Watershed project conserves Himachal’s ecology, boosts economy

Shimla, Jan 25: The World Bank-funded Mid-Himalayan Watershed Development Project in Himachal Pradesh has helped preserve natural resources and prevent soil erosion besides ensuring substantial improvement in the local economy.

The project was started in October 2005 in 10 districts, a government spokesperson told. Initially, 602 gram panchayats of 42 development blocks were covered.

However, considering the fruitful results, another 108 panchayats that were covered under a micro watershed programme were also brought under its ambit.

The World Bank provided additional financial support in 2012, the spokesperson said, for the newly-included panchayats for comprehensive watershed treatment and effective source sustainability.

The total outlay of the project increased to Rs.630.75 crore (almost $93 million) from Rs.395 crore. The duration of the project has also been extended till March from 2013, said the spokesperson.

A total of 4,932 user groups were formed for managing natural resources in a sustainable manner under the project, which gave a new dimension to the state’s development.

Around 70 percent area was covered under plantations which remarkably contributed to conserve the environment, the spokesman said.

Keeping in view the fact state’s economy majorly banks on agriculture and allied sectors, a major thrust has been given in the watershed project to increase the availability of water through conservation and maintenance of natural resources.

As staggering 8,961 water harvesting structures with a capacity of 10.78 lakh cubic meters have been set up, besides construction of a 241-km long irrigation channel.

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The channel helped diversify agriculture as production of high value crops resulted in reasonable enhancement in farmers’ incomes, said the spokesperson, who is associated with the project.

He said 3,219 hectares was covered under plantation during 2013-14. The verification of bio-carbon plantation by independent agencies was got done and report has already been accepted by the United Nation Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

The state received carbon revenue of Rs.1.63 crore which has been transferred to the divisional watershed development officers for further distribution among the panchayat beneficiaries.

The Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) Bio-Carbon Project, a major component of this project, is being implemented over 4,003 hectares in 177 panchayats. This includes 3,176 hectares of forests, 293.06 hectares of community land and 533.15 hectares of private land.

The CDM has not only provided carbon credits but has also gone a long way in protecting soil erosion and prevention of landslips in vulnerable areas.

It has helped in development of organic diversification and plantations to benefit the local communities through production of various produce, thereby providing self-employment opportunities, said the spokesperson.

During this period, 33,000 metric tonnes of vermin compost was produced and intervention on arable lands resulted in increase in wheat production by 14 percent, maize by 13 percent and milk yield by 11.55 percent.

More than 32 livelihood activities were implemented by 4,174 common interest groups. These concerted efforts have resulted in increase in the per capita income of the state, which has gone upto 93 percent.

The state has now sought the intervention of the Indian government to prevail upon the World Bank to extend the project period by at least one year, the spokesman said.   (IANS)

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