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October 28, 2016

Horti-pasture system: Strengthening livelihoods to reduce disaster risks in Thar

Ghewar Ram and Gauri Devi, who live in the western Rajasthan, own just a one-and-a half bigha plot of land. They used to migrate in search of livelihood every time a drought struck. Not anymore. They have now adopted horti-pasture techniques. The family first planted local species such as ber, goonda, karonda and lemon, created a rain water harvesting tank and a boundary for the farm to prevent stray animals from destroying the crop. Next year, Gauri Devi introduced guvar on her farm as a part of intercropping. By the end of the second year, the farm turned profitable. While her family has to put about two extra hours of work on the farm, inter-cropping has benefitted them immensely in terms of fodder, fruits, vegetables and other produce. Ghewar Ram is jubilant when he says that the income from the plot has increased ten times.

inter cropping.jpg

Similar stories of hope and revival have started to emerge across the desert of western Rajasthan. With sustained efforts by the government to strengthen the financial resilience of vulnerable communities, and pro-active role of non-governmental organisations such as Unnati, a gradual but noticeable change has been brought about by strengthening livelihoods in these drought-prone areas.

Working towards substantially reducing disaster risks and losses in livelihoods isb822ff214b0f211027b34c192820c07f_L.jpg entrenched in the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction (SFDRR), adopted at the third UN World Conference in Sendai, Japan in March, 2015.

India is a signatory to this first major agreement of the post-2015 development agenda and is thus committed to work towards making those choices for its environment, livelihoods and economic development that make it resilient to disasters.

The pain and suffering of people inhabiting the hostile terrain of western Rajasthan is a part of its folklore. ‘Saatkaal, sattaisjamana, trisathkuriakacha; teen kaal, aisapadela, maapoot

Drought Rajasthan

mile napacha’, goes a local saying. It means that out of every 100 years, only 27 years are good. There are seven years of drought, 63 years of severe drought and three years of so much distress that a mother and her children get separated. Traditional survival strategies used to revolve around effective water management, animal husbandry, mixed agriculture and collective will. ‘Das hove chaukhibakriyaan, eksaantaron oont, das hove khejdala, to kaalkaad doo koot’ –

A family can survive a drought if it has ten goats, a camel and ten khejdi trees. (Khejdi is a multipurpose legume with its parts used as food, fodder for the livestock, and raw material for constructing houses).The primary source of livelihood for small and marginal farmers, who constitute about 78 per cent of the farming community and depend on rain for irrigation, is livestock.

They traditionally relied on common community land and resources to maintain them. Common Property Resources (CPRs), particularly the oranand gauchar (community grazing land) and nadi (village pond),

which used to be managed by the community had been declining as bigger farmers moved towards mechanization of agriculture coupled with individualized water supply. This meant growing food and fodder insecurity, poverty and migration for the marginalized population.

With an increase in the frequency and intensity of climate-related hazards, there has been an increase in the incidences of drought post-1961. Almost 80 per cent of agriculture is rain-fed. The Thar desert region receives an average annual rainfall between 100 and 300 mm. Add to that the fact that the highly erodible desert soil is deficient in nutrients, has a high infiltration rate and a low moisture holding capacity.

i2016102703.jpgFig: Annual rainfall in Thar desert region of Rajasthan

Reviving CPRs thus was of utmost importance for strengthening community resilience against drought. Unnati has been helping small and marginal farmers in western Rajasthan in developing horti-pasture plots and rain water harvesting tanks. It is also helping them in providing veterinary care to reduce animal morbidity and mortality, as well as prevention of malaria.

There was a strong belief that horticulture cannot be promoted in the desert ecology. However, with examples such as Ghewar Ram and Gauri Devi, villagers are now willing to try it out.


The credit goes to experiments and trainings done by Central Arid Zone Research Institute (CAZRI) and other Kisan Vikas Kendras. They have provided expertise and training to the farmers on a continuous basis. They also provide an interface to the plot owners so that they can easily seek advice on plant varieties and combinations.

