India has an estimated area of 129 million ha of wasteland, which can be used for providing sustainable livelihood for millions of rural unemployed. An evaluation of enhancing income and employment generation and environmental externalities due to plantations on wastelands through cooperatives and self-help groups was done. The development process was set up in leased degraded lands in three north Indian states of Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan. The capacity building processes like savings and micro-enterprise skills empowered resource-poor farmers. An internal rate of return of 11.5 to 17.0 % in the phase I of the project imply tangible economic benefits at the end of 17 years, which improved to 13.9 to 20.4 % by including environmental benefits like carbon sequestration, soil conservation, soil salinity reclamation, etc. By extrapolating the trend till the end of 30 years, the estimated IRR increased further. The incremental net return due to afforestation of wastelands ranged between Rs. 2283 and 9514 (US $51 -211) ha-1 yr -1 over the pre-developed status. The organization of stakeholders through cooperative societies for developing plantations on degraded lands and managing them for deriving benefits has demonstrated the viability of these models. The model can be replicated by dovetailing the same with the government schemes like food-for work programme and the recently enacted national rural employment guarantee programme.