Revolution of Jhumia’s life through Rubber plantation: A Case Study of Dhalai District, Tripura

Author: Sukanta Sarkar, Lecturer in Economics, ICFAI University, Agartala, Tripura, India, E-mail:
June 6, 2010


Jhum cultivation is a form of agriculture in which the cultivated or cropped area isshifted regularly to allow soil properties to recover under conditions of natural successive stages of re-growth. There exists a great deal of direct and indirect employment potential associated with rubber plantation. Economic conditions of jhumia people are very poor and therefore they are unable to purchase those products which are essential for their daily life. Without perceptible improvement in their socio-economic condition, tribal development itself will be at stake. Disparate living standard, differential access to income earning capacity and other amenities are likely to generate discontent among jhumia’s and weaken their motivation to participation in socio-cultural activities. Case study in Dhalai district in Tripura shows that rubber plantation has able to change the economic life of jhumia’s.


There is no doubt that the twin problems of unemployment and mal-nourishment at the rural sphere in India can be simultaneously addressed to by proper and planned utilization of available local resources through involvement of local people. 1 Jhum cultivation is popularly known as ‘Jhum’ or ‘Hook’ by the local Tribal people of Dhalai District in Tripura. It is a very old system of Agriculture prevalent through out the District in hilly areas inhabited by the Tribal inhabitants. Jhum cultivation also is known as shifting cultivation as because the jhumia cultivators have to go on shifting their field in cyclic rotation after normally for one year or two years, if soil fertility sustains. It is also known as slash and burn or Rotation Farming. This analysis unearths the impact of rubber plantation on socio-economic life of Jhumias. 2. Topographically Tripura consists of a number of hill ranges, hillocks and hilly terrains interspersed with wide fields. Heavy rainfall, rich flora and fauna, fertile fields and temperate climate have drawn numerous groups of people to Tripura from different directions since time long past.This natural environment attracted people in groups to enter Tripura in different weaves from the long past. At present Tripura is a place, where besides 19 tribal groups.Tripura has a big tribal population. The following table shows the population of Tripura according to the Census of 1981

Table: 1-Tribals in Tripura

SL. No Name of Tribe Population Percentage
1. Tripuri or Tripura 250382 55.57
2. Reang 64722 14.36
3. Jamatia 34192 7.59
4. Chakma 28662 6.36
5. Halem 19076 4.23
6. Noatia 10297 2.28
7 Mog 13273 2.94
8 Lushai 3672 0.81
9 Uchai 1061 0.21
10 Kuki 7775 1.72
11 Garo 5559 1.23
12 Munda 5347 1.18
13 Orang 3428 0.78
14 Santal 2222 0.49
15 Khasia 491 Negligible
16 Bhil 169 Negligible
17 Chimal Nil Nil
18 Bhutia 3 Negligible
19 Lepcha 175 Negligible

Source: Government of Tripura, Department of Tribal welfare Most of the tribes in Tripura belong to the Mongoloid racial stock. Physically they are short and sturdy. They possess physique. Although the tribals of Tripura are basically agriculturists, many of them still depend on Jhoom or shifting cultivation. They produce their essential food crops, vegetables, fruits and other cash crops like mesta, cotton,oil seed etc. in the Jhoom. They buy only salt, kerosene oil, dry fish etc. from the market.Their women folk weave their cloth on their traditional looms. Many of them have no cultivatable land and as a result, continue to depend on Jhoom. Jhoom cultivation is popular among Tripuri and Reang. Ambassa is the District headquarter of Dhalai and it is located at a distance of around 90 Kilometers from the state capital of Agartala. Connected by the National Highway number 44, Ambassa is just 3 hours away from Agartala. New railway tracks and stations are being constructed in the Dhalai district. The District of Dhalai has been further subdivided into 4 regions for the convenience of administration; they are Ambassa,Longhaired Valley, Kamalpur and Gandacherra. This is most backward hilly district inTripura and 99 per cent people are tribal. Jhumia People: In the local parlance of Tripura, a Jhumia is a tribal who strict shifting cultivation or jhuming. Under this form of cultivation hill slopes are cleared of their vegetable cover which is set on fire and and several crops sown. After harvesting the crops from the field, jhumias are shift to other land for cultivation. Traditionally, most of the tribal people practiced shifting or jhum cultivation and were termed as jhumias. Jhum cultivation is predominantly practiced by the native groups of Tripura, whom have through a four- decade long ethno-nationalistic process come to call Jhumia.The essentials of Jhum cultivation are clearing are burning of surface vegetation before

