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An Expansive Land Management Policy is Overdue

Context:

Land plays a central role in all human activities, offering ecological, economic, social, and cultural services. However, the multifaceted nature of land is often overlooked in land management practices, leading to increased stress, land degradation, and environmental depletion. Globally, the annual losses of ecosystem services due to land degradation are estimated at $6 trillion.

Relevance:

GS3-

  • Land Reforms
  • Conservation, Environmental Pollution and Degradation

Mains Question:

In the context of rising land degradation, discuss the challenges faced by India in land management and suggest an effective way forward strategy in this regard. (10 Marks, 150 Words).

Global Recognition of the Issue of Land Degradation:

  • The United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (COP14) in New Delhi in 2019 specifically addressed the issue of land degradation experienced by various countries and emphasized the necessity of finding ways to achieve land degradation neutrality.
  • The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s special report on ‘Climate Change and Land’ in 2019 recommended country-level assessments of land management practices and proposed both near- and long-term actions. The focus was on land management options that reduce competition for land, offering co-benefits while minimizing negative impacts on crucial ecosystem services.
  • The Food and Agriculture Organization’s report, ‘State of the World’s Land and Water Resources for Food and Agriculture: The System at Breaking Point’ in 2021, stressed the urgency needed to address a previously neglected area of public policy and human welfare. This involves caring for the long-term future of land, soil, and water.

Challenges Faced by India:

Access to Agricultural Land:

  • India faces numerous land management challenges despite having only 2.4% of the world’s geographical area and accommodating over 17% of the global population.
  • Approximately 55% of India’s total geographical area is designated as arable land, while another 22% is covered by forests.
  • The remaining portion includes deserts, mountains, and other terrains, with around 30% of the total geographical area classified as degraded land.
  • The issue of access to agricultural land remains crucial, especially considering that a significant portion of the population relies on agriculture for their livelihoods.

Rising Pressures on Land:

  • The country is grappling with unprecedented pressures on land due to development goals, the need for land to support the expanding population, infrastructure requirements, rapid urbanization, and considerations related to social, cultural, and environmental aspects.
  • These factors contribute to heightened competition among farmers, conflicts between agriculture and other land resource-based sectors, escalating land prices, and evolving land rights. This situation is leading to the shrinking of natural areas and the loss of ecological functions across the nation.
  • The adverse effects are not limited to the livelihood opportunities of those directly dependent on environmental resources; they also impact the buffering effects of natural ecosystems during disasters such as floods, droughts, temperature rises, and environmental pollution. Additionally, climate change has introduced a new set of challenges, further complicating the landscape.

Sectoral Approach:

  • In India, the existing practices in land management are characterized by a sectoral approach, where each department follows its own strategies.
  • The responsibility for land management lies within the jurisdiction of State governments. Additionally, cultural land is typically privately owned, and constitutionally, the owner is vested with the authority to make land-use decisions.
  • In addition to this administrative complexity, the challenges in adopting and implementing appropriate land management practices in the country include knowledge gaps, a bias towards short-term planning, a fragmented approach, a lack of preparedness for unforeseen events, and regulatory barriers.

Way Forward:

Establishing a Multi-Stakeholder Platform:

  • To address these challenges and achieve sectoral integration, establishing a multi-stakeholder platform at the district and sub-district levels is crucial.
  • This platform should bring together farmers, other land managers, policymakers, civil society organizations, business leaders, and investors under a common umbrella.
  • Article 243ZD (1) of the Constitution outlines the provision for district planning committees to consolidate plans from panchayats and municipalities. This committee can be activated to formulate a comprehensive land management plan covering both agricultural and non-agricultural sectors.
  • Employing a landscape approach in this context can be beneficial, providing in-depth insights into assessing the potential of land and determining the allocation and reallocation of land for suitable uses.
  • This approach aids in evaluation, negotiation, trade-offs, and decision-making. A climate-smart landscape approach contributes to climate objectives, enhances agricultural production, improves local livelihoods, and promotes the conservation of biodiversity.

Institutional Support:

  • Scientific research has emphasized the significance of viewing land as a comprehensive system and advocating for integrated landscape management. While there is substantial practical experience supporting this approach, there is a notable absence of systematic institutional backing.
  • The European Landscape Convention underscored that landscape is a fundamental element contributing to individual and social well-being.
  • A report from the U.K. Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology, titled ‘Sustainable land management: managing land better for environmental benefits,’ in 2021 highlighted that actions addressing climate change, ensuring food security, and addressing the biodiversity crisis all hinge on how land is managed.
  • The report cautioned the U.K. government about the inadequacy of existing policies and targets in comprehensively addressing the intricacies of land management, farming, and the natural environment.

Conclusion:

Perhaps, Indian parliamentarians can take the lead in deliberating on the emerging challenges associated with integrated land management practices. They can play a pivotal role in formulating appropriate policies for long-term sustainability, involving all stakeholders across various scales, both horizontally and vertically.


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