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Desert areas development UPSC | Regional Development and Planning | Geography of India

Table of Contents:

  • About Desert area development
  • Cold Desert
  • Economic Challenges in the Cold Desert
  • Hot Desert [ Thar desert] in India
  • Economic Challenges in Thar Desert
  • Desert Development Programme (DDP)
  • Recommendation of Hanumantha Rao committee
  • Integrated Watershed Management Program( IWMP)

Desert areas development:

Desert area development in India primarily focuses on addressing the challenges posed by arid and semi-arid regions. 

The following are key initiatives included in the desert areas development:

Water Management: 

Implementing water conservation techniques such as rainwater harvesting, watershed management, and efficient irrigation systems to maximize water utilization.

Diversification of Agriculture: 

Promoting drought-resistant crops and agricultural practices like drip irrigation and organic farming to enhance food security in these regions.

Livestock Development: 

Encouraging livestock rearing and providing veterinary services to support the livelihoods of desert communities.


Planting drought-resistant trees to combat desertification and improve soil quality.

Renewable Energy: 

Harnessing solar and wind energy to provide power for both rural communities and industrial purposes.

Infrastructure Development: 

Building roads, connectivity, and providing basic amenities to improve living conditions.

Skill Development: 

Offering training and skill development programs to empower local communities.

These efforts aim to reduce poverty, enhance sustainability, and improve the overall quality of life in India's desert regions.

The following are two desert areas in India:

  • Hot Desert ( Thar Desert)
  • Cold desert

 Cold Desert of Ladakh:

The cold desert of India is located in the northern part of the country. Specifically, it is situated in the districts of Leh and Ladakh, which are part of the larger region of Ladakh. This cold desert region is characterized by high-altitude deserts, barren landscapes, and extreme cold temperatures, making it a unique and challenging environment. It is a popular tourist destination known for its stunning natural beauty and unique cultural heritage.

Due to high altitude:

  • Climate is extremely cold and dry
  • Atmosphere is thin
  • Temperature varies from -40 degrees C to 0 degrees Centigrade
Economic Challenges in Cold Desert:
The cold desert regions of India, such as Ladakh and parts of Himachal Pradesh, face several economic challenges.

The following are some economic challenges and opportunities in the cold desert of India:

Harsh Climate: 
The extreme cold and short summer seasons limit agricultural productivity. Farmers mostly rely on cold-tolerant crops, leading to limited crop diversity.

Limited Arable Land: 
Due to the rugged terrain and high altitudes, arable land is scarce, which restricts the scope for agricultural expansion and limits food production.

Water Scarcity: 
Water resources are limited in cold desert regions, making irrigation challenging. Melting glaciers are a crucial water source, and climate change poses a significant threat to these sources.

Transportation Challenges: 
Harsh terrain and weather conditions make transportation difficult. This can increase the cost of goods and hinder economic development.

Energy Dependence: 
Cold desert regions often rely on expensive sources of energy, like diesel generators, due to the limited availability of conventional energy sources.

Tourism Seasonality: 
While tourism is a significant economic driver, it is highly seasonal. Tourist inflow is concentrated in a few months, leading to income disparities throughout the year. Tourists from both international and domestic visit Gompas, Monasteries, and Glaciers.

Lack of Industries: 
The lack of large-scale industries and manufacturing units in these areas limits job opportunities and economic diversity.

Livelihood Vulnerability: 
Many livelihoods depend on traditional practices like agriculture and animal husbandry, which are vulnerable to climate change and market fluctuations.

Skill Development: 
Developing a skilled workforce for alternative and sustainable livelihoods is a challenge, as access to education and training facilities can be limited.

To address these challenges, there is a need for sustainable development strategies, investment in infrastructure, climate-resilient agriculture, tourism development, and policies that promote economic diversification in these regions.

Hot Desert [ Thar desert] in India:

The hot desert regions of India are primarily found in the northwestern part of the country, mainly in the state of Rajasthan. The Thar Desert, also known as the Great Indian Desert, is the largest hot desert in India. It spans across Rajasthan and extends into parts of Gujarat and Haryana. It covers an area of approximately 200,000 square kilometers.

Here are some key geographical features of the hot desert regions in India:

Arid Landscape: 

The Thar Desert is characterized by vast stretches of arid and barren landscapes with rolling sand dunes, rocky terrain, and limited vegetation.

Extreme Temperatures: 

The desert experiences extreme temperature variations, with scorching hot days during the summer, with temperatures often exceeding 40°C (104°F), and chilly nights during the winter, when temperatures drop significantly.

Low Precipitation: 

The Thar Desert is one of the driest regions in India, receiving very little rainfall, primarily during the monsoon season. Annual rainfall is generally less than 250 millimeters (10 inches).

Sand Dunes: 

The desert is famous for its sand dunes, some of which can reach impressive heights. The Sam Sand Dunes near Jaisalmer are a popular tourist attraction.

Lack of Surface Water: 

Surface water sources like rivers and lakes are scarce in the Thar Desert. People often rely on underground aquifers for water, leading to concerns about groundwater depletion.

