“NLUP” For Better or Worse? ~ By: Dr. Joseph Suantak, Bazar Veng, Tuibuang.
“…failure to separate hills from Plains would produce dangerous results… the hill vote would be of no importance. Unsuitable methods of administration would be introduced in all departments of Governmental activity and thereby generate rebellious spirit in the tribals.” – Dr. John Henry Hutton, British-India’s ICS (27 June 1885 – 23 May 1968)
Prologue: Of late, I happen to browse an ‘http://dcimanipur.gov.in/……%202014.pdf.’ whereupon a manual like 32[Thirty Two] pages official document entitled “Approach Paper on New Land Use Policy / project Manipur-2014”, drafted by the Manipur state government flashes my eyes. And, few days later, one morning was an “Oops-morning”. Some of our daily State and local newspapers tell me that some sections of the tribals are annoyed by the State Government’s deliberation on the New Land Use Policy. At that juncture, in a lightning speed, I recollect what Dr. J.H.Hutton, a prominent social anthropologist had once prophesied on the eve of the departure of the White colonialists. The next moment, I thought to myself that his vision in connection with the erstwhile Assam’s Lushai hills seems to bear its fruit even in the context of the post-1948 Manipur.
Candidly, as far as my limited and vague knowledge is concerned, I’ve heard about the name NLUP since the past more than one decade. Back then, I thought this ‘policy’ was meant only for unproductive hilly states like Mizoram. And also, where there is no question of threat to the state’s ethno-geo-political integrity and the autonomy of the hill districts. I presume, to many of us, this project entitled ‘New Land Use Policy-2014’, tabled by the State government of Manipur must have been an incomprehensible new item as I did. So, be it either a mere proposal or already proposed, let me share pieces of my random speculations. But, I don’t know if it be to your taste…
‘Mizoram’s NLUP’ — An Overview: Before we cast the stone in Manipur it would be helpful to educate ourselves [both the public and the State Government], first, with a brief history of this NLUP. It was first conceived in 1984, by the State Government of Mizoram while in the course of deliberating a way-out to eliminate the traditional assarting, swidden, fire-fallow or shifting cultivation which requires slashing and burning down patches of forested lands for growing crops. The following year, in 1985, it was introduced with a mission to swap the traditional shifting or slash and burn cultivation with an alternative sustainable land-based activities as well as wet-cultivation. Accordingly, the programme was first executed through the State Forest Department by providing assistance to 6,086 families in establishing commercial plantations. Contrary to anticipation, the policy proved futile. And thus, it was sacked in 1989–90. Again, in 1987, under the initiative of the State Agricultural Department with direct funding from the National Development Council of India, NLUP was replaced by the ‘Jhum Control Project.’ A total of 1,936 families participated. Horticulture, animal husbandry, wet rice cultivation, coffee plantation, and cottage industries were introduced. But then again, this project was also a disappointment.
Once again during 1990 and 1991, NLUP was revived with full support from the Rural Development Department. This time it mainly targeted families depending solely on assarting cultivation and families that have no stable livelihoods. Financial assistance of Rs. 30,000 [Thirty thousand rupees] was provided to each of the 41,000[Forty-one thousand] beneficiaries however, it was again terminated in 2000–01. Its failure was owing to: i) the project did not frame specific goals to be achieved within the stipulated time and thus it neither enriched the forest landscape nor encouraged the jhum farmers’ alternative livelihoods and, ii) the extensive mismanagement on the part of the government. For instance, in some blocks the NLUP beneficiaries exceeded the number of total households. In 2000, the Mizo National Front [MNF] ministry reformulated and named the project as “Mizoram Intodelhna Project” (A Self-Sufficiency project for Mizoram). Its main goal was to fetch a more elevated life for the drudging farmers. But to one’s surprise, it failed to give a soothing justification for its negative view on the traditional culture of shifting cultivation. Under this scheme a sum of Rs.50,000 [Fifty thousand rupees] was provided per family yet without remarkable feat.
