For long, bureaucrat Experts in India have been saying, “Jhum Cultivation in the Northeast destroys extensive ‘Forests’ every year”. This is not true in Nagaland.
What is stated as ‘Forests’ at above is not the Sarkar’s notified Forest, it is agricultural land -Jhumland- in the Northeast, laid in rest and overgrown with jungles to fallow for a variable number of years, and belongs to the Village. These lands are not at the disposal of the Government and not Forests under the Forest Act.
In Nagaland each TRIBE is composed of a more or less number of constituent independent VILLAGES with jhum land Territory its own from time immemorial protected by Head hunting and recognized by the neighboring Villages. The Village is composed of a more or less number of constituent independent CLANS each owning traditionally demarcated area from other Clans. The Clan consists of are number of related kith and kin FAMILIES who own the land and cultivate them adjacent to the other brother family.
The Village has definite boundaries of the annual cultivation Coupes [PoOk in Ao]. The boundary of the different Clan lands in any annual coupe have been traditionally and permanently demarcated with Stones from time immemorial and the kith and kin Family Plots have non-permanent wooden family boundary Posts. This land holding System of the Jhum lands is traditional and customary from very early days of yore, and is recognize as such by the Government and protected under Article 371A of the Constitution of India today. No family pays Tax to anybody, the land being their his own inherited jhum lands.
The Oxford Dictionary describes Forest as “a large Area of Trees and undergrowth”. However, technically and legally, the Jhum land with re-growths of Trees and undergrowth is not Forest land.
It is only the Land that are at the disposal of the Government, processed and notified officially in accordance with procedures laid down in the State Forest Act are ‘Forests’, not others. The Jhum jungles in Nagaland, being laid fallow for more than half a dozen year, overgrown with Trees, Shrubs and undergrowth look like Forests in India but are Agricultural lands in Nagaland, not notified ‘Forests’.
Jhum cultivation in the State uses only about 12% of the total Area of the Village Jhumland in any one particular year and 88% of the land is laid fallow for at least 8 years before it is cultivated again in the next Jhum Cycle.
Thus, every Village has 88% of its Jhumland in rest for 8 to 22 years at every year before its term returns for cultivation again. Village cultivates the year’s Area together Clan by Clan, Family by Family in conformity with the Traditional System continued from time immemorial.
Longkhüm, a the prominent Ao Villages, has some far-off Jhumlands not cultivated since the founding of the Village, they are too far away from the Village to cultivate. It has big trees, which supply the local Saw Mills with the Timber; others are at tiresome distances away from the Village and not cultivated for many years more than 22 years. They are also overgrown with Trees that supply unaccounted number of Truckloads of Firewood and Charcoal together with Longkong Village to Mokokchung Town. The villager gets considerable income from this.
Today, only 20% of the Lungkhüm Villagers and in most other Villages do Jhum Cultivation covering hardly 25% of their annual Jhum cultivation area. Many of the Villagers have turned to production of the famous Lonkhüm Tomatoes that supply Mokokchung and other Markets reaching even Kohima Markets.
Many former jhum cultivators of the Village have taken to production of vegetables like Cabbage, Chilly and other horticulture items much easier to produce and more paying than Rice of jhum cultivation. Incidentally, these vegetable plots occupy hardly a fraction of the area of their former Village Jhum Plots.
No Ao family today is able to cultivate all the jhumlands their ancestors cultivated. Once a High Official of the Planning Commission came to Kohima and in a bureaucratic meeting enquired whether the Jhum Cycle in Nagaland has decreased or not in view of the steep Population increase in Nagaland then. All the Officers pleasantly replied the jhuming cycle has decreased.
The Official was hosted to Dinner in the Japfü Hotel and there I requested him to a Table where sitting beside him I could give him the answer to the question he raised in the Conference Hall of the Secretariat earlier on the day. I also requested the Development Commissioner Nagaland and the Principal Chief Conservator to the table.
When seated, I said to the Officer from Delhi:
“Sir, you asked whether the Jhuming Cycle in Nagaland has decreased or Not,
“It has not decreased, it is about 8 years or more”, I said.
“Then why did the Officers in the Meeting said it has decreased?” he questioned.
“They said it has decreased because they thought you wanted to hear it so”, I replied.
“The Development Commissioner Nagaland is here, Mr. such & such; you may ask him whether he and his brother are able today to cultivate all the Jhum area their Father cultivated”. The Commissioner said he and his brothers are unable to cultivate all the area their father had cultivated.
The Principal Chief Conservator also, in reply to a question from the Guest, said that their Villagers were unable to cultivate the Area their ancestors cultivated. Therefore, they have separated out an extent of the Village Jhum Area, divided it into 8 parts and cultivate one part after another every year until they reach the Eight Coupes in the Eight year. They converted the other 7/8th [88%] part of the Area to permanent Tree Plantation.
In Nagaland conditions of climate, geography and edaphically a cultivated area sufficiently gets fallow in 8 years. And Jhum cultivation does not cause Land degradation in alarming scale in Nagaland.