Desert Flora and Fauna: 

Despite the harsh conditions, the desert supports a unique ecosystem with adapted plant and animal species, such as cacti, thorny shrubs, and animals like camels, desert foxes, and various bird species.

Cultural Significance: 

The Thar Desert is rich in culture and history, with several ancient cities, forts, and palaces, including Jaisalmer and Jodhpur, which are famous tourist destinations.

Traditional Desert Lifestyle: 

Many communities in the Thar Desert, such as the Rajputs and various tribal groups, have developed a traditional way of life that revolves around camel herding, agriculture in oasis areas, and handicrafts.

Challenges in the Thar desert include Extreme temperature, water unavailability, and unreachability. 

Economic opportunities in the Thar Desert include great potential for wind and solar energy generation, Mining, farming, and tourism.

Desert Development Programme (DDP):

To solve the above problems, the Desert Development Program (DDP) was launched in 1977-78 with the following aims:

  • The primary objective of the DDP is to combat desertification, which is the process of land degradation in arid and semi-arid areas, often caused by factors like deforestation, overgrazing, and improper land use.
  • Minimize the adverse effect of deserts and control desertification by the restoration of natural resources to achieve ecological balance in the long run.
  • Aim to overall Economic development and improve the socio-economic development of poor and disadvantaged section
  • The program encourages the active involvement of local communities in planning and implementing desert development activities. This participatory approach aims to empower local people.
  • Capacity-building activities, including training and education, are conducted to enhance the skills and knowledge of local communities in sustainable land and water management.

In the year 1994-95, the Desert Development program came under Rural development, and it had 131 blocks and 21 districts spread over 5 states.

Hanumantha Rao committee:

The Hanumantha Rao Committee, officially known as the "Working Group on Drought-Prone Areas Programme and Desert Development Programme" under the Planning Commission of India, was established in 1984. The committee was chaired by Dr. C. Hanumantha Rao, an eminent economist.

The primary objective of the Hanumantha Rao Committee was to evaluate the performance of the Drought-Prone Areas Programme (DPAP) and the Desert Development Programme (DDP), which were aimed at addressing the challenges of drought and desertification in India's arid and semi-arid regions.

Key findings and recommendations of the committee included:

Area Coverage: 

The committee recommended the expansion of the DPAP to cover additional drought-prone areas and the enhancement of the DDP's scope to address the issues of desertification effectively. Recommended adding new blocks in the Desert Development Program and also recommended some blocks transferred from drought-prone areas development to Desert Areas Development.

Community Participation: 

Emphasized the need for active participation of local communities in planning and implementation to ensure the success and sustainability of drought and desert development programs.

Technology and Infrastructure: 

Advocated the use of appropriate technologies and the development of necessary infrastructure for water resource management, soil conservation, and crop diversification.

Monitoring and Evaluation: 

Suggested improved monitoring and evaluation mechanisms to assess the impact and effectiveness of these programs.

Integrated Approach: 

Encouraged an integrated approach that combines water resource management, afforestation, soil conservation, and livelihood diversification to combat drought and desertification comprehensively.

Research and Training: 

Stressed the importance of research and training to build the capacity of local communities and officials involved in drought and desert development programs.

Funding and Resource Allocation: 

Recommended adequate funding and resource allocation to support the implementation of these programs effectively.

In the year 2000,

  • Drought-prone Area development, Desert Areas Development, and the Integrated Watershed Development program were merged and named to Integrated Watershed Management Program( IWMP).
Integrated Watershed Management Program( IWMP):

The Integrated Watershed Management Program (IWMP) is a centrally sponsored scheme in India aimed at promoting sustainable development and natural resource management at the watershed level. The program focuses on improving soil and water conservation, enhancing agricultural productivity, and mitigating the adverse effects of land degradation in rainfed areas. 

Here are some key features of the IWMP:

The primary objective of IWMP is to restore and conserve natural resources like soil and water in rainfed areas, ultimately leading to improved livelihoods for rural communities.

Watershed Approach: 
IWMP follows a holistic and integrated approach that treats the entire watershed as a unit for planning and implementation. This approach takes into consideration the interrelationship between land, water, vegetation, and people.

Community Participation: 
The program emphasizes the active involvement of local communities in the planning, implementation, and management of watershed activities. This participatory approach ensures that interventions are tailored to local needs and priorities.

Soil and Water Conservation: 
IWMP focuses on implementing various soil and water conservation measures, such as contour bunding, trenching, check dams, and afforestation, to prevent erosion and improve water retention in rainfed areas.

Livelihood Improvement: 
The program aims to enhance agricultural productivity by promoting sustainable farming practices, crop diversification, and integrated farming systems. This, in turn, contributes to improved livelihoods for rural communities.

Capacity Building: 
IWMP includes capacity-building activities for local communities, watershed committees, and implementing agencies. Training and awareness programs are conducted to enhance knowledge and skills related to natural resource management.

The program encourages convergence with other rural development programs to maximize the impact and ensure optimal utilization of resources.

The program is funded through a combination of central and state government contributions, as well as external funding from agencies like the World Bank.

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