3planting. Plots located in hill forest lands are normally chosen for jhum cultivation.Shrubs and creepers are cleared, and smaller trees will be cut. After the clearing process,which usually takes place in the month of April and May, the cleared Jungle is left to dry under the sun, in order to be burned later on. The ‘singing’ raindrops of rain against theroof bring the villages into a state of activity for Jhum cultivation. Each adult member carries to the field a small basket filled with mixed seeds of cotton, rice, meton, yan, millet and vegetables. The above crops will be ready for harvesting from July to December. 4 The cutting of forest, burning and rainfed jhum cultivation practices cause loss of soil and plant nutrients. Large scale loss may also occur before and after jhum sowing through blown away of ash by wind if the weather is dry enough. Soil carbon and nitrogen losses may also occur though volatilization during jhum burning process. Again when a forest is cut and burnt for jhum cultivation, the physical and chemical properties of soil are drastically altered. The maintenance of soil fertility in jhum area is a serious problem in places where jhum cycle is very short. These result in declining jhum productivity. So ten years jhum fellow or 10 years cycle is vital for bamboo forest rejuvenate and helps to accumulate sufficient plant nutrients in the field. So minimum 10 years jhum cycle maintenance is most importance of recovery for forest eco-system.These jhumias are by tradition forest dwellers, and their slash-and-burn cultivation involves clearing forested lands and preparing these for fields. Various magico-religious ceremonies, based on traditional faith and belief of each tribe, are performed during bothprior to harvest and post-harvest. The practice of jhum is wide-spread; of the 19 tribes inthe state, Reangs, Tripuris, Jamatiyas, Noatias, Uchai, Kukis, Halams and Garos practice traditional jhum cultivation. A benchmark survey conducted in 1987 by the Directorate of Tribal Welfare, Tripura estimated that 55,000 tribal families are dependent on shifting cultivation; about 60 per cent are fully dependent on jhum, while the rest are partially so. 5 The Tripura government has come up with a number of innovative ideas to reducethe practice of jhum, and promote alternate livelihoods of the most successful among these is the plantation of rubber as an alternative source of income for tribals. But while such schemes have shown encouraging results, the number of jhumia families at presentis still estimated at around 45000. About 2/3rds of the area of the state comprises of forests, and about 80 per cent ofthe tribal population depends on forests for their survival. 6 The main survival strategies being practiced are jhum cultivation and bamboo collection. The Jhumias have been cultivating in forested lands since the time of the kings, and there is a very rough estimate of 40,000 people who still reside in the forest and practice jhum. Since a large part of thearea of the state is under forest cover the problem of jhum rehabilitation and tribal livelihood is challenging in both socio-economic and ecological ways. In the first placethe forests have been great zones of conflict between the people and the state.
While existing tribal organisations have demanding that people get land and forest rights, the government itself has been attempting to juggle the needs of tribal livelihoods with forest conservation. Further more than 70% of the forest area falls under the 6th Schedule or theTribal Areas Autonomous Development Council but the Council has no control over its administration since it falls under the purview the Forest (Conservation) Act 1980. This makes the task of tribal development even more difficult and the initiatives of the state government and the challenges before it have to be evaluated in this context.

