• Different types of lands are suited to different uses. Human beings thus, use land as a resource for production as well as residence and recreation.
  • Competing uses of land for forestry, agriculture, pastures, human settlements, and industries exert pressure on the finite land resource influencing land-use patterns and sometimes causing degradation. Changes in land use and land cover, and land degradation, have adverse impacts on forest resources and biodiversity. Given that they are intertwined in various ways, there is a need for treatment of land, forests, pastures, and biodiversity as an integrated resource.
  • India supports approximately 16% of the world’s population and 20% of its livestock on 2.5% of its geographical area. This pressure on land has led to its deterioration – soil erosion, water logging, salinization, nutrient depletion, lowering of groundwater tables, and soil pollution – largely caused by human interventions.


  • Land-use records are maintained by land revenue department.
  • The land use categories add up to reporting area, which is somewhat different from the geographical area.
  • The difference between the two concepts are that while the former changes somewhat depending on the estimates of the land revenue records, the latter does not change and stays fixed as per Survey of India measurements.
  • The Survey of India is responsible for measuring geographical area of administrative units in India.

The land-use categories as maintained in the Land Revenue Records are as follows:

  1. Forests: It is important to note that area under actual forest cover is different from area classified as forest. The latter is the area which the Government has identified and demarcated for forest growth. The land revenue records are consistent with the latter definition. Thus, there may be an increase in this category without any increase in the actual forest cover.
  2. Land put to Non-agricultural Uses: Land under settlements (rural and urban), infrastructure (roads, canals, etc.), industries, shops, etc. are included in this category. An expansion in the secondary and tertiary activities would lead to an increase in this category of land-use.
  3. Barren and Wastelands: The land which may be classified as a wasteland such as barren hilly terrains, desert lands, ravines, etc. normally cannot be brought under cultivation with the available technology.
  4. Area under Permanent Pastures and Grazing Lands: Most of this type land is owned by the village ‘Panchayat’ or the Government. Only a small proportion of this land is privately owned. The land owned by the village panchayat comes under ‘Common Property Resources
  5. Area under Miscellaneous Tree Crops and Groves (Not included in Net sown Area) : The land under orchards and fruit trees are included in this category. Much of this land is privately owned.
  6. Culturable Waste-Land: Any land which is left fallow (uncultivated) for more than five years is included in this category. It can be brought under cultivation after improving it through reclamation practices.
  7. Current Fallow: This is the land which is left without cultivation for one or less than one agricultural year. Following is a cultural practice adopted for giving the land rest. The land recoups the lost fertility through natural processes.
  8. Fallow other than Current Fallow: This is also a cultivable land which is left uncultivated for more than a year but less than five years. If the land is left uncultivated for more than five years, it would be categorised as culturable wasteland.
  9. Net Area Sown: The physical extent of land on which crops are sown and harvested is known as net sown area.



Land-use in a region, to a large extent, is influenced by the nature of economic activities carried out in that region. However, while economic activities change over time, land, like many other natural resources, is fixed in terms of its area.


Three types of changes that an economy undergoes, which affect:

  1. The size of the economy (measured in terms of value for all the goods and services produced in the economy) grows over time as a result of increasing population, change in income levels, available technology and associated factors.
  2. Secondly, the composition of the economy would undergo a change over time. In other words, the secondary and the tertiary sectors usually grow much faster than the primary sector, specifically the agricultural sector. This type of change is common in developing countries like India.
  3. Thirdly, though the contribution of the agricultural activities reduces over time, the pressure on land for agricultural activities does not decline.

The reasons for continued pressure on agricultural land are:

  • In developing countries, the share of population dependent on agriculture usually declines much more slowly compared to the decline in the sector’s share in GDP.
  • The number of people that the agricultural sector has to feed is increasing day by day.
  • India has undergone major changes within the economy over the past four or five decades, and this has influenced the land-use changes in the country.
Soil degradation is the decline in soil quality caused by its improper use, usually for agricultural, pastoral, industrial or urban purposes.

Land Degradation

Land Degradation can be broadly divided into:


  • Land Degradation
    1. Physical
    2. Chemical
    3. Biological



Physical degradation

Physical degradation is erosion, soil organic carbon loss, change in soil’s physical structure-e.g. compaction, waterlogging. Globally soil erosion is the most important land degradation process resulting in removal of topsoil. Soil productivity is depleted through reduced rooting depth, loss of plant nutrients and physical loss of topsoil.

Chemical degradation

Chemical degradation refers to leaching, salinization, fertility depletion, acidification, nutrient imbalances.

Biological degradation

Biological degradation implies the loss of vegetation, rangeland degradation and loss in biodiversity including soil organic matter.


What is Desertification?

