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State, Community and the Agrarian Transition in Arunachal Pradesh

Deepak K Mishra ( is with the Centre for the Study of Regional Development, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.

Following the rapid and uneven integration with the capitalist economy, the local economies and institutional mechanisms of the indigenous communities of Arunachal Pradesh have been transformed in multiple and complex ways. With the commercialisation of agriculture and the gradual emergence of private property rights, the community-based institutions for natural resource management and conflict resolutions are undergoing a multilevel transformation. This is mediated through the interactions among community, market and state institutions. With the expansion of the non-agricultural economy, a powerful class of local elites has attempted to extract rent through a variety of means, often using their membership of local communities and access to state institutions to safeguard their interests, against the backdrop of the ethnic competition between different ethnic groups.

This paper draws upon the authors’ previous works and also the collaborative research with Barbara Harriss-White and Vandana Upadhyay. Comments from the guest editors and the reviewers helped in revising the paper. Financial assistance from the ICSSR, New Delhi and JNU-UPE is gratefully acknowledged. The usual disclaimers apply.

Arunachal Pradesh, a mountainous state located in North East India, has undergone significant social and economic changes in the past few decades. There has been a robust growth of per capita income, along with some fundamental transformations in the institutional structures underpinning the economy (Planning Commission 2009: 67–75). The need-based, relatively self-sufficient agrarian economies of the tribes are now closely integrated with the larger national and transnational circuits of capitalist economic development. In the post-economic reform era, policy documents on the north-eastern region often describe Arunachal Pradesh as a power house of hydroelectricity (Baruah 2017; World Bank 2007), and its potential to be a part of a potential “growth corridor” linking the Indian economy with its eastern neighbours is also emphasised. With the emphasis on mega infrastructure development and signing of more than 150 memorandums of understanding (MoUs) for hydropower harnessing, the economy of the state is expected to attract private capital at a massive scale (Baruah 2017).

On the other hand, for agricultural development per se, the emphasis has been on horticulture development and commercialisation of the agro-economy. There is, however, a significant mismatch between the institutional requirements of such a market-led growth strategy and the institutional diversity and complexity that characterise the economy of Arunachal Pradesh. Further, the diverse implications of the ongoing economic transformations for the different classes, social groups and communities are yet to be properly understood.

Property rights over land and forests in Arunachal Pradesh, unlike in many other parts of India, are still under the formal ownership of community institutions, notwithstanding the ambiguities and overlapping jurisdictions of various state and non-state authorities over agricultural and forest lands.1 However, the dominant model of agrarian transformation initiated by the state, through active discouragement of the jhum cultivation practices, encourages the transition towards commercial agriculture, horticulture, plantations, and wet rice cultivation in the plains. While, in the non-farm sector, key development initiatives are urban, infrastructure, hydropower and tourism developments. But, all of these initiatives have undermined the institutional foundations of collective control and management of land. In this rapid and uneven process of
integration with the capitalist economy, the economies of the indigenous communities and their institutional mechanisms have been transformed in multiple and complex ways. With the restrictions imposed on the entry of outsiders in the state by the inner-line permit (ILP) system, and the prohibition of landownership by those outside the Arunachal Pradesh Scheduled Tribes (STs) defined indigenous communities, the scope for land alienation from tribal to non-tribal population has been severely curtailed. Such relatively robust institutional safeguards, however, have not been able to ensure equitable or sustainable access to land and forests.

The agrarian transformation in Arunachal Pradesh has been shaped by multilevel and complex interactions among the state, market, and community institutions, some of which result from the specific ways in which these institutions have evolved and interacted with each other. Among the various aspects that provide distinctiveness to the society and the economy of the state are the ecological specificities of the mountain economy; the nature of the historical encounter between the tribal groups and the colonial (and subsequently, postcolonial) state; the political, administrative and sociocultural specificities of a “borderland”;2 and, the institutional specificities of tribe-led mechanisms of local governance and conflict resolution. These interrelated specificities may not be understood through a static lens. These have evolved with the economic and social transformations in the state. While there is a greater recognition of the diverse ways through which capitalism is making inroads to the mountain areas (Dunaway 1996; Karlsson 2011), it is also important to note the role of the local agro-ecological context in determining the nature of surplus appropriation and the extent of interaction of the local economic formations with capitalism (Sugden et al 2018).