Table: 2-Number of Households and people depends on jhumias

Year Source of the estimate Number of Households Number of dependent people
1968 J.B. Ganguly 25,000
1978 Benchmark survey 1978 46,854 2.59 lakhs
1987 Benchmark survey 1987 55,049 2.88 lakhs
2001 Dept. of Agriculture on Bais of 2001 Census. 2.97 lakhs

History of Jhum Cultivation:In the Pre-independent period, Tripura was a princely state with about 52.85% of thestates population being tribal in 1941. But with partition and the influx of a large numberof Bengali refugees into the area, the tribals soon became a minority in the state. By1971-81 (after the Bangladesh war) this percentage reduced to 28.44%. By 1991 thispercentage had gone up marginally to about 30.95%. In the 2001 census, the tribalsformed 31.1% of the population in the state, over 80% of these tribal people lived in theforested areas and the tribals mostly practiced shifting of Jhum cultivation and weretermed as Jhumias. The nature of Jhum cultivation was such that it was primarilydependent on an interface with forestry for its survival.Jhumia cultivation in Tripura had been continued from the prince period.According to Hunter, till about 1830 there was ‘little or no plough cultivation’ and as lateas 1908, the Imperial Gazette reported that ‘the nomadic tillage know as Jhum cultivation almost universal’. In 1961 there were about 25,000 families who were dependent onjhum for their livelihood. By 1978, this number had in- creased to 46,854 families, of which about 23,292 families were primarily dependent on jhum for their livelihood. By1987 the estimate was revised to 55,049 families that were more or less dependent onjhum for their survival. Of these, 40,000 were in TTAADC areas. Further, 21,677 families were primarily dependent on jhum, and 33,372 families were partially dependent on jhum for their livelihood. In 1999, according to the Department of Tribal Welfare,51,265 families were dependent on jhum, and the large majority of them were fully dependent on jhum. The big concentration of jhumia families was in Dhalai and SouthDistrict. In 2007, the Forest Department completed a first-ever Census enumeration ofhard core shifting cultivators and found 27,278 families (or 1, 36,000 persons) dependent on jhum. The total count shows a clear decline in the number of jhumia families. 8 Jhumia Rehabilitation Programmes: A Brief Background The first attempts to settle the Jhumias were made by the Raja of Tripura who had taken a cue from the British government. He attempted to set up the Kalyanpur Reservein 1931 and its area was extended in 1943. The reserve was situated in a fertile area

outside forests and attempts induce to Jhumias to induce them to take to the plough. The post-independence period saw a spate of attempts to set up programmes to settle theJhumias into occupations that were acceptable in the main stream peasent economy. Thescheme that was entitled ‘’ Shifting cultivation control scheme’’ was a centrallysponsored scheme where one family was to be granted a piece of cultivable land and Rs.500.00 as initial capital.Jhumia Rehabilitation Programmes and T.R.P.C.:In Tripura Jhumia rehabilitation promoted primarily by the Tripura Rehabilitation Plantation Corporation (TRPC). TRPC was set in the year 1983 with the avowed aim ofoffering a settled livelihood to the tribal Jhumias of the state. It has chosen rubberplantation as a new means of achieving this goal in view of its adaptability, large employment potential, comparatively shorter gestation period and ecologicalsustainability. The beneficiaries are engaged as plantation worker during the plantation attains the tapping size. 9 The latex collected by the beneficiaries is purchased by thecorporation and is sold in the market after processing.Tapping: A Promising Alternative for JhumiasThe Rehabilitation Programme of the Tripura Rehabilitation Plantation Corporationhas brought about a new hope to the Jhumias of Tripura. Since its inception, theCorporation took initiative for rubber plantations with a view to rehabilitate jhumia families at different centres. As regards education of the Jhumia Children, it may benoted that the type of education they receive in the traditional school, alienate them fromtheir home and culture. The Jhumia children gradually feel encouraged to give up villagelife and seek their fortune in some nearby town. He prefers to be a peon in an officerather than remain an agriculturist on his own field. The so-called educated jhumias beginto imitate the foreigners in dress and talk and draws inspiration not from their traditionalculture but from foreign culture. Coming back to village he begins to look down upon hisown ignorant folk. As a result, the new gap between a small so-called elite group of theJhumias and a very large section of the general population began to become wider andwider undermining much of the equanimous composition of their society. 10 Jhumia Welfare Programmes are to be based on respect and an appreciation of theSocial, Psychological and economic problems with which they are involved. It is to bekept in mind that the welfare and development programmes in tribal areas generallyinvolve a measure of disturbance in relation to traditional beliefs and practices. So, intheir implementation, the confidence of the Jhumias and the understanding and goodwillof the elders of the Jhumia communities are of the highest importance. It would beappropriate if the anthropologists, the economists, the admistrators, the Specialists andabove all the elders of the Jhumia communities work as a team in approaching theproblems of the Jhumias. 11 For this, the process of conversion from a jhumia to a tapperwill be gradual one but it is believed with the known technology and sound research base,