According to Article 1 of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD, Paris, 1994), desertification means “land degradation in arid, semi-arid and dry sub-humid areas resulting from various factors, including climatic variations and human activities”.

Causes of land degradation and desertification in India:

  • Overgrazing, Deforestation and Careless Forest Management
  • Urban Growth, Industrialisation and Mining –
  • Natural causes -Include earthquakes, tsunamis, droughts, avalanches, landslides, volcanic eruptions, floods, tornadoes, and wildfires.
  • Land Shortage, Land Fragmentation and Poor Economy
  • Population Increase
  • Agricultural activities and practices
  • Poor Irrigation and Water Management



Ecological implications of desertification

  • Drifting of sand and its accumulation on fertile agricultural land.
  • Excessive soil erosion by wind and to some extent by water.
  • Deposition of sand in rivers, lakes decrease their water containing capacity.
  • Lowering of water table leading to acute water shortage.
  • Increase in area under wastelands.
  • Decrease in agricultural production.
  • Increase in frequency and intensity of droughts.


  • According to recently released State of India’s Environment 2017 report, nearly 30 per cent of India is degraded or facing desertification.
  • Of India’s total geographical area of 328.72 million hectares (MHA), 96.4 MHA is under desertification.
  • In eight states – Rajasthan, Delhi, Goa, Maharashtra, Jharkhand, Nagaland, Tripura and Himachal Pradesh – around 40 to 70 per cent of land has undergone desertification.
  • More to it, 26 of 29 Indian states have reported an increase in the area undergoing desertification in the past 10 years.
  • Loss of soil cover, mainly due to rainfall and surface runoff, is one of the biggest reasons for desertification


Measures for prevention of land degradation and desertification

  • Integrating land and water management to protect soils from erosion, salinization, and other forms of degradation.
  • Protecting the vegetative cover, which can be a major instrument for soil conservation against wind and water erosion.
  • Integrating the use of land for grazing and farming where conditions are favorable, allowing for a more efficient cycling of nutrients within the agricultural systems.
  • Applying a combination of traditional practices with locally acceptable and locally adapted land use technologies.
  • Giving local communities the capacity to prevent desertification and to manage dryland resources effectively.
  • Turning to alternative livelihoods that do not depend on traditional land uses, such as dryland aquaculture, greenhouse agriculture and tourism-related activities, is less demanding on local land and natural resources, and yet provides sustainable income.
  • Creating economic opportunities in dryland urban centers and in areas outside of drylands.



Major reasons for desertification in India


Water erosion

Responsible for 10.98% desertification Loss of soil cover mainly due to rainfall and surface runoff. Water erosion is observed in both hot and cold desert areas, across various land covers and with varying severity levels


Wind erosion

Responsible for 5.55% desertification

It denotes the spread of sand by various processes, even up to lofty altitudes of Himalayas. It removes the topsoil, which is rich in all plant nutrients and bacterial activities


Human-made settlement Responsible for 0.69% desertification

All land degradation processes which are induced directly or indirectly by human intervention. It includes developmental activities such as mining and urbanisation


Vegetation degradation Responsible for 8.91% desertification

It includes deforestation, shifting cultivation and degradation in grazing, grassland and scrub land. Destruction of vegetation, most often by humans, accelerates desertification



Responsible for 1.12% desertification

Occurs mostly in cultivated lands, especially in the irrigated areas. Soil salinity refers to the water soluble salt present in soil. Salinity can develop naturally, or human-induced



Responsible for 2.07% desertification They include water logging, frost shattering, mass movement, barren and rocky land types


Resertification and land Dearadation Aas ot inda 2016 y 1S80 *percentage figures for the period of 2011-13


  • The flat surfaces and depressions result in waterlogging.
  • Waterlogged soils are soaked with water accumulated during the rainy season or due to leakage from various water sources.
  • Waterlogging is believed to be one of the chief causes of salinity.


United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD)

  • Adopted as a direct recommendation of the 1992 Rio Summit, UNCCD is the only international legally binding instrument to effectively tackle desertification and the effects of drought.
  • It was established in 1994. The Convention addresses specifically the arid, semi-arid and dry sub-humid areas, known as the drylands.
  • It aims to achieve a Land Degradation-Neutral (LDN) world consistent with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
  • The UNCCD is particularly committed to a bottom-up approach, encouraging the participation of local people in combating desertification and land degradation.
  • The new UNCCD 2018-2030 Strategic Framework is the most comprehensive global commitment to achieve Land Degradation Neutrality (LDN) in order to restore the productivity of vast expanses of degraded land, improve the livelihoods of more than 3 billion people, and reduce the impacts of drought on vulnerable population.


Optimizing the Use of Land Resources, Ensuring that land markets function smoothly, through efficient allocation of land across uses, provision of secure property rights and titles, and clear and consistent regulations around the operations, leasing and sale of land are critical for India to achieve and sustain high economic growth.

