Tripura's rubber industry presents an exemplary example of balancing economic and ecological development
The systems of governance need periodical updates to fulfil the aspiration of changing society and for course correction of government programmes and policies. A sound and effective delivery of public goods and services can only be balanced by a neutral, law-abiding, honest and committed bureaucracy as well as an independent judiciary as also a free press. In India and for that matter the entire world, apart from the international strategic dimension of a nation's security, ecological security due to clear and visible adverse impacts of climate change has assumed serious dimensions. For a sound economy and ecology, civil society organizations must find workable governing solutions so that the continuation of the human race along with its environment of biotic and abiotic components sustains life.
In this article, I've taken up a few such excellent examples in some of the states of India. The well-known innovation of Joint Forest Management (JFM) first of its kind was innovated in Arabari in West Bengal by a forest officer in the early 70s has immensely contributed to the conservation and protection of forests in India by the rural villagers and tribal people who are partially or fully dependent on forest resources for their livelihood.
Similarly, the 'Sukhomajri' model of soil and water conservation in Haryana had a cascading effect on enhancing the productivity of the entire gamut of village-based natural resources like agriculture, animal husbandry as well as water and forest conservation. The 'Hiware bazaar' village in Maharashtra's drought-prone dry zone district of Ahmednagar had shown a complete turnover in the migration of people back to the village after they conserved moisture in the adjoining forests. There have been tremendous productivity enhancements of milk and onion and agriculture crops which led more than 100 families to get back from Mumbai where they had migrated for employment. In each of these innovations, there was an untiring effort and force of the character of a social leader and his or her team. In Rajasthan, we had plenty of examples in desert areas of conservation of water and rural sustenance for a very long time amid recurrent droughts and minuscule rainfall.
In this article, I have attempted to focus on less-known but very innovative steps taken by the people and government officials of Tripura. One of the most ticklish issues for the political leadership is the permanent settlement of Tribal shifting cultivators all over India, especially in the Northeastern states. But in Tripura, with the joint efforts of the state as well as central government since 1977, more than 1,00,000 tribal shifting cultivators and few others have been settled permanently in rubber plantations. The life of a rubber tree coincides with the working life of 32 to 34 years of an individual. Once a tree's latex tapping life is over, the tree yields timber of very high quality after treatment.
The Rubber Mission, constituted by the then CM Manik Sarkar in 2004, had estimated to cover 85,000 hectares. The state has now surpassed this figure and in rubber production, Tripura stands second only to Kerala. Few rubber-based value industries like technically specified block rubber, rubber wood board/furniture and Cenex factories are employing many. More than 1,50,000 families earn their livelihoods from rubber in Tripura. It has changed the life of tribal shifting cultivators called 'Jhumias' completely. Each family earns anything from Rs 1,50,000 to Rs 2,00,000 annually from the sale of rubber. The exact earnings vary due to fluctuations in rubber prices in the international market. The biggest impact of this, apart from settling tribals, has been on conserving the remaining forests and climate change mitigation due to carbon sequestration. Two public sector undertakings of the state government are engaged in rubber management for the tribals as well as non-tribal families and generating wealth and resources.
Of late, the innovations in the value addition of bamboo, agarwood and the plantation of tall seedlings in Tripura have attracted the attention of planners and administrators in the country. The government of India, as well as several states, had banned the use of single-use plastic but unless durable alternatives are provided such steps do not succeed. One young office, Prasad Rao, Managing Director of a public sector undertaking looking after tribal rehabilitation, had developed hybrid water bottles of very good quality for the value addition of bamboo. Bamboo bottles had tremendous scope to replace plastic mineral bottles and should be used in seminars, meetings and conferences. The Khadi and Village Industries Commission had evinced interest in bamboo bottles and other bamboo products but the Tripura government could not meet the scale of demand. Prasad Rao, along with other young officers, standardised the technique of planting tall plants (18-month-old) for better survival and growth rate. It would also reduce the cost of plant guards. The three years old trees of slow-growing Mahogany, Gulmohar and other species have attained excellent height, and girth and with very well-developed crown density. The seedlings were raised in large-sized poly bags. The roadside plantations raised by this technique have a survival rate of more than 95-100 per cent compared to 50-55 per cent in the case of traditional methods. Adopting this technique in inaccessible forest areas will require a little modification in transport equipment. The National Highway Authority of India, Indian Railways and Larsen and Toubro have shown interest in adopting this technique. The government of India and the States spent huge amounts on mineral water bottles and in raising seedlings for plantation. The large-scale adoption of these innovations would not only save the environment but would also provide employment opportunities for rural people and promote entrepreneurship among the youth. Not to be said, this will also encourage further innovations.
The writer is Chairman of Centre for Resource Management and Environment. Views expressed are personal