Over the years, many volunteers have been trained for functioning as local resource persons who can support farmers as well as local government functionaries on various aspects of horti-pasture system, grafting and choice of seeds. This has helped the disadvantaged farmers, especially women, in the initial years of switching to farming and livestock rearing techniques that make them resilient to droughts.


Plantation and fencing increases soil fertility providing better yield from inter-cropping. It has led to the regeneration of 21 local grass and shrub varieties that are used as fodder for the livestock. Some are also used as vegetables by people. They also contribute to soil nutrients and prevent soil erosion.

Making rain water harvesting structures, horti-pasture plots, specialized animal care, fodder banks and malaria prevention and cure accessible to small and marginalized farmers has proved to be of great use in building resilience to drought in desert areas of Rajasthan. It improves the adaptation capacity of small and marginal farmers by improving their fodder and livelihood security.

Many village and block level functionaries of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS), which aims at enhancing livelihood security of our rural population, now want to include horti-pasture plot development in their annual plans. This is a good example of how the goals of Disaster Risk Reduction can be interwoven with the goals of other social security schemes to result in sustainable and inclusive development.

water harvesting tanks

Works such as green fencing and construction of water harvesting tanks have also been approved under the MGNREGS in Rajasthan. This has helped horti-pasture system gain wider acceptance across the State with more and more small farmers switching to this form of agriculture.

These small but substantial gender and class sensitive measures are a step towards the ‘all-society approach’ as envisaged in the Sendai Framework.

While India is surely inching towards resilience to disasters, there is a long way to go. Since disasters don’t respect national boundaries, there is a greater need  to move ahead on the implementation of the Sendai Framework in the Asia-Pacific region.

To realise this, the Government of India is organising the Asian Ministerial Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction (AMCDRR) 2016 in collaboration with the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR). The Conference, which will be held from November 3-5, 2016 in New Delhi, will see the participation of Asian nations and disaster management experts to come out with the roadmap to a stronger, safer and disaster-resilient Asia.

* contributed by Shri Binoy Acharya, Director, UNNATI


Urban Floods

Interview: Dr. Kapil Gupta on “Urban Floods”

Dr. Kapil Gupta, Professor, Department of Civil Engineering,Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay

In July, 2005 Mumbai, the financial capital of the country, came to a standstill. Heavy rains clogged the city which was not prepared to deal with such a heavy downpour. More than a decade later, in 2015-16, the story was repeated in Chennai, Gurugram (Gurgaon), Bengaluru and Hyderabad. In the past decade, various other cities such as Kolkata, Srinagar and Surat have also witnessed similar situations. The story of urban floods is a global phenomenon. Many cities in Europe, the USA, the UK, Australia, China and other countries have also witnessed severe flooding during the past decade.


Unplanned construction in low-lying areas, solid waste in urban drainage channels, and increased rainfall due to changing climatic patterns are some of the identified common causes of urban flooding the world over.

The Government of India is a signatory to the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, which was adopted at the Third World DRR Conference held in Sendai in Japan last year. It is thus committed to mainstream disaster risk reduction by investing in resilient infrastructure, urban planning, land use, etc. so as to not only reduce the risk of flooding but reduce the losses of lives and livelihoods in case it occurs.

Since risks and disasters go beyond national boundaries, India is willing to extend help and seek cooperation from others in its pursuance of a disaster-resilient world. It is hosting the Asian Ministerial Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction (AMCDRR), 2016 from November 3-5, 2016 at Vigyan Bhawan in New Delhi in collaboration with the the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR). The Conference will bring together policymakers and experts from 60 participating nations to arrive at a roadmap to safer, stronger, disaster-resilient Asia.

At the thematic session on Risk Sensitive Land Use and Urban Planning at AMCDRR 2016, Urban Flooding may come up for discussion. In this backdrop, Dr. Kapil Gupta, who is a Professor at IIT Bombay and an urban flood management expert, talks on various aspects of urban floods.

What is an urban flood? How is it different from rural flood or any other flood?

