Soil is the most important natural resource upon which activities of human beings are dependent. The flora fauna, agriculture human inhabitation and other commercial activities are also dependent on the soil of a particular area. Soil undergoes various natural vagaries, which affect its structure and make it prone to erosion and loss. It is therefore of utmost important to take necessary steps for conservation of our most important natural resource “SOIL” for which the “SOIL CONSERVATION DEPARTMENT” is the nodal agency. Soil Conservation department is therefore a major player amongst the agriculture and allied sectors of the state. Soil Conservation department basically deals in the effective and gainful management of the three most vital natural resources viz; soil, water and vegetation by implementation of various activities linked to land and water management on crop land, wasteland, degraded forest land and Riverine land. The department undertakes various soil and water conservation measures with the objective of controlling all forms of erosion and soil and water losses caused by various natural factors. The changes in the demographic pattern have caused tremendous pressure on the scarce land and water resources thus igniting the need for optimum utilization and conservation of available resources on a sustainable basis. About half of the country’s geographical area is affected by different forms of soil erosion and land degradation, which causes great losses to productivity, floods and drought. It also results in environmental hazards and reduction in livelihood opportunities. The problem of erosion is also very acute in the state of Assam. The hill districts and the areas bordering Bhutan and Arunachal Pradesh are being severely affected. The soil in these areas consists of recently transported materials, mostly coarse sand with pebble boulders, which are shallow and easily erodible. The practices of jhum or shifting cultivation practiced in the hilly areas also lead to severe soil erosion and degradation of land. The Soil Conservation department undertakes various measures for conservation of soil and water resources, reclamation of degraded lands and optimum utilization of available natural resources for optimum production and productivity.
i. To reduce all forms of soil erosion.
ii. To increase agricultural productivity in sustained manner without deteriorating the soil health.
iii. Efficient use of rainfall and development of water conservation and harvesting structures such as farm ponds, check dams, nallah bunds, percolation tanks etc.
iv. Restoration of ecological balance by harnessing, conserving and developing natural resources.
v. To minimize flood hazards in the valley bottom areas and farm lands by way of preventing silt deposition in the riverbed.
vi. Protection of paddy land from throwing of sand during flood season to some extent.
Soil Erosion is a major problem facing the state, which is more dominant in the areas where shifting cultivation is practised. In the tribal areas or the sixth schedule districts of the state wherein the primitive form of agriculture or shifting cultivation is practised, the need to study the growing problem has been long felt. In the year 1953, at the request of the State Government and a section of tribal leaders, a preliminary study was undertaken by the Inspector General of Forests, and the Agricultural Commissioner, Govt. of India. Based on the recommendations of the experts, a pilot project to tackle the problem of diminishing soil fertility of the shifting agricultural lands was undertaken in the Garo Hills in the year 1954.The experts pointed that the problem of soil erosion was not so significant in these areas as was that of diminishing soil fertility. Further, it was pointed that integrated land use could solve the problem of diminishing soil fertility. The integrated land use recommended was that the top and upper slopes should be afforested to reduce soil wash and preserve streams flow, the middle slopes should be used for horticultural purposes and the slopes and valley bottoms be shaped for permanent staple food cropping. It was suggested that simultaneously efforts for restoration of the jhummed fields be initiated by raising leguminous crops viz; wattle (Acacia Mollesima var durrans) in the freshly abandoned jhummed land. Acacia Mollesima var durrans has a maturity period of 8-9 years but could be harvested earlier also. The crop being leguminous, it helps in increasing the soil nitrogen content as also retention of soil moisture. The idea was that when the land was to be jhummed as per the cycling jhumming, these wattle trees could be cut down, the bark could be used for tanning and the stems burnt to get wood ash. But the experimental wattle cultivation in the three centres in the Garo Hills revealed that the crop could not be grown at these low elevations. Therefore this part of the recommendations was not fruitful and had to be abandoned. In another part of the recommendation concerning horticultural crops, it was decided to take up cultivation of cashew nut, black pepper, Para rubber, coffee etc at three centres in the Garo Hills on a pilot basis. As the tribal areas are poorly connected and marketing of perishable horticultural crops such as pine apples, banana etc would be difficult, on perishable cash crops were selected. The three selected centres where the pilot project was undertaken showed considerable growth which encouraged the formation of a separate forest division, under the forest department to take up trial cum demonstration centres in other Sixth Schedule Districts. Centres were opened in the United