If the plot is allowed to fallow for longer years, the Trees become big and require more time and labor to clear the Plot for planting crops. Hence, quite a number of the bigger Trees are therefore lopped of the branches and left standing in the field.
I informed the Guest that the increase or decrease of the State population does not directly influence the Jhum Cycle; it is the size of the Jhum cultivating population that decide the Jhum cycle: less the jhuming population longer the Cycle and greater jhuming population shorter the Cycle.
In the State, the rural population is migrating to the Town and Cities in search of Education, better jobs opportunities and better life; only the Old Man and old Woman of the family and small children stay in the Villages that do jhum cultivation.
Terrace cultivating communities of the Angamis and the Chakhesangs have abandoned and abandoning jhum cultivation today and are taking up easier more paying vegetable or horticulture crops cultivation mentioned earlier in this write-up and buy Karnataka Rice. The Vegetable and horticultural Crops are much easier to tend and pay much more in much less Area. The people do jhuming in small Plots only to produce their various agri-needs like Millet, Jobs tear, Bean, Pulses, Maize, Ginger, Tubers, Chilly, Gourd, Pumpkin, Cucumber etc.
Nagaland is progressively abandoning even Terrace cultivation despite the Government continues distribution of portable Power Tillers to the Paddy cultivators for the last many years. Most Jhum cultivators cannot afford to pay even the subsidized price of the power Tillers, moreover the machine cannot be used for jhum cultivation in the hills and the mountains.
The abandonment of Jhum Cultivation today is not because the Government Expert’s are against it but because of the availability of other alternative more suitable avenues of income to the poor Cultivators. Various easier means of livelihood have become available other than backbreaking jhum Cultivation. It is mostly in the interior bordering Myanmar that Nagaland still does unavoidable Jhum cultivation for subsistence.
Rice cultivation with human backbone in the hills is one of the hardest of agricultural practices. To produce a Kg of Rice involves an expenditure of `s 47/- but fetches only `36/- in return. This refers to Rice production from the stony Hills and the Mountainsides of Nagaland with ancient Daoh, archaic hoe as the main implements of Agriculture with human backbone as the source of power the Indo-gangetic civilization had abandoned five thousands years ago and replaced it with stronger animal backbone.
The bureaucrat Experts in India assumes all Jhumland Jungles are Forests under Indian Forest Act. Sometime in the late Nineties, the Supreme Court gave an Injunction banning ‘felling of Trees in all the Northeast’ and required the States to issue Order to that effect.
Nagaland did not issue Order banning ‘Felling of Trees’ as the State cultivation cannot be do without felling of tree in the jhum cultivation; and banning of Tree felling, if done would result in extensive famines in the State. The State claimed that Felling of Tree and Selling the Wood is an important economic income of the poor Villagers, and if felling of trees is banned, it would be not only an Economic Blockade of the State but cause extensive famine.
The State appealed to the Court and considering the devastatingly serious collateral consequences to the State, the Supreme Court ameliorated its Original Injunction saying ‘felling of trees is a traditional customary practice of Jhum Cultivation in Nagaland, but Trade with jhum-felled Trees is not traditional customary practice’. Hence, it barred Trade of jhum-felled tree. Nagaland stopped export of Logs to the outside and tortuously initiated scientific Forestry and Wild Life Management.
In the Gangetic Plain, all Agricultural Areas are regularly and repeatedly cultivated year after year for the last about eight millenniums -8,000years- of the Indo-Gangetic civilization without any let. Historically, most Forests in India belonged to the Rajas and now today they were taken over by the State.
The bureaucrat Experts in India do not fully understand the status of the Jhumland in the State are agricultural land the people own them and covered under the Constitution of India just like they do not know in detail the destitute imprisoned in inescapable economic and social fabric of life the poor people live in the Slums of the cities.
Any Expert may observe with a Telescope the whole of the horizon 360 degrees around from the top of the Observation Platform on the top of Kohima Village. He or she will see a lot of Manipur Hill areas, two third of Chakhesang Areas, Zünheboto-Satakha areas of the District, Lonkhüm-Mokokchung areas, Lotha-Rengma areas, and extensive areas of the Assam Plain including almost the whole of the Angami area, in Green vegetation.
They will hardly see some Jhum Cultivations in the whole of the Area mentioned above, and not much of the “20,000 hectares of Forest is cut down for jhum cultivation every year” as reported by Nagaland GIS and Remote Sensing Centre satellite picture [Eastern Mirror, September 10, 2019]. They will see the whole of the Angami and most of the Chakhesang Areas covered with Green Vegetation.
[Quite some years ago, while I was in Service, a Remote Sensing Centre Satellite picture showed the whole of Intangki Reserved Forest in Nagaland as Jhum Cultivation Area and so I sent them a cryptic “‘Thank you Letter’ for showing the Intangki National Park of Nagaland as Jhumland!”].
Thepfulhouvi Solo, IFS (RR-68)
Former Principal Secretary,
FOREST, ENVIRONMENT, WILDLIFE & CLIMATE CHANGE,
GOVERNMENT OF NAGALAND