Social exclusion in watershed development: Evidence from the Indo-German watershed development project in Maharashtra - A LEAD paper

This paper examines social exclusion of resource-poor groups in developmental programmes targeted at them through the lens of watershed programmes.

Marginalized communities are excluded from a say in the creation of policies. 

A bar chart illustrating level of participation in SHGs against landholding status

In India, as in all communities, certain social groups are marginalized and have poor access to government supports and benefits. The need to include these groups in benefit-allocation is mentioned in policy documents. However, they have not been recognised in the analysis, formulation and implementation of developmental measures even when created speciically to benefit them. This paper, published in the Law, environment and development journal (LEAD) aims to contribute to an understanding of the ground realities of social exclusion in national programmes.

The objectives of this paper are:

  • To examine examines the various aspects relating to the exclusion of resource-poor
  • groups from watershed institutions and the newly generated economic benefits of watershed programmes. 
  • To analyze the nature, scope and extent of social exclusion of  resource-poor groups in watershed projects and to explore the exclusionary processes.
  • To study the various factors that are responsible for exclusion of resource-poor
  • To develop suggestions and views on effective inclusive strategies in watershed projects


The variables chosen covered two aspects of social exclusion: 

  • Inclusion of communities in watershed-based organizations and their access to generated economic benefits
  • The aspects of social interaction that are accessed to exclude certain people. 

150 respondents from the Gadiwat watershed (district Aurangabad in the Marathwada region of Maharashtra) belonging to various social groups were selected and interviewed. Primary quantitative and qualitative data was collected through interviews, focused group discussions, in-depth interviews and transect-walk. Secondary data on project details was collected through Project Implementing Agency (hereafter PIA) documents,such as the project feasibility report and mid-term evaluation reports, village-level records of the proceedings of various gram sabha and VWC meetings.


Institutional exclusion:

Either intentional or not, this can occur in the following ways in a watershed programme:

  • Gram Sabha: the research indicates that marginalization occurs along the lines of gender and literacy.
  • Village watershed committee: With all but two members being nominated by the Sarpanch and the vice-president, resource poor groups such as the landless and rain-fed farmers were not represented.
  • Self-help groups: Women's participation in the SHGs is directly linked with their landholding status with resource poor castes not being represented in the groups.
  • Samyukt Mahila Samiti: This organization is influenced by the president and vice president of the VWC and so it does not have an independent identity of its own.

Exclusion from activities:

Certain activities are mandatory within the programme to strengthen participation and foster a sense of ownership. Here, exclusion occurs along the following lines

  • Exposure visits: Landless people were largely excluded from this visit. Similarly, women and illiterate people participated in the visit to a lesser degree.
  • Shramadaan: Participation of resource poor was much higher in shramadaan than in the exposure visit.

Economic/benefit level exclusion

Membership in village institutions increased the personal benefits of watershed treatments in the Gadiwat watershed. Similarly, farmers with an irrigation source benefited more than rained farmers as they were better situated to tap into increased water availability. The ban on tree-cutting and open grazing severely affected resource-poor families' access to fuel and fodder, causing them some economic damage especially during the earlier part of the programme. The study also indicates that while the gross income of most households has increased, there is no redistribution of the economic power balance with only 30 percent of the households owning about 60% of the total income both before and after the project.


The author makes the following recommendations to deal with issues of inequity:

  • Reconsider watershed approach by increasing focus on livelihood opportunities for the resource poor.
  • Reconsider social fencing in watershed to include a law on exploitation of groundwater.
  • Create separate spaces within institutions for marginalized groups to allow them to participate fully without being overruled by the dominant members.

Conclusions: The paper identifies the 'scope and need to redesign strategies to equitably extend the benefits and increased resources of watershed projects to the resource-poor

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