Neeranchal Watershed Program


Printer Friendly and PDF

Rain-fed agriculture accounts for 68% of India’s cropped area, providing livelihoods to 480 million people. Of the 127 agro-climatic zones in India, 73 are rain-fed areas, characterized by constraints in water availability, higher poverty ratios, lower population density, and difficult access to markets, employment and services. These regions are more susceptible to drought, land degradation and environmental stress. Although the contribution of agriculture to GDP has been reducing over the years and now stands at 16%, the proportion of people depending on agriculture for their livelihoods is very high, at approximately 70% of the population. Agricultural productivity advancement in irrigated areas has reached a plateau and more than on third of the additional requirement of food grains (estimated at 102 million tons) has to come from rain-fed lands. The effects of climate variability are felt more acutely in rain fed areas, threatening livelihoods.


Watershed Management is the only viable option to harness this production requirement in the agricultural sector. With huge tract of land in the country falling under arid and semi-arid climatic region, watershed development found to be the approach to address this challenge. The national Integrated Watershed Management Program (IWMP), financed by central and state government in the ration of 90:10, currently forms the cornerstone of the GoI’s support for watershed development. The Integrated Watershed Management Programme (IWMP) is one of the flagship programmes of the Govt. of India and is being implemented by the Department of Land Resources (DoLR) in all states of the country having an outlay of around Rs.29000 Crores for the 12th plan. It is estimated that IWMP could treat around 55 million hectares by 2027, the end of the 14th Year Plan. The IWMP is the second largest watershed program in the world, after China, yet current outcomes from IWMP are considerably less than what can be achieved.


The programme envisages to restore the ecological balance by harnessing, conserving and developing degraded natural resources such a soil, vegetative cover & water through watershed management initiatives. The outcomes of IWMP are prevention of soil run-off, regeneration of natural vegetation, rain water harvesting and recharging of the ground water table. This enables multi-cropping and the introduction of diverse agro-based activities, which help to provide sustainable livelihoods to the people residing in the watershed area. Further Watershed management practices have gradually evolved from a top-down, supply driven approach, to a more participatory model that aims to work closely with communities as partner and integrates soil and water conservation interventions with rural livelihoods support.


The Rationale for Neeranchal:-


The move from traditional territory approach to systemic approach has made the watershed development programme, to adopt ‘watershed plus’ components. This ‘plus’ components is largely in the areas other than traditional territory or land based activities. The watershed plus has canvas has provided with greater and diversified ingredients to paint with, though the basic unit of watershed, or sub-watershed remained the same.


                 This watershed plus components are mainly to address the equity issue, ensuring inclusive growth with greater social inclusion, in addition to intervention in livestock sector as well. Thus it is not just the traditional approach of shaping the land of a farmer in given watershed but also of shaping the system, including the entire environment, wherein the supporting bovine population is also included. At the field level this is addressed through IGA, assistance to animal husbandry, improved decision support system to the community from preparation of action plan to its implementation and maintainense of assets generated, in a post project scenario. This has opened up new challenges in the hitherto adopted approach and methodologies of watershed management practices.


In this background, a new programme assisted by the World Bank called Neeranchal is being initiated. Neeranchal is expected to positively influence the outcomes of the ongoing Integrated Watershed Management Project (IWMP) through technical and financial support for better delivery and impacts through improved planning approaches, capacity building, coordination and convergence, and supportive research and development. Whereas, Neeranchal is not expected to invest in field based interventions and is likely to provide technical capacity building support, the achievement of its outcomes will necessitate close alignment with the IWMP at both national and state levels.


‘Neeranchal’ project in its crux is largely designed to intervene in this ‘plus’ part of watershed approach. It is more a “Causative” intervention that acts as a supportive and stimulating factor for realizing the goal of larger watershed development programme. Thus Neeranchal is a “effect stimulator or result generating tool” than the effect per-se itself. Its major component contents provided below reveal this fact. However the project makes an exception in taking up developing urban watersheds on a selective & experimental mode keeping in view of the exponential growth rate of urban agmlorations in the country. This futuristic perspective is kept as a strategy to keep the project relevant in the long run attempting to address the issues that are likely to emerge in the future developmental front may be after a decade or two.