Drawing upon the insights from multiple rounds of field surveys in various parts of the state, during 1999–2016, and particularly, the socio-economic survey of households in two villages in 2015–16, along with the secondary literature, this paper attempts to examine the transformations in community rights over land in the state from a political economy perspective. Customary rights and the institutional mechanisms governing access to community resources, such as land and forest, operate within the larger contexts of social and economic transformations. A political economy approach to community land rights in this specific context involves an examination of differential access to such resources within the broader framework of agrarian transformations.

The Surveys

Between 1999 and 2007, three surveys were conducted:3 first, a household survey in four villages in West Kameng district in 1999; second, a socio-economic survey of 288 households in six villages of two districts, West Kameng and Papum Pare; and third, a study of village institutions in 11 villages in five districts in 2007.4

On the basis of these studies, two main paths of commercialisation were identified: (i) vegetable cultivation, and (ii) wet rice cultivation in the plains.5 The two villages surveyed in 2015–16 were selected to capture these two dimensions of the ongoing commercialisation. The first village in the East Siang district is studied to capture the production conditions in areas where wet rice cultivation predominates. In areas of wet rice cultivation, the process of commercialisation and differentiation have already been found to have taken root. The second village in West Kameng is essentially a village of migrants, who have leased-in land and have taken up cultivation on a commercial basis. This village was studied purposively so that the links between commercialisation and land-leasing could be investigated. A socio-economic survey of all households in these two villages was conducted using a structured questionnaire. In total, 150 households were covered in the East Siang village, and 66 households were studied in the West Kameng village. In-depth interviews with key informants and focus group discussions were also conducted in both the districts, in the study villages as well as in nearby villages.

Traditional Agricultural Systems

The traditional agricultural systems of the indigenous people were embedded in an integrated livelihoods strategy that included a wide range of activities combining shifting cultivation with hunting and gathering, fishing, animal husbandry, weaving, and toolmaking. Such a diversified and locally anchored livelihoods strategy was premised on the shared access to a range of natural resources, often at multiple elevations and, sometimes, as in the case of pastoralism and hunting, involving movement across diverse ecologies. Mixed cropping and sequential harvesting under the jhum farming systems provided food security in a high-risk environment (Ramakrishnan 1992). These livelihoods systems were routinely described as “unscientific” and “primitive” in the official parlance, and the early bureaucratic efforts to increase productivity of agriculture was aimed at encouraging the tribal communities to adopt “modern” and “scientific methods” of cultivation. But, several studies show the rich crop and nutritional diversity that characterised such agro-pastoral practices, and its suitability for the local environment.6

In institutional terms, such a flexible and diverse combination of livelihoods was often based on collective control over crucial livelihoods resources such as land, forest and water, although some elements of inequality were inbuilt into some of these (Mishra 1983). The binding constraint for many such livelihood strategies was labour. Social control over labour was present among the tribes in varying degrees through diverse institutional mechanisms ranging from spontaneous labour groups organised for specific tasks to long-term labour groups.7 Needless to add, the community institutions governing access to the means of production varied a lot among the tribes, partly depending upon the extent to which surplus could be generated and the extent of its redistribution through ceremonial feasts, gifts, and reciprocal exchanges.

