The proportional differences in soil organic carbon (SOC) and its fractions under different land uses are of significance for understanding the process of aggregation and soil carbon sequestration mechanisms. A study was conducted in a mixed vegetation cover watershed with forest, grass, cultivated and eroded lands in the degraded Shiwaliks of the lower Himalayas to assess land-use effects on profile SOC distribution and storage and to quantify the SOC fractions in water-stable aggregates (WSA) and bulk soils. The soil samples were collected from eroded, cultivated, forest and grassland soils for the analysis of SOC fractions and aggregate stability. The SOC in eroded surface soils was lower than in less disturbed grassland, cultivated and forest soils. The surface and subsurface soils of grassland and forest lands differentially contributed to the total profile carbon stock. The SOC stock in the 1.05-m soil profile was highest (83.5 Mg ha−1) under forest and lowest (55.6 Mg ha−1) in eroded lands. The SOC stock in the surface (0–15 cm) soil constituted 6.95, 27.6, 27 and 42.4 per cent of the total stock in the 1.05-m profile of eroded, cultivated, forest and grassland soils, respectively. The forest soils were found to sequester 22.4 Mg ha−1 more SOC than the cultivated soils as measured in the 1.05-m soil profiles. The differences in aggregate SOC content among the land uses were more conspicuous in bigger water-stable macro-aggregates (WSA > 2 mm) than in water-stable micro-aggregates (WSA < 0.25 mm). The SOC in micro-aggregates (WSA < 0.25 mm) was found to be less vulnerable to changes in land use. The hot water soluble and labile carbon fractions were higher in the bulk soils of grasslands than in the individual aggregates, whereas particulate organic carbon was higher in the aggregates than in bulk soils. Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.