II) Project Development Objective (PDO) of Neeranchal:- The Project Development Objective of Neeranchal is “to support the integrated Watershed Management Programme (IWMP) to improve incremental conservation outcomes and agricultural yields for communities in selected sites, and adoption of new processes and technologies into the broader programme in participating States”. The objective is to be realized through the four components as designed under the project.


The components under Neeranchal are


  1. Central Institutional and Capacity Building for Watershed Management.
  2. National Innovation Support.
  3. IWMP Implementation Support in Participating States.
  4. Project Management and Coordination.


Component 1:- Central Institutional and Capacity Building for Watershed Management :- This component  will strengthen key national and State watershed institutions to improve planning, coordination, implementation and monitoring of watershed programmes, develop strategies and report progress. The work will include assessment of training needs, leading to implementation of resultant strategies. Knowledge and data will be systematically collected, analyzed and disseminated to project personnel and participants, through a comprehensive communication strategy that will also be developed under this component. Capacity development for effective monitoring and evaluation will also be a priority area, along with improvement of planning procedures and systems. The component, led by DoLR, would focus on core systems underlining IWMP and coverage would not be confined only to partner States but include all IWMP States.


Component 2:- National Innovation Support  :- The initiatives under this component  will promote a coordinated set of applied research activities to pilot and provide practical knowledge and tools to support integrated and science-based watershed management. It will support the generation of innovative knowledge, tools, and approaches to underpin improvements to IWMP, related to watershed planning and implementation and agricultural intensification, based on identified needs of the States.


The major outputs of  this Component  are the following:


·      Identification, testing and review of community based agriculture systems for watersheds and their integration into agriculture schemes and extension


·      Development of models and toolkit for more science-based, integrated watershed management practices, development of hydrological decision support and monitoring systems, design of data base systems.


·      Studies and designing of climate change adaptation and risk reduction systems with field demonstration of the models in close collaboration with SLNAs.


Component 3:- IWMP Implementation Support in Participating States :- This Third Component is the largest part of Neeranchal and is focused on strengthening IWMP in the eight participating States. The objective of this component is to demonstrate improved models and impacts from watershed programs, with a focus on rain-fed agricultural areas and to support implementation at scale. The salient features of this component are:




  • Provide intensive, science-based support for current IWMP operations
  • A key focus will be on integration with other relevant sectors and schemes at Central, State, District and local levels.
  • The activities under this component will be largely linked to planned and sanctioned IWMP field operations and structures in the selected project districts.
  • Innovations, planning approaches, tools and the systems for improved agriculture and livelihood systems developed, will actually guide the field operations.
  • Successful demonstration of new approaches and measured results will help in wider scaling up across the  participating States through IWMP.


      There are four core sub-components common to all participating States and two State/location specific sub-components under this component. The four core sub-components are:


  1. Program integration in rain-fed areas through data base building, improved land scape and micro-watershed planning using Decision Support Systems (DSS) and community based monitoring;
  2. Institutional strengthening through capacity building, strengthened monitoring and evaluation, linking State practitioners with communities of practice through better coordination and convergence of watershed programmes.
  3. Adoption and transfer of technology and innovations developed under the project across four thematic areas, namely, improving agricultural performance, using decision support systems for hydrology and watershed management, climate change and risk reduction and value addition, value chains, extension systems and livelihoods improvement; and
  4. Incremental support for project management and coordination. In addition to the above the two additional sub-components are State/location specific, namely, State specific innovations and pilots and urban watershed management are also taken up.


 In addition to the above the two additional sub-components are State/location specific, namely, state innovations and Pilot and Urban Watershed Management are also taken up.


Component 4:- Project Management and Coordination. This component will ensure effective, efficient and responsive project management to successfully implement the overall Neeranchal project. Activities will include:


  • Deployment of  upgrading of the Neeranchal PIU office;
  • Support incremental, specialized staff  in the national Project Implementation Unit(PIU) in DoLR, including project coordinators and technical specialists;
  • Providing incremental operating costs for travel (as per World Bank norms), meetings, financial management, internal/external audit and procurement; equipment; and project management consultancies.


III)   Project Financing  :-


The total project cost is INR 2142.2 crore (US$ 357 Million). The project is financed through a Specific Investment Loan (SIL) at a 50/50 cost-sharing ratio where half of the total cost is financed by the International Development Association (IDA) and the other half by the Government of India.  The breakdown across the components is shown below.