Once more, with the formation of the Congress ministry in 2008, NLUP was re-introduced with a stipulated period of ten years. This time, a booklet entitled ‘NLUP Manual-2009’ is also released. It was published by the Implementing Board and approved by Mizoram state government vide order no. G.28014/21/2009-AGR of 14/09/2009. Earlier, on the 19th of February 2009, the Government of Mizoram submitted the NLUP Project to the Central Government. After making a detailed study of the Project, the Central Government sent it back with its recommendations and asked the State Government of Mizoram to re-submit with the modifications or changes which, experts from the Central Government have suggested. Soon, on the 19th of June 2009 the modified NLUP Project was submitted again to the Central Government. With a positive respond in August 2009, the Planning Commission of India sanctioned Rs.100[hundred] crores for the financial year 2009 – 2010 to initiate the NLUP programme. Before long, after experts and various Committees in the Central Government studied and discussed the Project, a hefty sum of Rs.2873.13 crores was finally set aside by the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA) on the 15th of July 2010 for NLUP. With this magnanimous funding from the Central Government the newly organised NLUP programme was launched on the 14th of January, 2011. Since then, the 14th of January has also been observed by the Government of Mizoram as “Kut Hnathawktute Ni” or “Farmers’ Day” each year. For its first phase or first five years, it aims at funding 120,000 families with the support of the Departments of Agriculture, Horticulture, Industries, Forests, Fisheries, Sericulture, and Soil and Water Conservation. According to the latest spot investigation organised by Mizoram Synod Social Front, this NLUP of 2011 seems to effectually make headway more than the earlier NLUPs. Yet, it is too early to expect a 100% success.
Flaws of Mizoram’s NLUP: As already described, until the Congress Party grabbed power again in December, 2008 the rest of the NLUP in Mizoram were somewhat ‘a crippled projects’, with insignificant feats.
According to research scholars from the state [Mizoram], the Government of India’s intention is to follow liberal economic policies rather than to improve the lives of rural populations. Based on the findings of the concerned scholars and experts’ spot investigations there has been considerable number of impairments nurtured by the NLUP. First, the goals of the NLUP contradict themselves. The main contradiction is in the state’s “claiming to promote indigeneity, while blaming indigenous practices for the demise of the environment” (Sanjeeva Kumar 2008, 139). Second, it has been in place as an experiment for the past several years. Third, as government roles increase, the community’s role in the management is reduced. Fourth, it requires a high-cost activity, not only high investment, but also high recurring expenses (Daman Singh 2009, 298–315). Fifth, under the NLUP, the majority of cultivators grew cash crops (among other activities), while, paradoxically, they continued to depend on jhum cultivation for food production. Sixth, during the implementation of the NLUP scheme, power struggles between state bureaucracy and local village councils have increased. Seventh, distrust arises from the historical trajectory of top-down development plans, which provided neither incentives nor opportunity for growth. Eight, the views of the jhum cultivators are always excluded when the discussion is conducted in the language of science; no space is reserved for them to take part in such discourses. Ninth, lack of coordination and irregular monitoring of the line departments. Tenth, enforcement of the Agriculture Produce Marketing Committee (APMC) Act, 2008 still remains a question; while the Department and Agency such as Trade & Commerce and Mizoram Agriculture Marketing Corporation Ltd.[MAMCO] are not operating as marketing channel for beneficiaries’ commercial or cash produces. Last, but not the least, the political favouritism or nepotism and the misuse of public funds present in the system engendered mistrust towards the government agencies.
Vanguards of Manipur’s NLUP-2014: In Manipur, the idea of NLUP was first voiced by our Chief Minister O. Ibobi Singh. Way back in 2009, he had already informed his Ministers and the assembly members that his government was deliberating over a ‘new land use policy’ to save agricultural lands in the state. Accordingly, a Core Committee to survey available agricultural lands in the State was formed in May 2013 with Prof N. Mohendro as the chairman. In a while, with the dawn of 2014, a New Land Use Policy approach paper/booklet for Manipur based on the Mizoram NLUP model takes its form.
According to the preface of the said booklet, the Government of Manipur has set up a State Level Steering Committee (SLSC) headed by Chief Secretary, Govt. of Manipur consisting of representatives of various Government Departments and relevant agencies vide order no.2/NLUP/Manipur/Plg. dated 14.02.2014 to consider and draft a New land Use Policy (NLUP) related project for Manipur. The Nodal Department for this initiative is Planning Department, Government of Manipur. Accordingly, a drafting Committee has been constituted consisting of four officers namely (i) Shri. Ram Muivah, IAS, Principal Secretary (Works), (ii) Shri J.C. Ramthanga, IAS, Commissioner (Horticulture & Soil Conservation), (iii) Shri. K.Moses Chalai, IAS, Commissioner (Co-operation), and (iv) Dr. Lokho Puni, IFS, Officer on Special Duty (OSD Planning Department) as convener.