Changes in Property Rights over Land

The traditional and localised economies of the tribes were affected by the historically specific forms of interactions with colonialism, which created the basis for commercialisation of the economy (Sikdar 1982). The colonial intervention, unlike the experience in tribal-dominated parts of central and eastern India, had probably less drastic impact on the traditional land rights structure. In the post-independence period, as attempts were made to consolidate administration in the hitherto “un-administered” area, the traditional community laws, including those governing access to land, were given quasi-legal sanction.8

Landownership in the region has for long been governed through community-based micro-level institutional mechanisms. Despite significant variations across the tribes, property rights over land and forest were largely collective (Misra 1979; Roy Burman 2002; Dutta 2003). However, collective ownership itself was diverse in nature. Some of the collective lands were owned by specific clans. In areas dominated by chieftainships, the access to land was through the chief. Also, the produce was not always distributed equitably. Special privileges of the village chiefs were inclusive of shares from produce, and free labour-services of the villagers and other dependents. The surplus generated was usually redistributed through gifts, rituals, feasts and festivals (Mishra 1983; Misra 1979). Even within jhum cultivation, in some cases, the clans or the households returned to cultivate the same plot of jhum land after a gap, whereas in other cases jhum land was not associated with any specific clan or households (Das 1989). The presence of institutionalised religious structures in the form of Gompas also altered the property rights arrangements to some extent. In a few cases, villagers were cultivating lands as tenants of the monastery, but mostly it was the village communities who were the collective owners of land, and they paid tributes to the monasteries.

The extant evidences are insufficient for identifying the exact processes through which private property rights over land emerged in the pre-independence period. In general, areas of terraced and wet rice cultivation evidenced the gradual emergence of some form of quasi-private property rights. Typically, in high-altitude areas with less abundant rainfall, where regrowth of vegetation was slow, terrace cultivation probably started early. Demographic pressure and spatial concentration of specific tribes and their indigenous knowledge could have facilitated the early growth of wet rice cultivation in some areas. Finally, the nature of surplus extraction and gradual monetisation of the tribal economy probably facilitated the growth of private property rights over land. However, it is in the post-independence decades when (quasi) private property rights in land became a more pronounced feature.

Recognition of Private Property Rights Over Land

There is a great deal of ambiguity regarding the status of landownership in Arunachal Pradesh. There has been no cadastral survey of agricultural land in the state. For a long time, the Balipara/Tirap/Sadiya Frontier Tract Jhum Land Regulation (1947) was considered as the key legal framework for governing agricultural land management. The rights of the tribes to practise shifting cultivation was recognised in this law to a limited extent. In practice, it is often asserted by the villagers and village-chiefs that while the land is owned by the village community, its use is governed by the traditional community laws.9

The existing property rights in Arunachal Pradesh, as in many of the hilly states of North East India, lie in the continuum between collective and private property rights. The private property rights over land were not backed by the state, but made operational through informal arrangements with the community institutions (Harriss-White et al 2009; Mishra 2015a, 2015b). In the instances where individual ownership over land is being recognised by the village community, it includes the rights of use, occupancy and inheritance, but land transfer is often conditional (Mishra 2002). In some cases, fragmented and contingent property rights involving “limited transfer rights” (namely temporary transfer rights under a mortgage, use rights without inheritance rights, etc) and “preferential transfer rights” (namely restricted rights to land transfer within family, clan or tribe) have been reported, along with unconditional rights to alienate (Mishra 2006; Harriss-White et al 2009; Planning Commission 2009). The informal privatisation of commonly owned land is observed to be a gendered process. Typically, when land rights are being informally privatised, it is being passed on to the male members, turning women into a class of disinherited peasants, despite of their co-participation and often substantial knowledge about seeds and indigenous practices of collective farming systems (Krishna 2005).

The Arunachal Pradesh (Land Settlement and Records) Act (2000) was an attempt to regulate land rights by conducting a cadastral survey of land. Gradually, individual rights over land are being recognised through the issuance of land occupation certificates, although consent from the village institutions is still considered mandatory for such certificates. As per the provisions of the recently passed Arunachal Pradesh Land Settlement and Records Amendment Act (2018), individuals belonging to the Arunachal Pradesh STs can have the recognised rights to own and lease-out their land up to 33 years, which is further extendable to another 33 years (Saikia 2018). This, according to the government, will facilitate the growth of the land-lease market in the state and would bring in outside investment and help individuals to get compensation for the land acquired for development projects. However, it can also facilitate formalisation of individual property rights over land as well as the privatisation of the common land.

Processes of Commercialisation

In the absence of any information on ownership holdings, the data on operational holdings from the Agricultural Census remains the only source of information regarding the agrarian structure in the state. Between 1970–71 and 2010–11, there was a significant increase of the share of marginal, small and semi-medium holdings, while that of the medium and large size-classes declined (Table 1, p 67). However, there is increasing concentration of land under the large- and medium-sized holdings, while there is a fragmentation of holdings in the smaller size-classes, although there are variations within the period 1970–2011. It is partly due to the processes of informal privatisation and shift to permanent cultivation, which has been discussed later in this paper.10

The data from the Agricultural Census suggests that agriculture in the state is pursued largely through self-cultivation and even now land-leasing has a marginal presence. From 1980–81 to 1995–96, there was a marginal decline in the share of STs, both with respect to the number of holdings and with respect to area operated, but after that the share of ST operated holdings has increased. However, there is a distinct possibility that tenancy is being under-reported in the official statistics, as several microstudies have reported the prevalence of tenancy, particularly in areas of wet rice cultivation (Harriss-White et al 2009).

In the village surveys in West Kameng and East Siang districts, it was found that, despite significant differences in the ecological conditions, more than 90% of households in both the villages, depend on own-farming activities or cultivation as the principal source of livelihood, with significant involvement in forest-related activities. The average size of holdings is much higher in the East Siang plains (6.69 acres) with wet rice cultivation, than in West Kameng (0.97 acres).

From the perspective of consumption, the economy of Arunachal Pradesh is integrated with the external economies. Goods produced elsewhere in India and in other countries have reached even the relatively “remote” villages. Agricultural production, however, continues to remain largely subsistence oriented, although the process of commercialisation has been undergoing at an unprecedented speed (Mishra 2006, 2015a), and manifesting in diverse ways, such as shifts of cropping pattern towards commercial and cash crops, horticulture and plantation crops, and the resulting concentration of land in the hands of large landholders; marketisation of a portion of agricultural output, particularly horticulture crops; and procurement of various inputs from the market. However, the commercialisation process is highly crop and location specific.

The village surveys revealed two different ways in which commercialisation is taking place in the study areas. In West Kameng district, it is brought in by the migrant tenant farmers producing vegetables such as potato, tomato and cabbage, who enter into interlocked transactions with traders based in towns in Assam. The traders and or their agents supply seeds, advance credit and arrange for transporting the produce from the villages to the markets, but have absolute control over the price at which output is purchased at the farm gate at the end of the harvest. The indigenous landowners are not involved in the production process,11 but receive a fixed rent in cash or in kind along with a few days of labour-rent from the tenant households. In the East Siang village, on the other hand, it is the indigenous peasant households who carry their paddy output to the nearest town of Pasighat and sell it to the wholesale grain dealers in the market. Generally, no credit is advanced by the traders to the paddy farmers in this village. Nearly 23% of farmers in East Siang sold their kharif paddy output, while more than 95% of the vegetable farmers in West Kameng sold potato, cauliflower and cabbage in the market.

A section of the local landowners/farm households leased-out their land to migrant tenant households under sharecropping contracts. The ethnic division between landlords and tenants, and the migrant status of the tenants have some bearing on the tenancy relations as well. First, migrant tenant households reported to depend upon their landlords for their ILP which is an essential legal requirement to enter Arunachal Pradesh. Second, not only did they depend on the landlord for the land to construct their makeshift accommodations, but also for access to village commons, particularly for firewood. Third, and perhaps more conventional is their dependence on the landlords for farming inputs, such as draft animals, and for consumption items and credits. Such occurrences were frequently observed in the wet rice cultivating areas. In such cases, landlords keep a record of all such transactions and deduct the outstanding amount from the tenants’ share at the time of the harvest.

Family Labour, Exchange Labour and Wage Labour

The labour-use pattern in agriculture in Arunachal Pradesh is characterised by the coexistence of family, exchange and wage labour (Mishra 2015a), although several changes in these forms have been noticed. First, the extent of cooperation among the families in a village, has weakened considerably. Village elders, in the survey villages blamed the outmigration of a section of the male and young labour force to urban areas as the main reason for the decline in the levels of collective labour mobilisation. While generalised cooperation was the norm in the past, now such mobilisations are restricted to the celebration of festivals or creating common assets such as steps on the pathways.

Second, even the exchange labour relations have changed from the open-ended bilateral contracts, where cooperation and exchange of labour extended across seasons and tasks (gathering forest products, agricultural occupations, construction and repair of houses, etc). At present, exchange labour is more in terms of exchange of a few labour days between families. Increasingly, the ability to mobilise exchange labour is becoming dependent on the ability of the households to arrange feasts for the labour team.

Third, the gender composition of family labour has also changed over time. Women and children have always been part of the family labour force in traditional agriculture. But, as the male labour force is moving out to urban or non-agricultural occupations, the burden of family labour (and to some extent that of exchange labour as well) is being increasingly shouldered by the female labour force. Simultaneously, there has been a rise in the overall work burden of women, as they have to travel longer distances to collect firewood, fodder and food items as a result of deforestation and other economic changes (Mishra and Mishra 2012).

As far as the reasons behind the development of the wage labour market in Arunachal Pradesh are concerned, various specificities need to be taken note of. First, the wage labour market in the state was primarily through administrative initiatives (Mishra 2013). The labour camps created by the military and civil administration formed the initial basis for the emergence of a non-agricultural labour market against the backdrop of a subsistence economy. Later, this act of mobilising migrant labour paved the way for the creation of a labour market for timber extraction and the saw mills in other parts of the state. Gradually, the migrant labour was used by the local elites to serve the agricultural and horticultural estates. Needless to say, all these processes, at least in the initial phase, proceeded almost without any relation to the internal dynamics of the local agrarian economy. However, both through the abandonment of large jhum plots in favour of smaller plots suitable for wet rice cultivation and through the classic process of peasant differentiation, smaller number of landless farmers started to join the non-agricultural wage labour market, particularly in the construction sector. Harriss-White et al (2009) noticed that in West Kameng and Tawang, peasant households would join the construction sector as temporary wage labourers during agricultural lean seasons, and often against tied loans from the labour contractors.

However, elsewhere in the state, including in East Siang, non-participation in agriculture has been the result of participation in the more remunerative, non-farm employment in government service, petty trading, business and transport. In most cases, such households, having access to non-farm income, leased-out their land to relatives and friends, while, in some cases, they might simply abandon the land. Internal differentiation of the peasantry has not resulted in a drastic increase in landlessness, possibly because a large proportion of land in the rural areas continues to be under the control of village
institutions, over which individual households can exercise their use rights.12

Dispossession, Surplus Accumulation and Differentiation

The role of community institutions in safeguarding the interests of the local commons has been widely recognised in the literature. However, it is important to note that, as the (uneven) capitalist transformation of the economies is gradually linking the communities with the circuits of global capitalism, micro-level institutional arrangements exist and operate within the network of institutional arrangements of various spatial scales. Given the diversity of such institutional arrangements in Arunachal Pradesh, it is difficult to generalise their role and ability in resisting, modifying or ameliorating the onslaught of the market institutions on the collectively owned property. Commercialisation and privatisation of community resources are generally portrayed as necessary steps towards the economic betterment of the people by the politicians. The institutions of the state and market often expand their reach to the local economies through their (visible and subtle) coercive power. Within the broad framework of ethnicised development, state and market forces have also tried to co-opt and use the community institutions in various ways. For example, before the restrictions on commercial extraction of timber was imposed by the Supreme Court in 1996, timber trade was a major economic activity in the state. While formal permission to extract timber could only be extended by the state government, it was a section of the local elites who utilised their clout with both the state government and community institutions to get access to collectively owned forests, and acted as intermediaries for businessmen from outside the state. Since most community institutions did not have a quota rule to determine the limits of such extraction by members, better-off sections from the communities were able to extract a rent from the timber traders (Harriss-White et al 2009; Mishra 2015a).