 Project Financing Summary Table





(INR Crore)

(USD Million)

% of Total Base Cost







Central Institution and Capacity Building








National Innovation Support








Support to IWMP in Participating States








Project Management and Coordination








Total Project Cost











IV)    The Neeranchal Outreach, Area covered :-




The project is proposed to be taken up in Nine State viz- Andhra Pradesh, Telengana, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Odisha, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, and Rajasthan. The nine partner States present a great diversity of watershed development challenges and cover approximately 60 percent of the IWMP area. These States rely more heavily on rain-fed agriculture and pastoral activities than irrigated agriculture and it is in this rain-fed agricultural context that Neeranchal aims to achieve the most impact. Other criteria of selection included poverty levels, willingness of State government to participate and share costs, etc


Project States and Districts




Sl. No.



District 1

District 2







Andhra Pradesh















Madhya Pradesh

























In seven participating States, the project is to be piloted in two districts each and one each in Telengana & Andhra Pradesh making, the total number of districts where the project will be implemented in to 16. Each of the watersheds will be of the order of about 5,000 ha. The project would initially focus on 80 sub-watersheds with intensive support for piloting and demonstration. After this initial phase of intensive support, the project would scale up successful innovations into IWMP in an additional 320 sub-watersheds in the eight focal States, with the total number of watersheds taken up reaching 400.


Expected Outreach of Neeranchal


Expected outreach

Piloting Phase

Scaling up Phase


Enhanced Watershed activities

9 States

16 districts

16 districts

Sub-watersheds (about 5000 ha.)




Total Area directly impacted (ha.)

0.4 million

1.6 million

2.0 million

Number of Farmer households


0.36 million

0.48 million

Population benefitted

0.50 million

1.5 million

2.00 million

Indirect Impact (ha.)

17.7 million

37.3 million

55 million


Farmers and communities involved in the overall IWMP in participating States are eventually expected to benefit directly or indirectly from Neeranchal. Similarly, depending on their relevance and nature, successful innovations, especially, tools, systems etc. could potentially influence IWMP as a whole in all 29 States. This will strengthen the processes for future implementation of IWMP.




  1. Strategies for Execution:-




Specific strategies are proposed for execution of each of the four specified components of the project. In Brief the Project is focused to address it through  the  following  strategy




  • By bringing out relevant institutional changes in watershed management practices.
  • Building system that ensures watershed programmes are better focused and have   quantifiable results.
  • Ensuring sustainability of watershed management practices even after completion of project areas through devising appropriate strategies.


Thus ‘Neeranchal’ as explained is largely a ‘scientific & technical tool’ super imposed on the ongoing Integrated Watershed Management Programme. Conceptualizing on the above principle strategies the Neeranchal Project intends to specifically support  the watershed programme in the following key areas:-


  1. Improved planning at micro level.
  2. Improved capacity building and training with strategic delivering mechanism system.
  3. Creating a widespread and greater awareness among the community about the watershed development.
  4.  Design develop and deploy a robust result based real time monitoring system which could be up scaled and adopted at the larger IWMP Level. A customised MIS would also supplement this monitoring mechanism.
  5. Develop region specific technology packages
  6. Assistance on ensuring improved agricultural productivity.
  7. Improved hydrological & watershed outcomes.
  8. Creation of improved and diversified livelihood option particularly to the vulnerable land less community
  9. Support climate smart agriculture at the watershed level.
  10. Support region specific innovations and implement them with demonstrative pilots
  11. Bring in international best practices and state of art technology in the watershed domine of the country.
  12. Develop a national data and information center for watershed management.
  13. To develop and support strategies for post project sustainability through better convergence and linkages.
  14. To develop urban watershed in an experimental mode.