To this end, the following goals have to be achieved by 2022-23:

  • Legalise and ease land leasing.
  • Consolidate fragmented plots of farmers to enhance efficiency and equity.
  • Create a digitized and integrated land records system that is easily accessible in all states.
  • Increase efficiency in the management of forest land.
  • Convert waste and fallow land to productive uses.
  • Strengthen property rights, especially community rights over forest land.


Current Situation

  • As measured by the land-to-population ratio, India is one of the most land scarce countries in the world. Agriculture accounts for the bulk of land use although the sector contributed only 17.45 per cent of value added to gross domestic product (GDP) in 2015. There has been a sharp fall in the average farm size from 2.28 ha in 1970-71 to 1.15 ha in 2010-11
  • The total recorded forestland in India is 76.4 million hectares, which is about 23.3 per cent of the total geographical area. Although it has more than one-fifth of its land under forest cover, Indian forests contribute only 6.4 per cent of the demand for wood. Property rights over forestlands can be strengthened.
  • The passing of the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights Act (FRA)), which provides individual as well as community rights over forests and allows local communities/gram sabha to protect and manage their customary forests on a sustainable basis, is a step forward.
  • At the same time, there is an imperative need to make land available to meet the needs of a fast expanding economy and rising population with a greater thrust on vertical development.


  • Restrictive agricultural tenancy laws: Agricultural tenancy laws passed by various state governments between the 1950s and 1970s are highly restrictive.
  • Conditions on leasing: While the states of Kerala and Jammu & Kashmir prohibit leasing out agricultural land without any exception, states such as Bihar, Telangana, Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Tripura, Karnataka and Himachal Pradesh allow leasing out only by certain disabled categories of landowners, such as physically and mentally handicapped persons, persons from the defence services, minors, widows, etc.
  • Lack of ease in leasing: In other states, there is no explicit ban on land leasing, but there are restrictive clauses that discourage landowners from leasing out land.
  • High informal tenancy: Due to legal restrictions, many landowners prefer to keep land fallow rather than lease it out, fearing they may lose their land rights for illegally leasing out land. At the same time, as market forces drive land leasing, there is informal tenancy in several places. Informal tenants do not have either security of tenure or access to institutional credit, insurance and disaster relief. As a result, productivity on tenanted land suffers.
  • Small sized land parcels: Landholdings in India are small and highly fragmented, which not only results in diseconomies of scale, but also makes the task of irrigation management and land improvement difficult. Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra have completed their first round of consolidation, but further sub-division and fragmentation of land have necessitated reconsolidation. The progress in other states is either nil or negligible.
  • Productivity of forestland: There has been no systematic effort to increase the area and productivity of forests on a sustainable basis. One important reason is the lack of human resources. The number of forest officials for management of both timber and non-timber forest resources is lacking relative to the size of forests.
  • Absence of conclusive titling and records: Deficient land records and lack of conclusive land title result in costly litigation and adversely affects investment and economic growth.


Way Forward

  1. Agricultural land:
    • States may consider the Model Land Leasing Act, 2016. Further details on land leasing are given in the chapter on Agriculture.
    • Consolidate smaller plots of land through pooling to enhance productivity. The consolidation of fragmented landholdings is essential to exploit scale economies and increase farm incomes. Pooling the land of willing farmers and organizing them into land shares or joint stock companies will allow farmers to earn dividends based on their equity shares. Farmers will also earn wages/salaries as an employee based on agricultural output.

  1. Increase efficiency around the management of forest land:
    • Implement effectively the Forest Rights Act (FRA) in all states to strengthen the property rights of forest dwellers, tribal populations and local communities.
    • Zone land on a priority basis to clearly demarcate forest and revenue lands.
    • Bring more area under agro forestry using wasteland, non-cultivable fallow lands, etc.
    • Revisit the policy on tree-felling. Encourage trees as a resource for farmers especially by easing restriction on certain species of trees. Current restrictions on inter-state and inter-district movement of wood should also be removed.
    • Updating and modernization of land record systems:
    • Beyond creating and maintaining land records, efforts must be made to update and digitize these records in a user-friendly manner.

  1. Initiating Public Private Partnerships (PPPs) for wasteland development:
    • Cultural wastelands, estimated at about 12 million ha, need to be improved and productively utilized as a potential resource.
    • This can be done either by gram panchayats with financial support from states/union government or through PPPs, with clearly laid down procedures and norms.
    • Strengthen property rights, plan urbanization and prevent land degradation.
    • Define and identify common land, along with details of ownership, control and use rights.
    • Recognize the customary land tenure system including community ownership in tribal areas.
    • Remove encroachments on public land to ensure that land is used efficiently.
    • Free estimated ceiling surplus land of over 1 lakh acres that has been under litigation for several years through speedy disposal of cases.
    • Define and demarcate revenue and forestland, including land used for shifting cultivation.
    • Plan urbanization as per master plans with greater emphasis on vertical growth.
    • Prevent land degradation and soil erosion through policies that promote fertilization and organic farming.