we can change the grim economic picture of the jhumia to usher in an era of peace,prosperity and happiness. 12 Tripura Rehabilitation Plantation Corporation Ltd. was registered on the 03 rd February, 1983 under the Companies Act, 1956 with the objective to economicallyrehabilitate shifting cultivators (jhumia), tribal landless and small farmers principallythrough rubber plantation.Beneficiaries are trained in tapping for rubber latex, and they deposit such latex andscrap to the collection and processing centers established in each centre. Payment isusually made monthly for latex and fortnightly for scrap.

Table: 3 -Benefits of beneficiaries.

Year Area under tapping (ha) Beneficiaries Production (MT) Sale processing (Rs/lakh) Paid to processing (Rs/lakh) AV. Per beneficiaries (Rs/pa)
2003-04 921 1335 1025 491 270 20,250/-
2004-05 1044 1396 1036 474 363 25,989/-
2005-06 1182 1514 1584 930 507 33,458/-
2006-07 1336 1564 1742 1176 938 59,976/-
2007-8 1345 1723 1627 1422 1020 59,180/-
2008-9 1394 1874 1873 1395 1195 63,768/-

Source: TRPC Official Handbook

Rates are fixed by the corporation based on the market trend and cost of processing andother overheads. Rates at which payments have been made in the recent past are as under:Table: 4 -Rate of payment to beneficiaries for latex & scrap

Table: 4 -Rate of payment to beneficiaries for latex & scrap:

Sl.No. Date of effect Latex 100% DRC(Rs/kg) Scrap (Rs/kg)
1. 01/09/2006 60 40
2. 01/02/2007 66 44
3. 01/04/2008 68 52
4. 01/05/2008 72 54
5. 01/07/2008 78 58
6. 15/10/2008 62 35
7. 01/12/2008 58 28
8. 15/06/2009 70 35

Source: TRPC Official Handbook (Page: 8)Important new initiatives since 2007:

a) Agar Plantation- Rubber farmer beneficiary under TRPC were motivated to raise Agarplantation as shelterbelt for rubber and also in pure blocks and homestead land since2005-06 under a project scheme by national Medicinal Plants Board as under:

Table: 5 -Agar Plantation(Area in ha.)

Financial year Dhalai North West South Total
2005-06 0 0.11 0.92 0 1.03
2006-07 0 0.45 0 0 0.45
2007-08 0 2 15 0 17
2008-09 4 3 0 5.44 12.44
2009-10 0 0 2.5 5.99 8.49
Total 4 5.56 18.42 11.43 39.41

Source: TRPC Official Handbook (Page: 12)

b) Bamboo Plantation- Bamboo was raised in pure block plantations in the land of tribalbeneficiaries and as one of the species mix in shelter belt of the new rubber plantationswith financial assistance from Tripura Bamboo Mission since 2008-09. The Missionprovided funds for 12 ha but the corporation as far created 33 ha of bamboo plantationunder:

Table: 6 – Bamboo Plantation

Year of Creation North Tripura Dhalai West Tripura South Tripura Total
2008-09 9.5 0 10.70 5.96 26.16
2009-10 0 0 0 7.00 7.00
Total 9.5 0 10.70 12.96 33.16