A brief description of above key intervening areas is provided below for better comprehension of each of the items:-


  1. At the micro watershed level for preparation of detailed project report (DPR) scientific tools are needed. Lack of scientific inputs compromises the quality of DPR’s consequently resulting in failure to realize the goal of the programme. The Neeranchal would attempt to demonstrate and develop capacities for the development of scientific tools and using them for planning at appropriate scales fetching intended result.
  2. Neeranchal would support an assessment of training needs and institutional and human resource review. It proposes to develop a national capacity building strategy to the IWMP, attempting to answer the daunting task of capacity building in terms of area, magnitude of target group. It intends to experiment with state-of-Art technology of SATCOM and ICT Tools as delivery mechanism in addition to developing customized modules and training materials. Neeranchal also proposes to Provide for national and international exposure visits as a learning mechanism.
  3. Greater awareness creation: it is proposed under Neeranchal to develop and adopt a well-designed strategy for communication. The specific IEC will generate wide-spread understanding and quick recall, enabling higher engagement of both communities and decision makers.
  4. Monitoring And Evaluation & MIS in which Concurrent monitoring would be the cornerstone of result based management system. Neeranchal proposes to operationalise independent concurrent monitoring system to ensure greater systemic transparency and efficiency. Near real time monitoring provides corrective option during project life itself. Neeranchal also intends to design and adoption of MIS to supplement this M&E System. This would be a tool for progress monitoring i.e. financial and physical status of the project in real time. This model would be subsequently upscaled to the entire IWMP across the country.
  5. The difficult and challenges like salinity affected, coastal ingression, mine affected, high erosion, very high rainfall etc need specific attention in treatment methods. The varied landscapes are not adequately addressed in the overall watershed development strategy. Neeranchal would attempt to access demonstrate and pilot appropriate methods and technologies to address these challenges.
  6. The focus of watershed management over the year has been soil and water conservation, while the productivity improvement efforts are largely unattended or given low priority. The need of multi-sectoral inputs in agriculture like horticulture , soil fertility, quality planting material, plant management, value chains and market linkage etc are rarely attempted, resulting less than optimal returns in this sector. Neeranchal would attempt to take advantage of the resource base created to demonstrate national and internal best practices in agriculture sector. It would specifically support to bring in productivity improvement technologies and methods in to this sector.
  7. Improved Hydrological model for Watershed Outcomes:- Neeranchal proposes to address Hydrological aspects of watershed in a comprehensive manner which is not adequately considered in IWMP. It is proposed to develop a Decision Support System for Hydrology and Watershed Management (DSS-H) under the project for the assessment of the present and future demand by various stake holders, at the watershed level. It would also undertake initiatives such as community water monitoring and management, water-budgeting and water use efficiency.
  8. Livelihoods and Assured Incomes for Landholders and Asset-less:- Neeranchal facilitates the engagement of specialized agencies for exploring new avenues for livelihoods for the vulnerable communities within watersheds. It provides a bigger platform for exploring value additions, market and financial linkages for both farm-based and non-farm livelihoods. The project provides for hand-holding support to develop assured and sustainable income options and avenues. For women’s self-help groups, entrepreneurship development opportunities based on locally available resources that are sustainable and economically viable will be a priority.
  9. Climate-smart Agriculture and Watersheds:- Climate vulnerabilities are specific to region and ecosystems, as their solutions. Neeranchal will support the assessment of climate vulnerabilities in project areas and recommend customized adaptation packages to address these so that productivity gains otherwise achieved are not negated. The initiative will explore the potential of climate-proofing investments with information of climate change built into project planning. It will also assess the potential for carbon sequestration through watershed interventions. Reputed National and International Institutes with experience in climate-change modeling would be indentified to assist in this specialized area.
  10. State-specific Innovations and Pilots: States often struggle with specific challenge area and situations. Neeranchal provides space to each state to identify at least two of these and will assist in finding solutions and providing handholding support with respect to the challenges identified. Gujarat for example indicated coastal ingress to be a major challenge, while Maharastra identified salinity. This effort that will enhance the capacities of the States implementing agencies. Moreover, it will provide the foundation to support the initiative to allow States the flexibility to identify and address their own specific challenges and requirements in turn use their flexi-funds more appropriately. Thus Neeranchal will set the process of usage of flexi-funds in motion.


