ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Speaking for the Villages

Participatory Watershed Development: Challenges for the 21st Century edited by John Farrington, Cathryn Turton and A J James; Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 1999; Rs 495, pp xviii + 382.

The concept of managing watersheds specifically for rural development is a relatively new one in India. Before this the concept did not extend beyond the ‘rehabilitation’ of soil and water resources in the medium and large valleys of rivers. The current policy on watersheds in India articulated in the Common Guidelines for Watershed Development issued by the ministry of rural areas and employment in 1994, views watershed development as a vehicle to bring about significant development among rural livelihoods, by developing watersheds on a catchment basis. Beyond the objectives of conserving the resources of soil, water and vegetation within the watershed, the programme in India seeks to increase the productivity of these resources, generate employment and reverse adverse social and ecological phenomenon such as migration in particularly affected areas.

Participatory watershed development, the focus of this collection, essentially seeks to do two things – decentralise decision-making and the allocation of funding within the larger institutional structure of the programme, and involve local users in planning its rehabilitation and continued management. While smaller, more isolated cases of ‘success’ have been known, especially in NGO-implemented projects and methods used here may have influenced the formulation of the guidelines themselves, it is not entirely clear whether such methods can be applied on a wider scale. Indeed, this is the cardinal question baffling policy-makers, implementers and scholars alike. The book under review, takes this issue to be the central one. The main themes selected for perusal here address this question comprehensively. Further constant references to important field experiences, caution against easy generalisations while increasing the expanse of the inference being drawn at the same time. Particularly useful is the sequential arrangement of aspects for consideration, and at the end, the reader is able to see the enormity of the key question. This is the most invaluable achievement of this collection.

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