METHODOLOGY:The present work is an attempt to focus into the Transformation of Jhumia’s lifethrough rubber plantation of Dhalai District in Tripura. Any study relating to explore thehistorical and analytical perspective of a given sector needs to rely on collection ofinformation in a scientific manner and analysis of the same using tools widely recognizedand effective in social science.In order to reach the desired goal of the dissertation, survey has been conducted inthree sub-division of Dhalai district in Tripura. In Dhalai district there are four four sub-divisions i.e. Ambassa, Kamalpur, Longhaired valley & Gandachara. Survey has beenconducted in Various TRPC block plantation like Ambassa subdivision (Kashimchara,Lalchari-Bagmara), Langhtarai valley (Lambabill, Mainamar) and in Kamalpursubdivision (Abangha i.e. Maharani). The study is mainly based on the primary datacollected through field survey in three sub-divisions out of four sub-divisions in Dhalai.Field survey has been not done in Gandachara sub-division because rubber plantationsare not matured in that area.Stratified sampling has been followed to give required shape to the study forobtaining required result. For doing this each of the sub-division are considered as strata.From each strata sample tappers are selecting using the random sampling. Rubber tappersare selecting from various villages and surrounding areas from sub-divisions whererubber plants present. The secondary source of the information were different officialdocuments, rules and regulations published by the different Government and semi-

8government organizations, financial bodies and such other institutional documents (likeT.R.P.C ) relevant to the present study.Primary data collection was done in stages. Repeated visits to the study area andtalks, observations at the level of the households, and discussion with rubber tappers,rubber growers, village political leaders and other officials and non-official agencieshelped a great deal in understanding the place and people. This is also enabled talkingabout the objective of this study to arouse people’s interest as well as cooperation. Carewas taken to include women respondents in all discussions and interviewing. My fieldstudy combined participant observation, interviews with individual tappers and groupdiscussion on issues common to all. The response of the tribal tappers was very good.The tappers appreciated that I stayed among them as their guests.Primary and secondary data have played complementary roles in our study forascertaining facts in a comparatively inaccessible area about Rubber Tappers who livemostly in isolation from the rest of the world.I regard that I could not survey a large number of tappers not only because ofpaucity of resources and time but also because of extensive prevalence of extremistactivities in Tripura which have made it impossible for the outsiders to have access tovillage communities in a large part of Tripura.RESULTS AND DISCUSSION:Jhumia Rehabilitation Program is one of the best programmes which are run by theGovernment of Tripura for the improvement of economic conditions of jhumias. Jhumiasare tribal people who are living in hilly areas and their economic conditions are not good.Jhumias are less educated and they have generally more unirrigated hilly land for theirlivelihood. Generally they earn income from two sources i.e. from selling vegetableswhich are produced in jhum land and from selling firewood’s collected from forest. Themajor problem faced by tribal people in hilly areas is scarcity of water. For that reasonthey are unable to produce more vegetables. From firewood selling they are unable toearn more income because of shortage of markets. After rubber plantation their economicstatus are changing like as,Table: 7 – Impact of rubber tapping on jhumias

Table: 7 – Impact of rubber tapping on jhumias.

Income brfore tapping Number of Tribals Income from tapping Number of Trappers (Tribals)
Below Rs. 1000 120 Below Rs. 1000 0
Between Rs. 10000- 180 Between Rs. 1000-2000 30
More than Rs. 2000 0 Between Rs. 2000- 3000 0
Between Rs. 3000- 4000 0 Between Rs. 3000-4000 0
Between Rs. 4000-6000 0 Between Rs. 4000-6000 0
Between Rs. 6000- 15000 0 Between Rs. 6000-15000 270
More than Rs. 15000 0 More than Rs. 15000 0
Total 300 300

