Land Resources of India – UPSC (Geography Optional)

In this article, You will read Land Resources of India, Land use & Land cover (Geography Optional) – for UPSC IAS.

Land Resources

  • Land is an important resource as humans live on it and obtain most of their needs from land. It is a mother of biotic resources or biosphere.
  • All plants and animals depend upon land resources. Soil composition, groundwater availability, and local climatic condition become the basis of the utilization and development of land resources.
  • However, there are some hidden resources like minerals, groundwater, etc, whose economic viability brings the development of industrial complexes, mining sites, tourist centres, settlements, and other kinds of land use.
  • Besides, land use varies from region to region and also temporally.
  • The utilization of land depends upon physical factors like topography, soil, and climate as well as upon human factors such as the density of population, duration of occupation of the area, land tenure, and technical levels of the people.
  • There are spatial and temporal differences in land utilization due to the continued interplay of physical and human factors.
  • India has a total geographical area of about 328.73 million hectares but statistics pertaining to land utilization were available for about 305.90 million hectares in 2010-11.
  • India has a varied land use pattern given the geographical diversity of the country. Land use pattern in India is as follows:
    • Net Sown Area is 46% of the total geographic area because of the extensive availability of flat terrain in India.
    • About 22% area of the country is under forest cover.
    • Barren and un-culturable waste land amount to about 8.5%.
    • About 5.5% is under non-agricultural uses like houses, industries, etc.
    • Rest of the area is under tree crops, grooves, permanent pastures, and grazing lands, etc.

Net Sown Area

  • The physical extent of land on which crops are sown and harvested is known as net sown area.
  • This area has a special significance in an agricultural country like India because agricultural production largely depends upon this type of land.
  • The net sown area in 1950-51 was 118.7 million hectares which increased to 141.58 million hectares in 2010-11 as it was in 2000-01.
  • The per capita cultivated land has gone down drastically from 0.53 hectares in 1951 to 0.11 hectares in 2011-12.
  • It may be noted that agricultural prosperity does not depend as much as on the total net sown area as it does on the percentage of net sown area to the total reporting area.
  • There are large variations in the proportion of net sown area to total reporting area from one state to another. Punjab and Haryana had some of the highest proportions of 82.6 and 80.5 percent respectively while Arunachal Pradesh had 3 percent.
  • The decline in the net sown area is a recent phenomenon that started in the late nineties, before which it was registering a slow increase. There are indications that most of the decline has occurred due to the increase in area under non-agriculture use.

Area sown more than once

  • As the name indicates, this area is used to grow more than one crop in a year.
  • It contains 34.3% of the Net sown area and 16.6% of total reporting area.
  • This type of area comprises of land with rich fertile soils and a regular water supply.
  • It is clear that the percentage of area sown more than is rather low in India as a whole. This is attributed to infertile soils, deficiency of moisture, and insufficient use of manures and fertilizers.
  • This type of land is of special significance. Since almost all the arable land has already been brought under plough, the only course left to increase the agricultural production is to increase the intensity of cropping which can be done by increasing the area sown more than once.
  • Large tracts of the Indo-Ganga plain in Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, and Bihar and in coastal regions have a large percentage of area sown more than once.


  • It is important to note that area under actual forest cover is different from the area classified as forest. The latter is the area which the Government has identified and demarcated for forest growth. The land revenue records are consistent with the latter definition. Thus, there may be an increase in this category without any increase in the actual forest cover.
  • Area under forest cover was 40.41 million hectares in 1950-51 which increased to 69 million hectares in 1999-2000. The total forest cover of the country is 7, 12,249 sq km which is 21.67% of the geographical area of the country according to the India State of Forest Report (ISFR) 2019. Tree and forest cover together made up 24.56% (8, 07,276 sq km) of India’s area. In the last assessment, it was 24.39%.
  • However, 24.39 percent of forest land to the total reporting area is not sufficient for a tropical country like India where about 33 percent of the total land should be under forests. This will require massive tree plantations, vigorous restrictions on the reckless felling of trees, reclaiming of forest area, etc.
  • The increase in share under forest can be accounted for by an increase in demarcated area under forest rather than the actual increase in forest cover in the country.

Land not available for cultivation

  • This class consists of two types of land viz.:
    • Land put to non-agricultural uses:
      • Land under settlements (rural and urban), infrastructure (roads, canals, etc.), industries, shops, etc. are included in this category.
      • The rate of increase is the highest in case of area under non-agricultural uses. This is due to the changing structure of Indian economy, which is increasingly depending on the contribution from industrial and services sectors and expansion of related infrastructural facilities. Also, an expansion of area under both urban and rural settlements has added to the increase. Thus, the area under nonagricultural uses is increasing at the expense of wastelands and agricultural land.
      • The largest amount of land in this category is in Andhra Pradesh followed by Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, and Bihar.
    • Barren and unculturable waste:
      • The land which may be classified as a wasteland such as barren hilly terrains, desert lands, ravines, etc. normally cannot be brought under cultivation with the available technology.
      • As the pressure on land increased, both from the agricultural and nonagricultural sectors, the wastelands and culturable wastelands have witnessed a decline over time.
  • The amount of this land has been variable right from 1950-51 to 2010-11, the data for which are available. It accounted for 13.8% of the total reported area in 1999-2000.
  • The largest amount of land in this category of land is in Andhra Pradesh followed by Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, and Bihar.