The term urban flood consists of two parts – ‘urban’ and ‘flood’.  According to the Census of India, 2011, an urban area is defined as (a) all statutory places with a municipality, a corporation, a cantonment board or a notified town area committee, etc.; or (b) all other places satisfying all three conditions: i) a minimum population of 5,000; ii) at least 75 per cent of male working population engaged in non-agricultural pursuits; and iii) a density of population of at least 400 per sq. km.

Flood is defined as “an overflow of a large body of water over areas not usually inundated”. Thus, flooding in urban areas is caused by intense and/or prolonged rainfall, which overwhelms the capacity of the drainage system. Our cities are densely populated, and an urban flood affects a large number of people in a very small area. In addition, an urban flood results in inundation and damage to vital infrastructure, and disruption to roads and services, thereby affecting all walks of life. It often leads to major economic losses which have both local and global implications. Outbreak of diseases is yet another hazard after a major urban flood.

The extent of flooding in a rural flood may be quite large and there may be agricultural losses but the number of people affected is much lower in comparison to urban areas. Moreover, the flood peaks in urban areas are about two-eight times and flood volume is about six times when compared with the rural floods.

What causes urban flooding?

Urban flooding is caused by three main factors – meteorological, hydrological and human factors. Meteorological factors include heavy rainfall, cyclonic storms and thunderstorms. Hydrological factors include presence or absence of overbank flow channel networks and occurrence of high tides impeding the drainage in coastal cities. Human factors include land use changes, surface sealing due to urbanization (which increases run-off), occupation of flood plains and obstruction of flood flows, urban heat island effect (which has increased the rainfall in and around urban areas), sudden release of water from dams located upstream of citizen towns and the failure to release water from dams resulting in backwater effect. The indiscriminate disposal of solid waste into urban water drains and channels is a major impediment to water flow during the monsoon season.

There are multiple agencies which claim authority over waste disposal systems. Is there a system in place currently where different agencies work together and mitigate the risk?

In Mumbai, the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai has designated a Chief Engineer exclusively in charge of solid waste management. The solid waste department ensures that solid waste is collected and transported to the solid waste disposal site. Other cities may think of adopting a similar administrative structure so that their solid waste is swiftly and effectively transferred to the solid waste disposal site.

Which parts of the country are more prone to urban flooding?

All our cities are vulnerable to flooding. Most of them have now reached a saturation point in terms of population growth and accommodation, and the developmental activities have now shifted to low-lying areas and areas next to the riverbanks. Thunderstorms and heavy rainfall can occur anywhere. So, whenever a city experiences a large amount of rainfall within a short time, there are chances it gets flooded. For example, in 2012, Jaipur received 170 mm of rainfall in just two hours; similarly, Chennai was severely affected due to heavy rainfall in December 2015, and in 2016, Gurugram (Gurgaon), Bengaluru and Hyderabad have witnessed severe disruptions.


So, in my opinion, in today’s times, all cities are equally vulnerable to flooding – be it coastal cities, inland cities, hilly cities, cities on the banks of major rivers or near dams/reservoirs.

Talking about infrastructural improvement for mitigating the risk, what are the major infrastructural improvements that should be brought about in urban planning at various levels?

To avoid urban flooding, several infrastructural improvements are required. Firstly, the existing drainage path should be well demarcated. There should be no encroachments on the natural drainage channels of the city. Secondly, a large number of bridges, flyovers and metro projects are being constructed with their supporting columns located in the existing drainage channels. This can be avoided using proper engineering designs, such as cantilever construction. Storage of rainwater in tanks at the rooftop, intermediate, ground or underground levels can reduce the overflows and help in reducing urban flood volumes.

Storage or holding ponds should also be provided at judiciously selected locations to store water during heavy rainfall so that it does not cause downstream flooding. Once the rain subsides, the water can be released gradually.

It has also been observed that roads are surfaced and resurfaced several times, thus increasing their level above the plinth-level. The Indian Roads Congress has recommended that whenever a road is resurfaced, the existing layer be scraped first and then the new layer be laid. This shall ensure that the plinth level and the road level remain where they were prior to the resurfacing. Also, various cities, across the world, have constructed porous pavements. These allow the water to gradually infiltrate into the underlying soil thereby maintaining the pre-development sub-soil water conditions.