Mikir- North Cachar Hills District, the Khasi and Jaintia Hills and the Mizo District to cover a wide range of elevations, soil and temperatures, humidity and rainfall conditions. Gradually more Forest Division for Soil Conservation works were opened till by 1958, one Forest Division was created for this work in each of the Sixth Schedule Districts. By the year 1959, the work had expanded sufficiently and it was decided to constitute a separate Department to conduct soil conservation works. The Chief Conservator of Forests was also designated as the Director of Soil Conservation. In 1960 Soil Conservation work was extended to areas outside the Sixth Schedule Districts and a Lower Assam Soil Conservation Division was constituted. Further encouraged by the prospects of cultivation of certain non perishable crops, a loan-cum-subsidy scheme was initiated for cashew nut, coffee and black pepper. As per the scheme, half the estimate cost of creating small scale plantations of the tribals was granted as subsidy and the other half was treated as loans recoverable in easy instalments when the plantations begin yielding harvests. The cashew nut was to be grown primarily in freshly abandoned jhum lands so that these orchards would provide permanent soil cover and at the same time yield incomes. While owing to lack of technical personal at lower levels, much progress initially could not be made in the creation of terraces where food crops could be grown by the tribesmen on such permanent yields, yet under the supervision of trained Divisional Soil Conservation Officers gradually their Programme was also taken up where the slopes were moderate and gravity irrigation facilities were available by construction of dams and irrigation channels. Some experiment work was also done using high dams and light irrigation pumps to provide water for paddy growing on terraces. Afforestation work in eroded land made available by District Councils was first taken up in the United Khasi and Jaintia Hills in 1958-59 in two Centres and then extended significantly in the Mizo districts and still taken in the United Mikir/ North Cachar Hills. In 1963, in the month of July, Shri M.C. Jacob, IFS, took over full time charge of the Department as Director of Soil Conservation, Assam. He has been associated with Soil Conservation works in the state from its inception as a pilot project and through its various stages of Development as Conservator of Forest and later as Chief Conservator of Forests and Director of Soil Conservation with effect from his assumption of charge as Director of Soil Conservation, having been relieved of his charge of the Forest Department. Since then the department is functioning independently and numbers of Divisions were created accordingly.
The Director is the overall in charge of the Department of the Government of Assam. He is assisted by one senior most Joint Director of Soil Conservation and one senior most Divisional Officer as Planning Officer in the Headquarters. Apart from them, one Assistant Soil Conservation Officer is also there in the Directorate to assist the Director of Soil Conservation in statistical matter. Also, one Finance and Accounts Officer is serving in financial matter, who is generally posted on deputation from the Finance Department. In the field level, the Zonal Officers who termed as Joint Director of Soil Conservation are responsible for various field works under respective Divisions within their zones. All the Joint Directors of Soil Conservation are assisting the Director of Soil Conservation, Assam, in formulating policy and planning and execution etc of the Department. In the Divisional Level, the Divisional Soil Conservation Officers are responsible for implementing all the ongoing schemes of the Department. In this respect the Divisional Officers are assisted by the concerned Assistant Soil Conservation Officers posted under their control. The Soil Conservation Divisions are subdivided into various Ranges which are working basically as Sub-Divisional unit under direct control of the Soil Conservation Rangers. These officers are responsible for cent percent execution of the various schemes in the field level. Of course they are assisted by numbers of subordinate staff like Soil Conservation Overseers, Soil Conservation Demonstrators (Senior and Junior), Soil Conservation Field Workers and Soil Conservation Field Malis.
FUNCTIONS: Soil Conservation Department is engaged in most effective and gainful management of three vital interdependent natural resources mainly soil, water and vegetation by implementing various activities of land and water management on crop land on a sustained basis. The soil conservation Department is responsible for implementation of various schemes on soil and water conservation with the objective of generating income to rural people. This Soil Conservation Department has also taken up numbers of schemes related to control of shifting cultivation in the hill areas of the state by providing alternative practices like horticulture, cash crop development etc. to wean away jhumiyas from harmful practices of shifting cultivation.
Assam plantation Crops Development Corporation Ltd. (APCDC Ltd.) was established in the year 1974 under the administrative control of Assam Soil Conservation Department. The main thrust of the APCDC Ltd. is to utilize the hill slopes which are otherwise unfit for any agricultural production by taking up plantation of sustainable cash crops like Coffee and Rubber etc. and to augment income of rural people by involving them in the plantation of such highly income generating cash crops.COMMITTEES OF THE SOIL CONSERVATION DEPARTMENT: