By Sujit Chakraborty
Agartala : After barbed wire fencing, rubber plantations may now serve as a natural green barricade along the India-Bangladesh border in Tripura – a major rubber producer – to check the movement of militants, smuggling and other crimes.
"We have submitted a detail project to the central commerce ministry for financial assistance and are awaiting the necessary funds for rubber cultivation along the 856-km-long India-Bangladesh border," said Tripura Forest and Tribal Welfare Minister Jitendra Chowdhury.
"Such plantations would not only offer livelihood options to many poor and tribal farmers engaged in rubber cultivation and tapping but also provide a clear view to the Border Security Force (BSF) through the space between tall rubber trees," Chowdhury told IANS in an interview.
Tripura is the second largest rubber producer in the country after Kerala, with 35,760 hectares of land so far under rubber cultivation.
According to the Rubber Board and as per the estimates of the National Bureau of Soil Survey and Land Use Planning, an area of 100,000 hectares is suitable for rubber plantations in this northeastern state.
Commerce Minister Jairam Ramesh, who strongly supports the idea, said: "Rubber plantation on a 15 km (3,784 hectares) stretch of forest land along the Indo-Bangla border in south Tripura has already been done and planting on another 400 hectares is expected soon."
"If the new project succeeds here, such a scheme would be taken up in the other bordering states to meet the dual purpose of increasing natural rubber production and security requirements," Ramesh said here during a recent visit to the state.
Rubber plantations, though virtually a close canopy on account of large leaf area index, have a clear stem without any branches and large bushes on its floor. This provides border guards clear ground visibility on the other side of the border.
Extremists and other elements involved in various border crimes, including smuggling, thus cannot take shelter in rubber plantations and can be easily apprehended by patrolling parties.
Around 80 percent of Tripura's 856-km border with Bangladesh has been fenced by barbed wire so far and work is on to fence the remaining portion to prevent the movement of militants, smuggling, infiltration and various other border crimes.
"Various security agencies have requested the forest department to begin rubber plantations along the Assam-Agartala National Highway and other important state highways for 500 metres on both sides of the road by cleaning up jungles so that road patrolling becomes easier," minister Chowdhury said.
"It will eliminate the possibility of any ambush by militants and ensure vehicular movement along these roads without any fear of extremist attacks."
He said around 5,000 hectares of forestland along the important roads and the national highway – considered a lifeline of this northeastern state – have already been identified for rubber plantations.
The National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (Nabard) under its Rural Infrastructure Development Fund (RIDF) and other nationalised banks has agreed to provide funds for the scheme.
Separatists have been occasionally attacking vehicles plying the national highway and important highways, where jungles provide them a place to hide.
"The Tripura government has established a 'Rubber Mission' with the objective of systematically expanding more than 85,074 hectares of area under rubber cultivation in the state for ensuring socio-economic and industrial growth," a 100-page status report of the rubber mission said.
According to Indraneel Bhowmik, a research advisor with the Tripura Rubber Mission, the National Bureau of Soil Survey and Land Use Planning has identified 450,000 hectares of land in the northeastern region of India as suitable for rubber plantations.
"Thus the non-traditional zone is the area where lies the potential for expansion of rubber plantation to avail of a higher level of production of natural rubber, which has been used as industrial raw material for almost 50,000 goods," Bhowmik pointed out.
India has 600,000 hectares of rubber plantations, producing about 750,000 tonnes of natural rubber annually.