Will the instances of urban flooding increase in the future if the current trends continue?

If we take appropriate measures, we can ensure that the flood incidences remain within tolerable limits. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has indicated that in future, there could be increase in instances of heavy rainfall in shorter spans of time. This means that our existing drainage systems have to be redesigned to accommodate the increased flow-levels. This can be done either by resizing the drains or by judiciously integrating the best management practices into the drainage infrastructure.

What is that first basic issue that needs to be addressed at the individual, community and authoritative levels?

Each one of us should realize that disasters like floods and earthquakes can happen anytime. Just like we take life insurance and motor vehicle insurance, we should also insure our belongings against natural disasters and be prepared for such an eventuality. Obviously, if we know the flood risk map of our city, then we can avoid living in the low-lying areas. Alternatively, future constructions in low-lying areas should be on stilts.

At the community level, people should spread awareness and be ready to respond to a flood as a community. Schools have a greater role to play – as children need to be sensitized not only about floods but other disasters as well.

At the city level, the authorities should ensure that the building by-laws are followed both in spirit and practice at the ground level. People should also cooperate with municipal authorities.

Talking about the extent of damage, what is the ratio between the investment needed to avoid an urban flood and the actual cost of damage incurred because there was no investment?

The amount of investment is generally a fraction of the total damages. International studies have shown that the investment needed, in terms of following building by-laws, constructing proper infrastructure, establishing and enforcing mitigation measures, is only about seven per cent of the total cost of damage that would have occurred if the above measures were not put in place. In that sense, it is prudent to invest in preventive and mitigation measures rather than incurring huge damages afterwards.

What should affected people do immediately after they receive a flood warning?

Affected people should immediately evacuate to an identified evacuation centre. Or if such a centre does not exist, they should go to their neighbours staying in higher levels. They should take their important things such as documents and valuables in a water-proof bag, which they should have packed beforehand.

What important preparations can people living in risk-prone urban centres make in advance to tackle an urban flood?

People living on ground floors should take simple measures such as installing the gas connection, water heater, and electric panels high above the ground to brace themselves against flooding incidents. They should also put check valves in sewer traps to prevent floodwater from backing up into the drain. They should also seal the walls in their basements to avoid seepage.

What precautions should one take after the flood water recedes?

After the flood water recedes, the threat of epidemics such as malaria, chikungunya and dengue spread by mosquitoes, and leptospirosis caused due to mixing of rat’s urine with water looms large. Water should not be allowed to stagnate to prevent breeding of mosquitoes. People should consume packaged drinking water or boiled water, if possible, to prevent water-borne diseases and gastroenteritis.

Is it possible to forecast an imminent urban flood? Please explain the equipment and methodology involved.

With the currently available instrumentation, technology and information, it is quite easy to forecast an urban flood and issue early warnings over the internet. For example, the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai has installed 60 automatic weather stations for recording the rainfall every 15 minutes. This information is disseminated through the GMDMA (Greater Mumbai Disaster Management Authority) web portal in real-time during the monsoon. Water level measurements can be made on the receiving river or drain using ultrasonic water level sensors. The methodology is to look at the Indian Meteorological Department’s ‘Nowcasting’ forecasts and simultaneously monitor the satellite maps for movement of weather systems. Looking at the satellite animations, one can estimate when heavy rainfall is likely to take place over the city. Once the rainfall takes place, the automatic weather station records the rainfall and simultaneously, the flow gauges record the water level. From the moment the water falls on the rain gauge to the time it reaches the water body of the affected area, there is a delay of some time. Hence, we have some lead time to inform the people living in the downstream area that the river levels are likely to rise. For example, during one such heavy rainfall event in Mumbai in July 2013, people had 30 minutes warning to evacuate with their belongings.

What response mechanism should be put in place for help to reach affected people on time?

The local community is the first responder in case of most disasters. The second line of responders is the city municipal corporation or the urban local bodies. In Mumbai, the fire and rescue services are within the purview of the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai and they can reach the affected areas within 15-30 minutes. Other cities can adopt a similar model for help to reach the affected people within a reasonable time.

