Ravine reclamation projects fruitless

MORENA (Madhya Pradesh), JUNE 16. There have been programmes galore in the past for reclamation of ravines and ``elimination'' of dacoits in the troubled intersection of Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh. Nothing has worked except that in the case of dacoits, the intervention of Gandhian leaders helped in the surrender and reformation of a few dreaded outlaws in the Chambal Valley in the early 1970s.

Conservative estimates say the ravines here are spreading at a rate of 2.20 hectares a day. In fact, ravine formation is not an exclusive problem of the Chambal Valley. All over India, about 8,000 hectares of land are turning into ravines annually. The new States under this threat are Gujarat and Bihar.

At one time, the Madhya Pradesh Government had mooted a rather quixotic plan of levelling the ravines using bulldozers - the State alone has 3.11 lakh hectares of ravines! In 1980, another project - aerial seeding in the ravines - was introduced to raise 12,009 hectares of forest every year. Aerial seeding, carried out for some time, could not meet the target. The seeds which missed the preying eyes of the birds germinated only to create more problems. The new plant varieties sown from the skies heightened the agony of those living in the area as most of the seeds were the thorny acacia species. The new thorn forests made access to villages more difficult besides damaging the quality of the soil further. Fodder problem, too, aggravated as the new bushes suppressed the existing vegetation.

Back in 1971, a massive project for development of the Chambal Valley, conceived by the Centre, envisaged an investment of Rs.1,224 crores in the next 27 years. The project, divided into four phases for the three affected States, was to develop 55,000 hectares for agriculture and 27,500 hectares under forestry and pasture land in the first phase. An area of 2.20 lakh hectares was to be reclaimed by construction of terraces, check dams and drainage system. The project did not take off.

At one time, it was suggested that the ravines could be distributed among the landless people for cultivation. It became obvious soon that taming of the ravines was beyond the poor. Another project, propelled during the same time by the Centre, specifically targeted the dacoit problem. But all the major projects remained on paper.

After the surrender of 500 dacoits from the three States before the late Sarvodaya leader, Jaiprakash Narain, in 1972, the authorities thought the problems of the Chambal Valley were over. They have seemingly not changed their point of view even after a quarter century and more later.

When it comes to actual performance, it has to be noted that all the 18 projects taken up in the area over a period of 25 years have been able to reclaim only 2,137 hectares of ravines. Not that there have been no success stories. Studies by the Gandhi Peace Foundation mention that the villagers of Sarsani in Bhind- Morena successfully levelled 15-20 feet ravines in their area. However, they faced the problem of ownership as the land belonged to the Government.

The residents of Ambha tehsil recollect that the Government had started a scheme 15-20 years back to give pattas on ravines to farmers. Those who could avail the chance proved their mettle by levelling the land but the offer did not last long enough to benefit many. The residents of Bilpur, Kuthiyana, Rudhavali and Mahuva too have stories of successful conquest of the unwieldy terrain.

The Chambal Valley has an estimated potential to produce 30 lakhs tonnes of grains annually. With water available in plenty the area could have grown fruits, vegetables and fodder for the whole of central India. It has great potential for tourism as well. Instead of all these, the place is proving a drain on the nation's resources and a curse to those who are fated to live there.