In 2008, ‘Mautam’ — the phenomenon of gregarious bamboo flowering that occurs every 47-50 years — affected 1,30,621 families in 769 villages in Mizoram. Rodents and insects feeding on the bamboo damaged 16,132 hectares of wet rice cultivation and 1,25,345 hectares of jhum paddy cultivation in the State. The ‘Mautam’ in 2008 resulted in a shortage of rice due to the failure of jhum paddy and people faced starvation. The present Mizoram Chief Minister Lalthanhawla successfully led his Congress party in wooing the voters with the promise of New Land Use Policy (NLUP) that helped it to return to power by dislodging the ten-year-old Mr. Zoramthanga-led MNF government. The MNF was unable to withstand the political impact of ‘Mautam,’ the very phenomenon which gave birth to the regional party.
In this year’s elections, the ruling Congress is banking on the NLUP and is trying to woo the voters by showcasing the achievements under this flagship programme. The core objectives of the NLUP is to wean away farmers from jhum practices and assist them to be employed in economic ventures to create productive assets in each family, to keep 60 per cent of Mizoram’s total land area under rain forest and to improve the income of both rural and urban poor through sustainable farming, non-farming, micro-enterprises, small and cottage industries.
Launched on January 14, 2011, the Rs. 2873.13 crore-NLUP is targeted to benefit 1,20,000 families over a period of five years. In this year’s Independence Day speech Chief Minister Lalthanhawla claimed that the target had been achieved in the first three years and 15,000 more beneficiaries were proposed to be covered in the 2013-14 financial year. He also claimed that the project had made significant impact on the economy by providing alternative and sustainable livelihood opportunities to farmers by reducing their dependence on jhum practice.
In the executive summary of the NLUP project, the Mizoram government states that about three lakh workers in Mizoram are engaged in jhum cultivation and due to pressure on land the jhum cycle which was ten year long has now fallen to three to four years, rendering jhum practice unsustainable resulting in problems of food security and increased poverty. Besides, the jhum practice causes destruction of rain forest of 1.5 lakh hectare of land every year. About 60 per cent of the total population is engaged in agriculture, primarily jhum cultivation.
The first NLUP in Mizoram was launched in 1985 but it was confined to four development blocks. From 1985 to 1991-1992, the total funds released for NLUP was Rs. 21.16 crore. The Mizo National Front (MNF) government led by Zoramthanga discontinued the NLUP and replaced it with Mizoram Intodelhna Programme (MIP) in 2002 under which 53,288 families were given financial assistance of Rs. 11,000 per beneficiary. The total amount under the MIP was Rs. 30.38 crore. Compared to this, financial assistance to each beneficiary of NLUP under the present Lalthanhawla government is to the tune of Rs. 1.26 lakh over five years.
The Lalthanhawla government while tom-tomming the success of the NLUP is running down the MIP. The Congress campaign is that the MIP could not make much headway as the quantum of assistance was too small, the involvement of line departments critical for success of such programmes were minimal and frequent changes in programmes and guidelines created confusion. The Congress hopes that the substantial increase in financial assistance to farm families traditionally dependent on jhum cultivation as compared to the previous NLUP and the MIP of the MNF government would give the ruling party an advantage over the MNF and its allies.
The MNF and other opposition parties have, on their part, alleged that benefits under the NLUP were given only to families of Congress connections and the common man suffered due to massive diversion of plan funds.
The November 25 polls will determine if voters in Mizoram truly consider the NLUP to be an important vehicle of development.