What is ‘Nowcasting’? How can it be useful in managing urban floods?

It refers to real-time weather updates. Earlier, the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) used to issue warnings twice a day, at 8:30 am in the morning and 5:30 pm in the evening. ‘Nowcasting’ is a more frequent issuing of alerts. Currently, IMD is presently issuing nowcasting alerts every three hours for the public and every 30 minutes for the aviation industry. The Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai issues nowcasting alerts for floods every 15 minutes on its urban flooding website during the rainy season.

India experienced major urban flood in 2005 in Mumbai and then we heard of Srinagar, Kolkata, Surat and most recently, Chennai, Gurugram (Gurgaon), Bengaluru and Hyderabad during 2015-16. What is the major takeaway from these instances?

The major takeaway is that no city is safe from flood disasters. Heavy rainfall can occur in any city any time. City authorities and residents should identify flood prone areas and be prepared to tackle flooding. They should take measures to ensure that when heavy rainfall occurs, adequate drainage systems are in place and these are unclogged so that flooding does not occur in the vulnerable areas. Through proper planning and retrofitting of best management practices, we can make our cities more flood resilient.

Sardar Patel : Organiser par excellence

Priyadashi Dutta.jpg

Author: Priyadarshi Dutta

Exactly one hundred years ago in June, 1916 a stylish Gujarati barrister mocked at a new visitor in Kathiwari dress to Gujarat Club, Ahmedabad. The barrister kept playing cards with his friends, even as the visitor delivered a lecture to a tiny audience in the lawn. He knew that visitor was none else than Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, who had set up his Satyagraha Ashram in Ahmedabad recently after returning from South Africa. But the barrister, a successful criminal lawyer, had no interest in Gandhi’s pursuits. But as Gandhi persisted with his visits for talks, the barrister decided to attend once out of sheer curiosity.

The talk sounded like a religious discourse rather than political speech. Yet something changed permanently inside the 41-year old unemotional barrister. Gandhi’s words kept haunting him for days till he became ‘reluctant recruit’ to Satyagraha’s cause. But being a pragmatic individual to the core, he did not openly join it until 1917. That year Gandhi was recognized as India’s political messiah after Champaran Satyagraha. He then became a loyal disciple of Gandhi, and subsequently became his most capable lieutenant. Whatever Gandhi conceptualized, he organized; whatever were Gandhi’s plans, he implemented. He burnt down his European suits and adopted dhoti-kurta made of Khadi. He was Sardar Ballabhbhai Jhaveribhai Patel (1875-1950), the iron man of India.

Young Vallabhbhai, when a student.

Patel was born on October 31, 1875 at Nandiad (dist Khera, Gujarat), around 200 kms from Surat. He hailed from the community of Leva Patels, believed to have descended from warrior caste, though traditionally engaged in cultivation. They have a history of bravery and hard labour. Patel hailed from an agriculturist family, and virtually grew up in the fields.

Vallabhbhai Patel

He always introduced himself as a farmer/agriculturist, even at the height of legal or political career. He had three brothers and one sister. Out of them Vithalbhai Jhaveribhai Patel (1873-1933), Bar-at-Law, became the first Indian President (Speaker) of the Central Legislative Assembly.

Vallabhbhai Patel at the height of his success as a lawyer

Patel showed his promise as a popular leader as an elected representative of Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (1917-1928). He was able to not only outsmart the British officialdom, but took several constructive initiatives for the townspeople.

Vallabhbhai Patel, after his embrace of Gandhi’s philosophy and a completely Indian way of life

While being President of the Corporation (1924-1928) he once presented a unique example of ‘Swachh Bharat’. Patel, along with volunteers, cleaned the streets of Ahmedabad with brooms and dustcart, beginning with Harijan Basti (Dalit quarters). As the Plague broke out in Ahmedabad in 1917, he worked almost round the clock with his volunteers to help the victims and their families. He worked at great personal risk of infection as Lokmanya Tilak had done during Pune Plague, 1896. The strain broke Patel’s robust health, but sealed his reputation as a mass leader.

