Indian Case Studies: An Introduction
P. S. Ramakrishnan School of Environmental Sciences, Jawaharlal Nehru University
With its rapidly growing population touching the 1 billion mark, its food security a concern, and its other developmental needs begging answers, India has seen its land use dynamics undergo rapid changes during the last few decades. The complex connections between the country's population and land use dynamics are compounded by a high level of heterogeneity in ecological conditions, extreme socioeconomic differences, and linguistic and cultural diversity within the societal structure. These differences appear in the two study sites chosen for India: the state of Kerala in southwestern India and the state of Haryana in the northwestern part of the country.
The two study sites were selected in order to examine a variety of contrasting ecological and social characteristics (see map). Kerala, in the humid tropics, has a very high population density. The population itself is characterized by large-scale out-migration from the region, the smallest population growth in the country, a dependence on food imports from outside the region, the highest level of literacy in the country, and a large middle class. Furthermore, in Kerala the weaker sections of society and women in particular enjoy a high degree of empowerment. By contrast, Haryana, located in a semiarid/arid environment, has wider disparities between the rich and the poor, one of the highest population growth rates in the country, a very low literacy rate, and a relatively low level of gender empowerment. Benefiting from its location in the Green Revolution belt of the country, Haryana, as a major exporter of food to the rest of the country, contributes substantially toward self-sufficiency in food at the national level.
The state of Kerala, a narrow strip of land on the Arabian Sea, has three distinct topographic zones—a coastal lowland, the Western Ghats highland to the east, and the midland zone in between—and elevations of up to 2,694 meters above mean sea level. The lowland region (at sea level) is well known for its extensive rice and coconut cultivation and the highland for its forests and plantation crops such as tea, coffee, rubber, and cardamom. The undulating midland zone, which makes up about 42 percent of Kerala's total land area, has a variety of annual and perennial cropping systems.
Rainfall in Kerala is confined to the southwest monsoon (June–September) and the northeast monsoon (October-November) periods. The mean annual temperature ranges between 25°C and 31°C in the lowlands and midlands, with cooler temperatures in the mountains.
The present state of Kerala was formed in 1956 by merging two more densely populated states—Travancore in the south and Cochin (which had a long history of progressive social policies), now the central region—with the more sparsely populated Malabar District in the north which was part of the Madras Presidency during British rule. The three regions therefore have somewhat different political histories. Of the three, Malabar is the more underdeveloped.
Although Malayalam is the official state language, Tamil- and Kannada-speaking linguistic minorities reside in the border areas. Of the major religious groups, Hindus form the majority (about 57 percent), followed by Muslims (about 23 percent), and Christians (about 19 percent).
The last few decades have seen drastic demographic and land use changes in the state, particularly in the Malabar region because of the migration into the area. Migration from the lowlands to the highlands within the same region also has been significant. Out-migration from the state to other parts of the country and to Middle Eastern countries is another factor affecting land use dynamics, and indeed the economy of the state itself through the funds sent home (remittances) by those who left.
Rapid urbanization and sharp shifts in land use from annual to perennial cropping systems have stemmed partly from population dynamics (determined largely by demographic structure and gender-related factors) and partly from government policies. A recent major change has been the shift from wet rice cultivation to plantation crops such as rubber and coconut. But with the decline in the area under rice, women's position in the rural market has been weakened, and they find themselves somewhat marginalized.
The state of Haryana was created in 1966 when the then-composite state of Punjab was reorganized on a linguistic basis. The additional pres
ence of Hindu and Sikh populations originally from Pakistan has contributed to the sociocultural diversity of the region. Like Kerala, Haryana is one of India's smaller states; it covers an area of 44,212 square kilometers and has a population of about 16.5 million. On the basis of physiography and drainage, the state can be divided into an eastern semiarid but well-irrigated plain, a western arid plain which has severe wind erosion, sand dunes, and a deeper water table, and a southern plain which has the rocky outcrops of the Aravalli hill range.
In contrast to Kerala, the climate of Haryana is continental, with a hot, dry summer from March to June, a rainy monsoon season from July to September, and a cold winter from October to February. Winter rains are scanty but important for the winter crops. The deep, loamy alluvium of the semiarid part of the state supports a variety of crops such as wheat, maize, pulses, millets, sugarcane, and cotton under irrigated conditions. The sandy and sandy loam seric soils of the arid zone are largely planted in millets and pulses, grown under rainfed conditions.
The rice–wheat rotation predominates in the Haryana region, as well as in the rest of the Indo-Gangetic plains. Rice is sown during the warm monsoon season, and wheat is the crop of the winter months. The last few decades in Haryana have seen extensification, intensification, and diversification in the cropping patterns for cereal crops, oilseeds, and cotton, largely as a result of government policies, although economics also has been an important driver of change. The adverse environmental consequences of these pressures on the land have been felt most in the arid zones of the state. Intensification of agriculture has led to a declining water table and salinization in both the semiarid and arid regions, but more so in the latter.
Another important land-based activity in the state is livestock—cows and buffaloes for milk production, goats and sheep largely for meat and some wool. Indeed, Haryana is a major dairy center, and the local consumption levels and exports have contributed to the health of the people and the economy of the state. Because the land needed for fodder production has to be apportioned from the cropland area, this dimension has had its own impact on land use dynamics, apart from the land degradation caused by overgrazed pastures.
Haryana's literacy rate is lower than that of Kerala and is only a little above the national average of 52 percent. Patriarchy has deep roots in Haryana. Women there, in contrast with those in Kerala, may have a greater role in land use-related work, but they remain subordinate to men in all areas of life. Moreover, the custom of early marriage and high fertility rates, although affected somewhat favorably by rapid economic development, particularly in urban centers, still persist among the rural population—a big contrast from the situation in Kerala.
In short, the Indian study sites offer contrasting ecological, social, economic demographic, and gender dimensions of the problems associ
ated with land use dynamics. Kerala is characterized by a high level of human resource development and faces the problems associated with population pressure and rapidly changing demographic features. Haryana, though very prosperous economically, is weighed down by issues centered on human resource development.