Until last fortnight, most nights in Mizoram were lit up by the red glow of forest fires. Long thin lines of flame, rising and falling along the contours of the hills, ate their way up through the forest. It was jhum time in the state, when farmers who practice the traditional practice of slash-and-burn cultivation torch large sections of jungle so that they can begin planting next season’s crops.
In Mizoram, as in other parts of the North East, the forests are owned by the local community. There is little individually-owned farmland. Each year, villages burn a part of their community forest to clear land for farming. The next year, they move to a new tract, leaving the previous one fallow for the soil to recover, returning to it after some years.
This year, the administration set March 15 as the deadline for burning forests. And so, in the evenings, even in the state’s capital of Aizawl, one could see thick tendrils of smoke rising from its surrounding hills. In the mornings, one woke up to see wisps of soot and burnt leaves on the ground and in the air.
in 2011, the congress government in mizoram launched NLUP — new land use policy. ostensibly to get farmers out of jhum cultivation. in this story, i take stock of how the programme is working. and find that it has been subverted by the state government into nothing a tool for gathering voters by doling out patronage.