Enigmatic Manipur’s NLUP – 2014: As for now, this meaty NLUP is yet to hatch its golden eggs and so, the only explanation we could rattle is — this policy, in the form of ‘land and community [peoples] based projects’ chiefly aims at achieving a ‘Oceanic development’. If true, the draft ‘Approach Paper on NLUP’ is the initial attempt which is intended to be used as the base material to set the tone in the preparation process of NLUP Project report of Manipur. And also, it will be broadly patterned after the successful model of NLUP- Mizoram and at the same time, proposed to design or alter wherever needed based on ground realities or requirements of Manipur.
One of its main features is inclusive development “through effective land resource development and improving livelihood of the people by adopting both on-farm and off-farm economic activities. Availing opportunities and meeting challenges of free trade agreement with ASEAN…” And according to the approach paper, demarcation of land use under this project shall be done by dividing the lands in the State into four proper land use categories as enumerated below:
1) 63 per cent (66.6% in the hills and 33.4% in the valley) of the geographical area under good and undisturbed forest cover to stem further soil erosion, ameliorate climate change, water conservation, biodiversity conservation including wild animals, and other environment related issues. Protection and preservation of the forests will have to be made possible through empowerment of the communities.
2) 15% of the geographical area in the state under Joint Forest Management (JFM) to meet local requirement of fuel-wood, fodder, small timber and Non Timber Forest Products (NTFPs).
3) 15 % of the geographical area under agriculture and related activities for livelihood and economy.
4) 7 % of the land earmarked for habitation, industries, roads and other developmental activities.
Manipur’s NLUP will equally focus on individual families apart from targeted activities that shall provide common facilities at community level. Under several subtitles or captions there are list of thrilling activities to be executed such as updated scientific land use; drawing up ‘Peoples project’; connecting all rural villages with all-weather roads/paths and construct agri-link pathsteps, roads and bridges to prospective farming areas; rehabilitate both Jhumia and non Jhumia families through concentrated and sustained training/capacity building training programmes on land use management, marketing and implementation of identified suitable schemes; self-employment for youths; marketing facilities; five years project life; mass awareness; technical and financial assistance; water and soil conservation measures; protection of forest; both flora and fauna will find better habitat and grow; ecological balance will be restored, etc., etc.
As regards to its implementation, it is projected to be launched on phase wise modus. For the first phase, ‘10 Missions’ are already recommended. They are: (1) Horticulture Mission, (2) Apiculture Mission, (3) Aquaculture Mission, (4) Forestry Mission (5) Livestock Mission, (6) Sericulture and Weaving Mission, (7) Water & Soil Conservation Mission, (8) Agriculture and Agri-link road Mission, (9) Medicinal and Aromatic Mission and, (10) People’s power Mission. Even though the implementation is to be carried out by the communities or villagers, 9 (nine) State line Departments such as, Agriculture, Horticulture & Soil Conservation, Sericulture, Fishery, Veterinary & Animal Husbandry, Works, Forest, Industry, and Minor Irrigation will provide them the requisite guidelines for implementation and monitoring in the districts. In addition, there will be space for any other suitable or vital schemes/missions, as the need arises, be it even in the course of operating the project.
Of course, the expected outcomes, which are perceivable to the people [either of the valleys or hills] are quite impressive and lucrative. Yet, it tickles one’s brain with doubts to sort some queries. For instance, serial no. ii of the ‘Land Reforms’ section states thus: “Village boundaries demarcated by the villagers on topo sheets/google maps to be verified and then digitized by using modern GIS tools through technical institutions, as far as possible. This will replace the traditional outdated system by erecting stones or identifying with certain landmarks. This shall be done in consultation with Hill Area Committee, District Councils, government departments and whoever is concerned. Through this exercise, Inter village, inter community, inter tribe land disputes is expected to be settled. Land value will increase and can be collaterized for development purposes.” Will this demarcation be practicable under the current ethno-geo-political pressures among the hills people and, between the hills people and the plains people? Or, will such ‘Land reforms’ or ‘Land use policy’ suffice the aspiration of the hill tribes? What about the recent international boundary dispute with Myanmar around the coveted tribal town Moreh and its peripheral tribal villages? Will such ‘egalitarian tradition’ of land ownership be endorsed by the tribal Chief, who is regarded as the Lord of the village lands since days of yore? Could this ‘Land Reforms’ policy be another way of devising a ‘divide and rule’ strategy?