A broadly similar process is currently underway to facilitate the establishment of hydropower projects in the state (Rajshekhar 2013; Hill 2015). A section of the local elites has acted as intermediaries between outside capital and local communities in generating the necessary support for these projects. While some of them are convinced of the necessity of such projects for the economic development of the mountainous state, the role of compensation packages, contract orders, in-kind transfers, and other material benefits in creating the necessary support for such projects cannot be dismissed. The response of the community institutions ranges from outright opposition to the transfer of land and the construction of dams, to the mediation for a better compensation package. Given the sharp division of opinion within the communities on the desirability of such projects, often local-level institutions themselves have faced challenges to their legitimacy. In some cases, though, these collective institutions have been at the forefront of the movements questioning the privatisation of collectively owned land and forests. This resistance, in turn, has facilitated the establishment of apex coordination committees, involving people and local-level institutions from different villages and tribes, as well as interstate coordination and support from non-local non-governmental organisations.

An important aspect of the emerging differentiation in rural Arunachal Pradesh is that often the agrarian surplus has not acted as the key driver of economic differentiation, rather it is the surplus accumulated through non-agricultural activities, including the plundering of the state’s resources by the politically powerful tribal elites, that has been the prime mover of differentiation of the rural society (Mishra 2015b). This class has invested a part of the non-agricultural surplus in creating new enclosures, effectively privatising common lands and resources (including forests, as mentioned earlier) into private property in the form of horticultural and plantation estates, and non-cultivated land acquired for speculative purposes. Outside capital (timber trade or construction of hydropower projects) has entered the state through the local intermediaries, and the latter have been able to extract rent in exchange of the access to common property resources. This can be conceptualised as a variant of the processes of accumulation-by-dispossession, as quite often the impact of dispossession is less visible and less catastrophic in its impact on the dispossessed, in part because of the mediations through community institutions. The interrelated processes of “accumulation-by-dispossession from outside” that is exemplified by the attempts by the state and private capital to acquire land and other natural resources, and the “accumulation-by-dispossession from within,” which is being unleashed by the local elites, have created formidable challenges to the collective property rights of the communities.

The governing principles of the local-level community institutions for land governance, which had some built-in mechanisms to ensure equitable access to community resources and redistribution of surplus within the community, failed to withstand the onslaught from the state and market institutions, although there were many instances of institutional adaptation and innovation at the community-level. The evidence gathered through the field survey points to the embeddedness of community institutions within the production (and exchange) relations of the local economy. Thus, access to non-agricultural and non-local surplus generated through access to state institutions has enabled a class to use their membership in the local institutions and the share in surplus to privatise land and forests. Further, because of the commercialisation of the economy, labour contributions and penalties13 are becoming increasingly monetised, which in turn has made collective mobilisation difficult. These changes strike at the root of the relatively egalitarian foundations of the collective management systems. To emphasise these interconnections is not the same thing as economic determinism of institutional forms, rather it is to take note of the material foundations of institutions and institutional mechanisms. Institutional mechanisms influence each other (linked through vertical and horizontal interrelationships), and also the economies of production, distribution and exchange. Changes in the economic context lead to spiralling effects in the institutional forms and mechanisms as well.

Role of the State

Despite the formal recognition of community rights over land and forest, the state directly or indirectly facilitated the unequal privatisation of resources. The institutional ambiguity on the ground over property rights is not necessarily a sign of state incapacity. Such ambiguities facilitated an informal and flexible process of plundering of community resources for private benefits. With increasing inequality among the indigenous population, a class of prosperous, upwardly mobile elites has been able to extract rent through various means, such as leasing out agricultural land, real estate for residential and commercial purposes, and business licences, both from the State as well as the corporates (Harriss-White et al 2009). However, what is central to the social and economic power of this diverse group is their access to the resources of the state, through legal and extralegal means. This access is maintained through a framework of ethnic politics, where elites articulate their claims as members of their respective ethnic groups. Such ethnic contestations and bargains, over a period, have not only provided legitimacy to the state in a border state (Mishra 2013), but also provided a durable mode of governance where civic rights of individuals get replaced by collective ethnic claims (Baruah 2003).


