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Lessons from Indian Watershed Management Projects


What lessons can other countries of the world  learn from successful examples of integrated watershed management in arid zones, rain-fed lowlands, and higher elevation sites in India?  

The World Bank's watershed management projects in Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, and Karnataka are recognized as some of the leading examples for integrated watershed management in arid zones, rain-fed lowlands, and higher elevation sites. These projects combine participatory micro-watershed planning for soil and water conservation with broader livelihood support programs. Forests are a major part of these projects, both with traditional plantations and horticulture on both private and common lands. Total spending on forestry-related programs represents about 30 percent of the total project budgets. Each project has developed a range of innovative practices that could inform not only larger centrally-financed government schemes in India, but also Bank-financed watershed programs in other countries. 
PROFOR supported the gathering of best practices and lessons learnt from World Bank-supported watershed management projects with a view toward offering guidelines that could apply to new programs.
Preliminary findings have been shared at a national level workshop in Dehli on "Rainfed Agriculture -- Options for Scaling Up" and lessons from the report have already been extensivley used by the World Bank team preparing a follow up watershed development project in Karnataka. A final report will be shared on this page.
  1. The three projects have demonstrated that a fully staffed and equipped Project Management Unit (PMU) is necessary for smooth and effective management of an integrated watershed-based livelihoods project. Such personnel should be adequately trained and retained for at least 3 years. This is not the duration of the project but this is an optimum time period for the personnel to have an effective tenure since it takes time to understand the project and be effective in the field.
  2. A micro project (sub-watershed level or micro-watershed level) should be planned for at least 5-7 years in order that sufficient social capital is built up. It takes time and close accompaniment to develop vibrant and representative local institutions which are most necessary to ensure continued maintenance of created assets in the post project period.
  3. Capacity building is crucial for sustainable outcomes to be achieved and progressed. And it should be comprehensive, progressively undertaken and involving all stakeholders in accordance with their requirements.
  4. Performance based payments systems, in order to be effective, must involve all stakeholders in their design and formulation and should be fairly administered, transparent, and sensitive to emergent and unanticipated events. All parties to the agreement, including government functionaries, should be held equally responsible and accountable.    Since disputes will inevitably arise, there should be a conflict mediation mechanism set up at all the relevant levels coinciding with the introduction of such a payment system. In order to reduce discretion and arbitrariness, the system should be supported by an IT-enabled Decision Support System introduced at all decision making various levels.
  5. The manner in which agency personnel interact with the community sets the tone for the project and determines its outcome. Respect, commitment and integrity bring forth enthusiasm, cooperation, and transparency from the community. However, for this dynamic to be realized at the field level, it must also permeate the entire delivery structure and mechanism of the project. One can expect participatory processes at the village level only if the underlying values and behavioral patterns of the entire project delivery mechanism, from the higher to lower levels, reflect mutual respect and inclusion. A participation-based project must be sensitive to this aspect and make special efforts to inculcate these values into its procedures, interactions and "way of doing business".
  6. Transparency and public accountability, especially in regard to works and monies, is the key to smooth implementation and harmonious social relations. As the post project impact study of Sujala (this study was conducted for Karnataka as part of the ICR in late 2003) has indicated, all CBOs that have continued to function effectively post project have consistently re-affirmed that is the transparent functioning and accountability of all members of the group, especially the leaders, that have kept the groups together and functioning.
  7. Effective conflict resolution mechanisms that are representative and respected by the community or related stakeholders have to be established at all levels to handle disputes and complaints that often do arise. They should be perceived as responsive, transparent and fair in functioning.
  8. The inclusion, empowerment and mainstreaming of women, the poor and  vulnerable groups in the decision making processes of the project as well as in the institutional life of the village is not only a moral imperative, but also crucial to the sustainability of the project. Generally, these groups draw upon common pool resources for their survival and unless they directly benefit from the development of these resources, they will have no incentive to protect or sustainably manage these assets. Furthermore, as income or quality-of- life enhancing benefits increasingly  accrue to  all groups in a community, especially the poor, not only is social capital enhanced, but the economic, cultural and political life of a community also improves.
  9. Networking and linking the village with local developmental agencies (civil society, government, private agencies) is vital for value addition as well as for continued accessing of additional resources in the post project period.
  10. Projects involving multiple agencies work best where institutional arrangements leverage the comparative advantages of each of the partners. In a situation where good NGOs are available, as in the case of the  Sujala and Gramya projects, it is preferable to engage NGOs to mobilize and build the capacities of the villagers; where NGOs have the requisite technical and managerial expertise, then it is preferable to give them the entire task as they can then efficiently calibrate and dovetail various aspects of a project and be held accountable for outcomes, not just deliverables as would normally be the case where responsibilities pertain only to specified components. This would leave project authorities free to focus on monitoring and overall management of the project.

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Author : World Bank in India [1] [1],,menuPK:295589~pagePK:141159~piPK:141110~theSitePK:295584,00.html
Last Updated : 02-24-2017