Next, at the State level there are two authoritative structural organisations, viz, ‘Apex Board’ and ‘Implementing Board’. The Apex Board will be headed by the Chief Minister as the Chairman, Deputy Chief Minister as the Vice Chairman and Chief Secretary as the Member secretary along with 12(Twelve) members consisting of six Ministers and six officers including Planning Commissioner. Secretary Planning Commission GOI or his/her nominee shall be a member. In addition, a Parliamentary Secretary, and a prominent citizen may be co-opted as members. And the ‘Implementing Board’ comprises the Chief Secretary as the Chairman and Additional Chief secretary (Finance and Planning) as Vice Chairman with OSD, Planning as Member Secretary. Members will include, by name, Shri Ram Muivah, IAS, Principal Secretary (Works), Shri. J.C. Ramthanga, IAS, Commissioner (Horticulture & Soil Conservation), Shri K. Moses Chalai, IAS, Commissioner(Co-operation) and Administrative Secretaries/Head of Departments of concerned Line departments. Two representatives from Planning Commission, Government of India will also be invited to be part of the Executive Committee. This Implementing Board will be the executive agency, coordination, convergence and complementation. But strangely, at the District level, there is no ‘Apex Board’ or ‘Apex Committee’ except the ‘District level NLUP Implementing Committee’, which shall almost totally [100%?] be constituted by bureaucrats of the State and the Central. The Deputy Commissioner (DC) and District Planning Officer (DPO) of the concerned District will be the Chairman and Member Secretary respectively. Members will include District Officers of the concerned line departments, two representatives from ADC/PRI, Expert(s) from ICAR [Krishi Vigyan Kendras (KVK)] etc., and two prominent citizens from within the district shall be co-opted as members. The project will be guided, implemented and monitored through the concerned line departments. Deputy Commissioners will ensure convergence of activities within the respective districts and release fund as per allocation and work progress in each sector. What is more, the Deputy Commissioner and the District Planning Officer are a 2-in-1, that is to say, Chairman and Secretary as a District level Apex Board-cum-Implementing Board.
It seems the people representatives or the local bodies/institutions, namely, the Chairman, the Vice Chairman and members of the ADCs in the hills and the Panchayati Rajs in the plains [valleys] of the State are annihilated in this respect. Except a nominal role as this: “…will take part in monitoring of the works under the project in their respective jurisdictions and suggest any improvements. Certain work components of 1 or more Missions may be considered for implementation by them like the Line departments depending upon their technical expertise and capacities. They will also be subject to superintendence and coordination to State Apex, Implementing Board and District Level NLUP Implementing Committee, as required for implementation of NLUP.” The only remarkable role for local bodies lies in the mere words “monitoring works….and suggest implementation”. Apart from this, the Village Chiefs, who are considered ‘lord of the village lands’ are positioned somewhat like mere spectators: “Village Chiefs have a prominent place in the psyche and eyes of the villagers. They may be Ex-officio Adviser of the Village Councils, attend Village Council meetings and take part in decision making on the project. However they will be at par with the rest of the members if voting takes place on the basis of: one man one vote.” For a village Chief, the only honourable role he could obtained from the NLUP is “They may be Ex-officio Adviser of the Village Councils…”. If I am not a half-witted bloke, I believe, there seem to be fleas hidden behind this NLUP programme!
Diagnostic Perspective: From what has been discussed it came to light that NLUP is, in simple words, a ‘Peoples/Community movement’ policy towards a ‘paradigm shift’ — from traditionalism to modernism — to achieve rapid growth or development and improvement almost in all fields related to economy, ecology, employment and then community land ownership. Perhaps, NLUP might be the only precautionary alternative policy to avoid an impending economic and ecological doomsday of ‘extreme imbalance’. But, at the same time, it would also be wiser to accept and bear in mind for the State government that the indigenous hill tribes have been practising this slash and burn or fire-fallow cultivation for countless thousands of years and that, such peculiar ‘paradigm shift’ would disturb their sentiment.