To safeguard the rent-generating opportunities against competitions from rivals within and outside the ethnic groups, as well as against the actions of the state and private capital, ethnic elites try to protect the framework of ethnicised governance. Thus, contrary to the rhetorical importance attached to the collective values of the tribes, their community institutions, laws and indigenous rights, there is a systematic attempt to undermine these institutions in practice. The resulting institutional ambiguities on the ground, allow the elites to speak in multiple voices and protect their rents in diverse ways. The community institutions, in some instances, attempt to resist such attempts, but with the overwhelming dominance of the state and market institutions, often they serve the interest of the elites rather than that of the common masses. As capital is entering Arunachal Pradesh through big-ticket development projects, it has not only used the coercive power of the state, but also the persuasive power of the community institutions to make accumulation possible.

The commercialisation of the agrarian economy and reliance on a development strategy that is based on the commodification of nature, are likely to generate more pressure on the local institutions to forego their collective control over the natural resources. When a collectively owned resource is being privatised, the state should play a proactive role in protecting the environmental and economic rights of the marginalised sections of the society. Since the government has already adopted a policy of recognising limited private property rights over land, it should announce a comprehensive policy safeguarding the collective rights of the people and setting limits to the concentration of land and other resources in the hands of a few.


1 The forests under the control of the local communities, for example, are described as “unclassified state forests,” by the government; but acquisition of such lands by the state often involves negotiation with the village communities.

2 The specificities of the encounter with colonialism, the legacy of being treated as an “un-administered area,” the strategic significance of the region and comparatively weak development of markets were some of the reasons for which the postcolonial state acted as the prime mover of capitalist modernity. In this initial phase, capital primarily entered present-day Arunachal Pradesh to strengthen state power (also, see Mishra 2013).

3 See Mishra (2015a) for details on the field surveys.

4 Study was conducted in collaboration with Barbara Harriss-White and Vandana Upadhyay.

5 Horticulture and tea estates are also among the prominent forms of commercialisation of agriculture in Arunachal Pradesh.

6 Studies by P S Ramakrishnan and his colleagues, for example, have documented the energy-efficiency and sustainability of the traditional farming systems, including the shifting cultivation system and the wet-rice cultivation systems (Toky and Ramakrishnan 1981; Kumar and Ramakrishnan 1990; Maikhuri and Ramakrishnan 1991; Ramakrishnan 1992).

7 Among the Apatanis, for example, permanent labour groups Patang, are part of collective mobilisation of labour for agricultural activities.

8 The Nehru–Elwin strategy specifically mentioned the need to preserve traditional institutions in a gradual strategy of induced changes, and cautioned against overwhelming the tribal populations with changes from above. Also, it was part of a strategy towards consolidation of state power in this strategically important border region (Mishra 2013).

9 The status of the gaon burah remains ambiguous on the ground after the introduction of the panchayati raj system, although officials claim that the roles of the two institutions are distinct and well demarcated (Mishra and Mishra 2016).

10 There could be other factors such as abandonment of large jhum plots, decline in collective farming practices, new patches of land being brought under cultivation which might have caused such changes in the agrarian structure, etc. But, the paucity of credible data limits more detailed analysis.

11 However, in the nearby Rupa Valley and also in other parts of the district, tribal farmers have also entered into similar contracts with the traders and have started producing vegetables for the market.

12 Based on interview with village elders and key informants, March 2015.

13 The village institutions ensured participation through labour contribution from all households. At times, the penalties for breaking the rules were also to be paid in labour days or in kind. These have been monetised.


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Updated On : 14th Oct, 2018


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