The table shows that the economic conditions of tribals have improved afterrubber tapping. Government introduced this programme in Dhalai district which is mostbackward district in Tripura if compared with other districts. The tribal people whopreviously lived in small cottages and were unable to collect two-square meals are nowliving in mud houses with tin roofs and are able to maintain a good standard of living.This table shows that 30 families have income ranging between Rs. 1000-2000 which isless in amount because all rubber plants are not yet matured and many of them brokeduring storms. But after few years when rubber trees will mature then surely they willearn more. During survey I observed that in hilly areas tribal people entertain themselvesthrough dish T.V i.e. Tata sky.Impacts on Educational Status of Jhumias Children:In ancient time when jhumia people depended on jhum cultivation, income earnedby them was very less. They also faced more uncertainty about income because ofscarcity of water. Children of jhumias did not go to school and helped their parents injhum land. Sometimes they also worked in other houses as daily labors. So they worked as child labors. Very negligible number of children went to school. But situation has changed after Jhumia Rehabilitation Programs. For their good economic conditions, tribal people are able to send their children to School. Now theydon’t depend on jhum cultivation and cultivate vegetables in own houses or purchase from markets. The other reason for this is the number of schools. Number of governmentschools in TTAADC is also increasing largely. During my survey, I observed that manytribal beneficiaries are now able to send their children to school. Tribal beneficiaries aremore concerned about the education of their children. Therefore Jhumia Rehabilitation Program has been able to change the educational scenario in hilly areas.Impacts on Residential facilities:Previously jhumia people lived in small huts built by bamboo & leaf and facedproblems during the rainy season. Almost every year their houses were damaged bystorm. Parent & children lived in small cottages and many of them slept on floor. Jhumiaspeople in Tripura were scattered in hilly areas and they lived in unhealthy situations.Table: 8: Selected socio-economic features of jhumias families within the study

Table: 8: Selected socio-economic features of jhumias families within the study

Survey Areas Sample Size House Type (cottage) (percent) In-house Kacha Toilet (percent Fuel (Firewood) (Percent) Average Family Size
Lambabil 90 100 100 100 7.5
Mainamara 80 100 100 100 6.7
Abangha 90 100 100 100 6.8
Khashinchara 20 100 100 100 7.3
Lalchari-Bagmara 20 100 100 100 6.7
Total 300 100 100 100 7

Table 9 – Selected socio-economic features of jhumias families within the study

Survey Areas Sample Size House Type (cottage) (percent) In-house Kacha Toilet (percent Fuel (Firewood) (Percent) Average Family Size
Lambabill 90 0 100 100 5.4
Mainamara 80 0 100 100 5.2
Abangha 90 0 50 100 4.7
Khashinchara 20 0 69 100 5
Lalchari-Bagmara 20 0 55 100 4.7
Total 300 0 74.8 100 5

After rubber plantation, residential situation of tribals altered. Almost all tribalbeneficiaries have houses which are built with tin and mud walls. There houses are nowbigger and most of them have boundary built with bamboo. They now live in healthysituation.The above tables show that average family size of tribal decrease continuouslyafter rehabilitation of jhumia’s through rubber plantation. Sanitary condition alsoimproved but tribal people always depend on firewood’s for fuel.Impact on Household Amenities:During jhum period the more common things in their house were earthen utensils,bamboo utensils, bamboo bed & iron weapons. They don’t have chair, table and alsodon’t use steel or aluminum utensils. Many of them slept on the floor.But after rubber plantation, items of household amenities have changed. Every househas durable goods like chair; table and those houses where electricity is present, almostall of them have T.V., Fan and mobile phone. So environment of the house have changedafter rubber plantation. During the survey I observed that electricity is not present in allhouses.Impact on pattern of expenditure:Jhumias are poor class people and a shortage of things is always present in theirhouses. They spend almost 100 percent money for purchasing food grains. When diseasesoccur, they take loan from other persons in the locality and many times they are unable tocollect loan because people don’t want to give loan to them.But after rubber plantation they are spending money on entertainment and yetspend large proportion of their income on food grains. They are also saving incomebecause under Jhumia Rehabilitation Program Government binds them for savings atleast 10 per cent of their income.Impact on social status:After rubber tapping, social status of tribal people has improved. Previously theyfelt themselves inferior. But after rubber plantation when their income has increased, theyfeel more relaxed because poverty is not a problem to them. They are now living in

11durable houses and many of them are sending their children in private English mediumschools. They feel better when they think that they are able to brake the vicious cycle ofpoverty.

CONCLUDING OBSERVATIONS:Therefore, rubber plantation has change the life style of jhumia people of Tripura.Both economic and social conditions of tribal’s are better off after rubber plantation andnow they are able to maintain a good standard of living. This is more important becausein one hand it improves the economic conditions of the tribal people and at the same timeit also shows path for solving the deforestation problem. This will able to helpgovernment solve the insurgency problem in hilly areas through economic development.

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