India. An estimated Rs.2,400 crores have been spent annually on watershed development since the mid-1990s, and similar commitments have been made for the next 25 years. The long-term and large-scale impacts of this approach, however, are not well understood, nor communicated adequately to practitioners and policy makers.

CISED, SOPPECOM and GIDR have therefore constituted a Forum for Watershed Research and Policy Dialogue. The Forum’s activities are centred in five states in Western and Southern India: Rajasthan, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Karnataka. Its initial focus is on the dry and semi-arid tracts of Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, and Karnataka, where it seeks to:

  • build a comprehensive public domain and GIS-linked database on all completed and ongoing watershed development efforts in the three project states;
  • develop coherent and comprehensive frameworks, indicators, and methods for assessing watershed development success;
  • conduct post-facto assessment of the impact of watershed development projects completed several years ago in this tract;
  • initiate long-term monitoring with practitioners in select sites, and
  • foster a continuous dialogue with policy makers and practitioners

As the first phase of the initiative, a rapid assessment of the status of watershed development programmes across the three states was carried out. The sample covered around 950 micro watersheds (216 in Karnataka, 385 in Maharashtra, 346 in Madhya Pradesh) across 30 districts. It assessed the current status of physical structures and institutions, and their perceived impacts, across different programmes and various implementing agencies. Several interesting trends were observed. To begin with, the approaches used and structures focused on in different programmes vary widely. Some focused more on public lands and drainage lines (such as check dam construction), while others covered both public and private land (through check dams, field bunding, and land levelling). Second, at least 25 percent of the structures, including check dams and nala bunds, were found to be in disrepair. Third, institutional arrangements were often the weakest component. Watershed committees were dysfunctional in most watersheds (88 percent in Maharashtra, 59 percent in Karnataka). Regulation of the use of common lands or of water harvested from the structures was absent in most places. This assessment statistically substantiates earlier individual observations of mixed performance of watershed development programmes and particularly of the non-sustainability of the institutions set up under them.

The GIS database has been completed, and is now available in the public domain in CD form. Put together from government sources, the taluka/tehsil level information enables a visualisation of the regional variation in the data. To know more about the database, please see >>

We are now carrying out a detailed study of the long-term impacts of watershed development in 36 microwatersheds across the three states. We will try to understand the outcomes in terms of physical, economic, and social changes across different communities (farming, pastoral, wage labourer), and also seek to understand the reasons behind variations in outcomes. We are also investigating the downstream impacts of intensive upstream watershed development, using sites with historical streamflow data that overlap with areas that were extensively treated under watershed development programmes.

Contact: cised@isec.ac.in 



Back