Khera Satyagraha, Gujarat 1918

Around the same time Khera Satyagraha (1918), a forerunner to epic Bardoli No-Tax Campaign (1928), reinforced Patel’s leadership qualities.

Sardar Patel with Gandhi ji (Bardoli Satyagraha) in 1928.

Though the tax settlements demanded by the peasants at Kheda (Gujarat) were not fully met, it had two important results. First it led to recognition of peasants as stakeholders in determining land taxes, and it brought Gandhi and Patel together.

Sardar Patel and Gandhi ji

A decade later Gujarat was ravaged by floods after the torrential rains of July 23, 1927. Patel mounted a Herculean mission to rescue and rehabilitate the flood victims, which brought him to nationwide focus. The Bombay government (Gujarat was then part of Bombay Presidency) recommended him for an award, which Patel politely declined.

This humility was the hallmark of Patel even after his great victory at Bardoli (1928). He was reluctant to stand up at Calcutta Congress in December, 1928. After repeated persuasion he stood up in the audience amongst delegates from Gujarat, and had to be physically forced to come to the dais. Bardoli (Dist. Surat) was Patel’s Kurukshetra. He gave extraordinary leadership to successful tax resistance campaign that rolled on for three months. Only Tilak’s Famine Relief Campaign in Maharashtra (1896) could be compared to it in organizational brilliance. Patel organized the Satyagraha on military pattern though completely non-violent. He himself was the Supreme Commander (Senapati) and under him were Sector Commanders (Vibhag Patis), and under then volunteers (Sainik). The battle field covered 92 villages and 87,000 peasants. He ran a thorough information network involving horse mounted messengers, bhajan singers, paper printers etc. His success at Bardoli, attracted the attention of the whole British Empire. But the best recognition came from a farmer of Nanifalod, in Bardoli Taluka. Kuverji Durlabh Patel said in an open meeting, “Patel you are our Sardar’. Thereupon the title ‘Sardar’ attached to him permanently.

Patel’s disciplinarian approach was legendary. Self-discipline was Gandhi’s mantra. But Patel brought the organizational discipline and cohesion necessary for mass movements. Patel arrived on the political scene exactly when Indian politics hit mass-movement stage. John Gunther, the American journalist, who surveyed Asian politics in 1930s found Patel ‘party boss par excellence’. He found Patel a man of action, of practicality, the man who got things done.

Patel’s organizational capacities were at test as independence approached.  There was a threat of India’s balkanization had the princely states, numbering around 565, not joined Indian Union. Some like Travancore wanted to remain free, whereas others like Bhopal and Hyderabad conspired to join Pakistan, though not contagious to it. Partly by diplomacy and partly by coercion, Patel won over the princely states to join the Indian union. Force had to be applied in the case of Hyderabad, where Razakars had unleashed terror on subject population.

President of India Dr Rajendra Prasad administering the oath of office to Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel right, first Home Minister of India in New Delhi

As independent India’s first Home Minister, he dealt with onerous responsibilities of resettling Hindu and Sikh refugees from Pakistan and organizing the civil services etc. Philip Mason, ICS, said Patel was a natural administrator who did not seem to need any prior experience. Kaka Kalekar, Gandhi’s close associate, said Patel belonged to the illustrious class of Shivaji and Tilak though he was an unquestioning follower of Gandhi. Patel completed 75 years in 1950, in a broken health due to excessive strain. He passed away in Mumbai on December 15, 1950. On the death bed he betrayed no anxiety about his family, but about the condition of the country.

Manibehn Patel next to the body of her father, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, on 15 December 1950

It is a pity that the legacy of Patel suffered from neglect. The present government has done well to rectify the wrongs of history, and highlight Patel as India’s master nation builder.

  • Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel National Memorial in Ahmedabad


  • The central hall of the Sardar Patel National Memorial


  • The coat of Sardar Patel, on display at the Sardar Patel National Memorial, Ahmedabad 


The writer is an independent researcher and columnist based in New Delhi. The views expressed are his personal.

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