  1. Access to International Best Practices and State of the Art Technology: AS an externally aided project there are better opportunities to bring in learning’s and best practices from international experiences. Thus, international knowledge flow is foreseen under Neeranchal.
  2. Easier Access to data and information: A National Information and Data Centre is envisaged under Neeranchal. It would act as a repository of watershed-related information from both national and international experiences. A system of knowledge and information sharing would be institutionalized along with networking and information flow arrangements. At the State level, digital data centres would act as repositories of information including baselines, digitized maps, etc. That would support planning and monitoring efforts.
  3. Post-project sustainability including convergence and linkages: Post Project sustainability has been a challenge for most large scale watershed projects in the past. Establishment of linkages and convergence with other ongoing programmes would a basis for sustainability through access to inputs on a continuing basis. Depending on the requirements, convergence would be attempted with agriculture, forest, MGNREGS, horticulture, fisheries, NRLM, minor irrigation, NABARD and other schemes and departments. This would also lead to better utilization of resources, avoid duplication bring in expertise available locally, and taking advantage of the resource base created resulting in a mutually beneficial situation for all.
  4. Urban Watershed Development: This component is incorporated under Neeranchal Keeping in mind the critical need for water in small urban township and semi-urban areas. It is a unique and meaningful experiment being attempted under the project. It would look into the improved provisioning of water to these urban areas based on source augmentation through watershed works in the surrounding rural catchments, in Situ water conservation, and assess the quality of waste water released, that would potentially pollute productive rural areas within its command area. The component attempts to experiment the strategy in small urban agglomerations which would have greater scope to demonstrate models for the country as a whole.


  1. To sum-up


Generally in producing or creating anything there different kinds of causes come in to play, the material cause, the instrumental cause and the efficient cause. For e.g. in case of making a mud pot, the mud is the material cause, the wheel of the potter is the instrumental cause and the pot- maker is the efficient cause. Neeranchal invests or supports all these three types of causes, i.e. material, instrumental and efficient in its strategy of execution. It supports innovations, the institutions and capacities of a given system enabling to operate at a higher level of efficiency and effectiveness. Nevertheless, the cause is always more subtle and pervasive than the effect. To that extent there is difficulty in understanding the concept of Neeranchal. But once comprehended, it makes a case for itself. Its uniqueness or salient features as a project can be summarized as below.


  1. Neeranchal is a “Causative” project. It is a scientific tool kit for watershed management. It aims to develop and define specific methodology along with end to end solutions. Thus it aims improving the art of project management, with defined scientific inputs.
  2. It is a project with huge scope for upscaling from its experimental stage to application stage. The designed, developed and tested models at Neeranchal level, could be easily upscaled to the entire IWMP level.
  3. Specific emphasis on hydrology in planning, implementation and post project maintenance levels. Intra sub-watershed and inter watersheds hydrological implications are to be given due consideration while planning a watershed action plan. Effort  will be made to extend this to a catchment level planning covering several sub-watersheds i.e. hydrology beyond watershed to the catchment level.
  4. It is a unique project of Govt of India (DoLR), wherein 85% of the financial out lay is spent through the states. Thus though not a contractual partner, the participating states are bestowed with the major share of responsibility of implementing the project. Thus the project is a reiteration of faith in the prevailing federal system of governance in the country.
  5. It envisages the involvement of premier scientific institutions in developing scientific models, methods and operational tool kits. In addition, these institution would be also involved in customized capacity building of the existing IWMP structure as per the newly developed models and methods. Efforts are also to be made to bring in international reknown institutions and their expertise in  the field.
  6. Neeranchal proposes to adopt an independent monitoring and evaluation system. The M&E would be carried out by an external agency independent of the project. The specific emphasis would be on concurrent monitoring enabling a real time corrective option with ICT supported MIS. The stress is on the learning element facilitated through monitoring inputs in a near real time basis. Thus a robust result based monitoring system providing for transparency and accountability would be a prime feature of this project, which could be upscaled.


  1. A Specific attempt to treat urban watersheds. This would be a futuristic perspective attempt, in a selective mode. With a high rate of growth of urban centres and urban population, the country needs to gear up for fresh challenges in these areas in the near future. Neeranchal is exploring these options in a scientific manner with a few experimental trials.


Thus Neeranchal project is a unique project by design, envisaged as a scientific knowledge support-system. It is a methodological intervention strategy developed on a experimental and demonstrative mode with defined specific scientific and technical inputs. In nutshell in its ultimate analysis it is to be a “customized strategy option to be mounted on the overall IWMP”, the flagship programme of DoLR.