  1. Using land as resource to finance urban development:
    • Tools such as land value capture, incentive zoning, town planning schemes, and land-based taxes like land value tax, vacant land tax, land value increment tax, etc., can be used to finance rapid and efficient urbanization.


  • Now Digital India Land Records Modernization Programme, aims to develop a well-functioning and transparent electronic land records management system that will provide easy access to all available and relevant information to give a fair comprehensive position of any plot of land to the landowner, concerned officers/agencies and interested persons/entrepreneurs.
  • This will improve real-time information on land, optimise use of land resources, benefit landowners and prospectors, assist in policy and planning, reduce land disputes and check fraudulent/ benami transactions.
  • While most states have started digitizing their records, all states must have digitized textual as well as spatial records so that they are easily available and verifiable. In this area, commendable efforts have been made by the states of Karnataka and Gujarat. It will also be desirable to link the land record database with banks.
  • Other states should review their progress in terms of digitization and move toward complete and accessible up-to-date records. In due course, states may move towards conclusive land titling.


  • SWAMITVA stands for Survey of Villages and Mapping with Improvised Technology in Village Areas.
  • Under the scheme, the latest surveying technology such as drones will be used for measuring the inhabited land in villages and rural areas.
  • The mapping and survey will be conducted in collaboration with the Survey of India, State Revenue Department and State Panchayati Raj Department under the Ministry of Panchayati Raj.
  • The drones will draw the digital map of every property falling in the geographical limit of each Indian village.
  • Property Cards will be prepared and given to the respective owners.


  • Space Applications Centre (SAC), ISRO has released out an inventory and monitoring of desertification of the entire country in 2016.
  • This Atlas presents state-wise desertification and land degradation status maps depicting land use, process of degradation and severity level.
  • This was prepared using IRS Advanced Wide Field Sensor (AWiFS) data of 2011-13- and 2003-05-time frames in GIS environment.
  • Area under desertification / land degradation for the both time frames and changes are reported state-wise as well as for the entire country.



  • Indian Institute of Soil and Water Conservation (IISWC):Bio-engineering measures to check soil erosion due to run-off of rain water
  • CentralArid Zone Research Institute (CAZRI), Jodhpur: Sand dune stabilization and shelter belt technology to check wind erosion
  • Council through Central Soil Salinity Research Institute,Karnal: Reclamation technology, sub-surface drainage, bio-drainage, agroforestry interventions and salt tolerant crop varieties to improve the productivity of saline, sodic and waterlogged soils in the country.


  • The Department of Land Resources in collaboration with National Remote Sensing Centre (NRSC), Department of Space has published Wastelands Atlases of India – 2000, 2005, 2010 & 2011 editions.
  • The new wastelands mapping exercise, carried out by NRSC using the Indian Remote Sensing Satellite data is brought out as the fifth edition of Wastelands Atlas – 2019.
  • This 2019 Atlas provides district and state wise distribution of different categories of wastelands area including mapping of about 12.08 Mha hitherto unmapped area of J&K.


  • In Agriculture Census 2015-16, the operational holdings are categorised in five size classes as follows: –


Sr. Category Size-Class
1 Marginal Below 1 hectare
2 Small 1 to 2 hectare
3 Semi- Medium 2 to 4 hectare
4 Medium 4 to 10 hectare
5 Large 10 hectare and above


  • The operational holdings are also classified in three social groups, viz., Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and Others.
  • The average size holdings is highest in Nagaland (5.06 ha) followed by Punjab (3.62 ha).
  • Countrywide the average operational holding size is 1.08 ha.
  • It has been observed that Small farms are more efficient, especially in cultivating labour-intensive crops or tending livestock, but land holdings are too small to generate sufficient household income.


The Digital India Land Records Modernisation Programme (DILRMP)

  • The erstwhile National Land Records Modernisation Programme seeks to improve the quality of land records in the country, make them more accessible, and move towards government-guaranteed titles.


Unique schemes by the states

  • The Bhoomi Projectin Karnataka -The state government began to digitize land records at the turn of the century
  • The Rajasthan legislature passed the Rajasthan Urban Land (Certification of Titles) Act in April 2016. This law ensures that the state government is a guarantor for land titles in Rajasthan, and will provide compensation in case of issues of defective title.
Land-related conflicts in India affect about 3.2 million people and impact investments worth over Rs 12 trillion ($179 billion) – Report by Rights and Resources Initiative, a global coalition of non-profit organizations, and Tata Institute of Social Sciences



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