The provisions entitled ‘Land Use Plan’ and ‘Land Reforms’ under the NLUP programme are, in its true sense, an outright elimination of the natural, customary and indigenous rights of the Manipur hill tribes. Reluctantly, it compels one to repeat that like other indigenous tribal peoples around the globe, the indigenous hill tribes of ‘Outer Manipur’ also have their own system of managing the forest. Each tribal community have ‘various forms of regulation, such as limited access, size restrictions, and sacred or protected areas. Such management was based on a strong attachment to land, customary laws, norms, belief systems, and ethical values regarding the environment. The chieftainship institution was also designed to establish a management system and to formulate customary laws regarding the forest’ [Shahnaz Kimi Leblhuber and H. Vanlalhruaia, 2012]. In fact, the cultural formation of the Manipur hill tribal community is also firmly interwoven with swidden cultivation and the natural resources of the vast forested hills. Until recently, all of their basic needs are derived from the forests. To them, containing such traditional culture would be rejection of their timeless rights, culture and law which could raise the question of ‘Human Rights’. On the other hand, it is also unpredictable that, once the NLUP ‘Land Use Plan’ and ‘Land Reforms’ are enforced money-making large international and national private companies [or firms] might intervene to establish various projects at the cost of the people and the lands which, before long, could rather resulted in extreme scaling of environmental hazards, economic imbalance, loss of arable and inhabitable lands, and crime related incidences. Who knows, Manipur might become the vilest battle ground of “Capitalists’ projects” on Earth. Even my cool fourth thought makes me to add up an envious question as this: Could it be owing to expectation of irresistible hefty subsidy from the Central Government and private firms that Manipur has proposed to introduce a copy of Mizoram’s NLUP?
I believe, if such stereotype or xerox-copy of a Sixth Scheduled Mizoram’s NLUP is introduced in Manipur another chapter of suppressive manipulation shall certainly shackle the hill tribes. And as a consequence, a day will arrive when one would need to obtain an official authorization of the Manipur State government to establish or set up a new hamlet or village which could, probably, amount to be the beginning of one of the worst form geo-political unrest in the State. It is also quite clear that, once this land use policy is enforced; more regulations will follow to strengthen the authority of the state over the village Chiefs and tribal communities. Phew! To my humble sixth sense, such policy seems to be a means to convert the “Peoples’ Government” into a “State’s Government”. One good example is Mizoram; as soon as it attained the status of a full-fledged state in 1987 the Government declared ownership of the land and sanctioned regulations to institute different categories of land ownership. Even communal lands became the property of the Government.
Epilogue: Whatsoever be its negative points, the introduction of liberal economic models would open the door for large-scale development projects. For instance, the programmes on micro financial assistance, sustainable land-based activities in place of swidden cultivation, introduction of scientific technology or method, self-employment through various types of cottage-industries, on and off-farm activities, etc. would certainly reduce unemployment rate which shall eventually lead to rapid economic growth. Unquestionably, under the initiative of the NLUP the diminishing rich biodiversity and renewable natural resources will be preserved and regenerated. Perhaps, the present imbalances in ecology and economy will at least be standardize — if the projects are implemented accordingly without the intervention of the State’s viruses such as nepotism and corruption from bureaucrats and so-called peoples representatives, and any nefarious disturbances from different social forces.
On the contrary, the population of Mizoram is 100% tribal as well its Districts are equipped with the Sixth Schedule or autonomous powers and functions while in Manipur, the hill tribes comprises about 40% and the question on Sixth Schedule or ‘autonomy’ in the 90% hills is still in the air. If the State Government of Manipur is determined to introduce such stereotype of Mizoram NLUP it should have first reconsider this — to sanction: not a duplicate copy anymore, but either a genuine Sixth Schedule or acceptable ‘Autonomy’ in the hills districts. Until then, neither the Hill Areas Committee [HAC] nor the District Councils would have major roles to play in practical. And thus, denying major roles or autonomous authority to the tribal representatives implies denying geo-political rights to the entire tribal community!
By: Dr. Joseph Suantak, Bazar Veng, Tuibuang.