Tribals of Tripura are known as Jhumias who practise shifting cultivation or jhuming and prefer to dwell on small hillocks and higher grounds. They cultivate Jhum and move from place to place like nomads in search of new Jhum land. Jhumia farmers burn the land in the month of March and grow Jhum in May. When land is burnt, flora and flauna of the land gets destroyed, macro organisms get annihilated, soil texture gets changed and water absorption capacity of soil gets reduced. Due to exposure of slopes, fertile top layer of soil gets washed away during rain. Measures were taken to settle them and dissuade from Jhum dependence but efforts were fruitless as alternative livelihood measures were inadequate or not accepted by them.
After introduction of Mahatma Gandhi NREGA, Jhumia families are not moving beyond their village confines though they are still fond of their legacy practice of cultivation. After introduction of Forest Rights Act (FRA), tribal families received patta of 2.4 Ha Forest land. Tribal people are traditionally attached with Agriculture and allied activities like Animal Husbandry. It has been observed that, no new scheme, however profitable it may be, is acceptable to them as an alternative livelihood support.
More than 60% of the land in the state is hilly. In plains, farmers traditionally grow paddy while Jhum cultivation was carried out by tribal people since historical time on hilly terrain. After enactment of Food Security Act, paddy cultivation is not profitable and farmers are in search of alternative to paddy cultivation. The State has higher demand of fish than the production capacity. Fisheries are imported from Bangaldesh or Andhra Pradesh regularly, to bridge the gap between demand and supply. Accordingly, many farmers intend to convert their paddy land into fishery tank.
Under Rural Housing Schemes a modest house is being given to the families and appropriate livelihood measures are being taken up to use their patta lands. In case of tilla land or tilla slope, plantations are being provided. In case of lunga (Valley), water body creations are planned. Jhum ripens within 3-6 months and so, the tribals would expect similar benefit from alternative livelihood means also.
Plantation which has a plantation time of 2-7 years, becomes less attractive to the tribal community. Therefore, it was decided that, during the nursing period of plantation, each family will get 150 person days in a year as MGNREGA wage component. As additional source of income, support under Animal Husbandry schemes of state government will also be provided. Apart from these, during the early years of plantations, through intercropping seasonal vegetables like Chili, Cucumber, Pumpkins, Brinjal, Ginger etc. can be produced in these plantation plots.
State Rural Development Department carried out cost-benefit analysis of different crops and Pisciculture under Tripura conditions and it was found out that the plantations like Rubber, Bamboo, Mango, Pineapple, Sericulture, Orange, Mosambi need minimum 1(one) Ha land, whereas, Litchi needs minimum 2(two) Ha land for viability. It was also observed that, for pisciculture, a minimum of 0.4 acre of water area is needed for viable pisciculture. Accordingly, R.D. Department decided to take up plantation and creation of water body in a minimum of 1-2 Ha land and 0.4 acre land respectively.
Since, FY 2015-16, plantations and creation of water body works under MGNREGA have been the top most priority of the State Government. In FY 2016-17, more than 12,000 Ha of land has been brought under plantation. Out of these 12,000 Ha more than 6,000 Ha is in Tribal areas. Target of water body creation during FY 2016-17 has been set to 18,700 water bodies each measuring at least 0.4 acres in area. Identification of land and beneficiaries has already been completed. Jhumias are being motivated to settle in a particular VC so that, all facilities including livelihood can be ensured through different Rural Development Schemes of Central and State Government. They have been encouraged to take up permanent settlements so as to reap maximum benefit from the rural development schemes. Houses will be given to them from PMAY(G) scheme during current FY 2016-17 and later in FY 2017-18, these households will be awarded plantation or water body assets. Apart from these, permissible works like Goat shelter, Pig sty, poultry shed etc. will also be constructed under MGNREGA. Other inputs like technical guidance to maintain plantation, fingerlings, piglets, poultry birds etc. will be provided by the concerned agencies like Horticulture, Rubber Board, Animal Resource Development, TTAADC (Tripura Tribal Areas Autonomous District Council).
Water body creation is one of the permissible works under MGNREGA. Excavated ponds can be used for agriculture and pisciculture. Apart from agriculture and pisciculture, excavated ponds recharge water table and maintain ecological balance. As per pond economics it is assessed that net profit of Rs.25,000 per year can be derived from a pond having water area not less than 0.4 acre, whereas paddy cultivation in 0.4 acre land can ensure maximum profit of 10,000 per year in ideal condition.
Pisciculture is easier than paddy cultivation. Pisciculture will ensure steady income of the farmers for minimum of 15 years and after 15 years pond may be re-excavated to remove silts, deposited in the course of time. Further, floriculture, horticulture, vegetable cultivation, duck rearing on micro scale may be made on the banks of the pond which can also be a small source of income of the farmer.
Aforesaid innovative works will bring down the extent of Jhum cultivation gradually and the ecological balance of the hill will resume. It will be easier for the settled families to have access to education, health care and benefits of all welfare schemes of State and Central Government. Water bodies to be created in the valley will recharge ground water table, reduce flood chance as water bodies will store substantial rain water in addition to pisciculture which will be a source of steady income for settled Jhumias.