Desertification trends are evaluated by means of the 'normalised difference vegetation index' (NDVI). This index, based on satellite data, quantifies the amount of vegetation. It is a figure for the 'greenness' of the surface, the ratio of the measured reflectances of red light (that is, 0.55-0.68 micron wavelength) and near-infra-red (0.73-1.1) in solar radiation. NDVI is strongly correlated with the biological productivity of an area. In the Sahel there is close agreement of the shifts of NDVI and rainfall boundaries during 1980 - 1995, that is, the NDVI/rainfall relationship remained about constant. In other words, there was no progressive 'march' of desert over more fertile areas, no one-way ratchet effect due to deserts causing droughts.
In the National Conservation Strategy particular attention has been paid to arid and semi-arid areas. The strategy includes classification, zoning, and apportionment of land for designated uses; enactment of laws for appropriate land uses to protect the soil from erosion; pollution and degradation measures for runoff and wind erosion; development of suitable agro-silvipastoral techniques; measures for water conservation, recycling and optimal conjunctive use of surface and groundwater; and encouragement for and improvement in traditional methods of rain water harvesting.
The Desert Development Programme (DDP) was initiated in 1977-78. It covers both the hot desert regions of Gujarat, Rajasthan and Haryana and the cold desert areas in Jammu, Kashmir, and Himachal Pradesh. It is functional in 131 blocks of 21 districts in 5 States covering an area of about 0.362 million km2 and a population of 15 million. The objectives of the programme include controlling the process of desertification, mitigating the effects of drought, restoring the ecological balance, and raising the productivity of land, water, livestock, and human resources. At least 75 per cent of the allocation is earmarked for activities which would contribute towards combating the process of desertification. The programme is implemented with 100 per cent central assistance. The Programme Evaluation Organization of the Planning Commission has the task of evaluating this programme in order to assess its impact on the control of desertification, and on improvements in productivity and income for the people living in these areas. From 1990 to 1993, Rs. 1,485 million has been spent under the scheme, developing an area of 90,412 ha.
The Drought Prone Area Programme (DPAP) was launched in 1973 in arid and semi-arid areas with poor natural resource endowments. The objective is to promote more productive dryland agriculture by better soil and moisture conservation, more scientific use of water resources, afforestation, and livestock development through development of fodder and pasture resource, and in the long run to restore the ecological balance.
The DPAP covers 615 blocks of 91 districts in 13 States. This is a centrally sponsored scheme where the allocations are shared between the Centre and States on a 50:50 basis. Preparation of development plans on a watershed basis, participation of people in planning and implementation of the programme and developing effective liaison between research agencies and implementing agencies are some of the priority areas of the programme, implemented since the Eighth Five Year Plan with renewed thrust.
In order to integrate and intensify the activities aimed at combating desertification, a comprehensive plan for control of desertification under the National Forestry Action Programme has been proposed. The plan would evaluate the present status of deserts in the country, assess the implementation of ongoing programmes for development of deserts and desert prone areas, formulate broad policy guidelines and action plans for implementation aimed at control of desertification, develop strategies involving people in desert control through various means, and include appropriate measures related to research and training in desert control.
The basic objective of the integrated Wastelands Development Project is to facilitate pilot projects using an integrated approach to wasteland development by initiating area-specific projects taking into account land capabilities, site condition and local needs, and ultimately aiming to promote optimal land use for both ecological and socioeconomic needs. The different types of problem lands for which projects are prepared include saline/alkaline lands, arid/ sandy areas, ravine areas, and Aravallis. The activities covert soil and water conservation, afforestation, silvi-pasture development and grazing management.
The main objective of the Afforestation Project for the Aravalli (Rajasthan) is to check desertification and restore ecological status by re-afforestation and also to increase the production of fuel wood, fodder, timber, and non-wood forest products to meet local needs. The project started in April 1992 and the project period was 5 years.
Rehabilitation of common lands in Aravallis (Haryana) is being implemented in the four southern districts of Haryana, that is Bhiwani, Mahendragarh, Gurgaon, and Faridabad since 1990. The project outlay is Rs. 480 million and covers environmental protection, restoration of green cover in the semi-arid Aravalli Hills, and improvement in the living conditions of the local people through meeting their biomass needs.
India has been participating regularly in the Inter-governmental Negotiating Committee to Combat Desertification (INCD) process. In collaboration with the Interim Secretariat of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification, the Government of India hosted a Regional Conference on the Implementation of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification and Drought during August 21-23, 1996 at New Delhi. At the meeting, the countries resolved to initiate consultations among themselves to identify specific programmes for regional cooperation.