Permanent pastures and other grazing lands

  • Most of this type of land is owned by the village ‘Panchayat’ or the Government. Only a small proportion of this land is privately owned. The land owned by the village panchayat comes under ‘Common Property Resources.
  • A total area of 10.3 million hectares is devoted to permanent pastures and other grazing lands. This amounts to about 4 percent of the total reporting area of the country.
  • Grazing takes place mostly in forests and other uncultivated lands wherever pasturage is available.
  • The area presently under pastures and other grazing lands is not sufficient keeping in view the large population of livestock in the country. About one-third of the reporting area in Himachal Pradesh is under pastures. The proportion varies from 4 to 10 percent in Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Maharashtra, and Odisha. It is less than 3 percent in the remaining parts of the country.
  • The decline in land under pastures and grazing lands can be explained by pressure from agricultural land. Illegal encroachment due to the expansion of cultivation on common pasture lands is largely responsible for this decline.

Land under miscellaneous tree crops and groves

  • Land under miscellaneous tree crops and groves include all cultivable land which is not included under net area sown but is put to some agricultural use. Land under casuarina trees, thatching grass, bamboo, bushes, other groves for fuel, etc. which are not included under orchards are classed under this category.
  • Most of this land is privately owned. Land under this category declined sharply from 198 million hectares in 1950-51 to only 4.46 million hectares in 1960-61 and further to 4.29 million hectares in 1970-71.
  • After that juncture, the area under miscellaneous tree crops and groves has shown varying trends and stood at 3.21 million hectares or | percent of the total reporting area in 1999-2000,
  • Odisha has the largest area in this category followed by Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh Assam and Tamil Nadu.

Culturable waste land

  • The “wasteland survey and reclamation committee” defines “culturable waste” as the land available for cultivation but not used for cultivation for one reason or the other. This land was used in the past but has been abandoned for some reason. It is not being used at present due to such constraints as lack of water, salinity or alkalinity of soil, soil erosion, waterlogging, an unfavorable physiographic position, or human neglect.
  • Any land which is left fallow (uncultivated) for more than five years is included in this category. It can be brought under cultivation after improving it through reclamation practices.
  • Reh, bhur, usar, and khola tracts of Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, and Haryana as well as in several other parts of the country are the example of such lands.
  • Rajasthan has 4.3 lakh hectare of cultivable wasteland which is about 36 percent of the total wasteland of India. The other states with considerable culturable wasteland are Gujarat (43.6%), Madhya Pradesh (10.2%), Uttar Pradesh (6.93%), and Maharashtra (6.83%).
  • The land under this category has declined considerably from about 22.9 million hectare in 1950-51 to 13.8 million hectare in 1999-2000.
  • This decline in the wasteland is due to some land reclamation schemes launched in India after Independence.
  • For long term conservation and maintenance of eco balance, this land should be put under afforestation and not under crop farming.
  • National Remote Sensing Agency (NRSA), Hyderabad is making a valuable contribution in mapping the wastelands in India through satellite imageries.
  • As the pressure on land increased, both from the agricultural and nonagricultural sectors, the wastelands and culturable wastelands have witnessed a decline over time.

Fallow land

  • This category includes all that land that was used for cultivation but is temporarily out of cultivation. Fallow land is left uncultivated from 1 to 5 years to help soil recoup its fertility in a natural way depending upon the nature of the soil and the nature of farming.
  • Fallow land is of two types:
    • Current fallow: Fallow of one year is called ‘current fallow’. There has been increased in the area under current fallow from 10.68 to 14.70 million hectare from 1950-51 to 1999-2000. Andhra Pradesh with about 2.2 million hectares has the largest area as current fallow. This is followed by over 1:3 million hectares in Rajasthan, 1.2 million hectares in Bihar. Fallowing is a cultural practice adopted for giving the land rest. The land recoups the lost fertility through natural processes. The trend of current fallow fluctuates a great deal over years, depending on the variability of rainfall and cropping cycles.
    • Fallow other than current fallow: This is also a cultivable land which is left uncultivated for more than a year but less than five years. There had been a sharp decline in fallow lands other than current fallow from 17.4 million hectare to 11.18 million hectare from 1950-51 to 1999-2000. The largest area of over 1.7 million hectare of ‘fallow land other than current fallow’ is in Rajasthan followed by 1.5 million hectares in Andhra Pradesh and over one million hectares in Maharashtra.
  • There is need to reduce the extent and frequency of fallow land in order to increase agricultural production. This can be done by proper dose of fertilizers, providing irrigation facilities, crop rotation, and combination, and several other similar farm techniques.
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