Namdapha Management Plan: Lisu Socio-Economic Conditions


After reading this section of the report, I was surprised what authentic information the Department of Environment and Forests have. A researcher (I wish I knew the name) did extensive reviews of government data and did field data collection in our villages in 2004.

The most notable point is about our population from the Census of India data from 1961 to 2001. His conclusion rubbished the hearsay and myths of the Field Director and Conservation NGOs (NCF?) that there is continuing migration from Myanmar. Good analysis. Who would migrate to a place where one has to walk four days to reach a nearest town?

Interesting quantitative for the 329 Lisu households in 2004:

  • 61 produced honey and totals to 683 liters.
  • 41 had solar power.
  • 75 had tin roofing.
  • 67% makes 1-2 trips a year to Miao, 14% 3 to 12 trips, 7% rarely went, 12% never been to Miao.
  • See more on mortality, land holding, rice production, cash income, literacy rate and so on.

You will also find detailed historical review of our interaction with the Namdapha.

Happy reading and do something.


SOURCE: Management Plan: Namdapha National Park (A research project undertaken by Ministry of Environment and Forests Government of India and Indira Gandhi Conservation Monitoring Centre-WWF India). URL: (accessed: 3 July 2013). Page 73 – 84, Annexure 3.


Understanding Lisu the socio-economic conditions:(Source: Government of Arunachal Pradesh, Department of Environment and Forests Report)

Lisu population growth:

There is a widespread belief and rumors that Lisus are still migrating in from Myanmar. These reports by the FD and some conservation NGOs have been circulated in the media without proper on-ground verification. I analyzed available census data and used my socio-economic data collected in 2004 to examine this contention.

The Lisu population in the 1961 census was 78, increasing to 926 in the 1971 census. In 1981, some records only show five Lisu (Dutta Choudhury 1980); although Maitra (1993) reports 971, while his own household census was 1016. In 1991, the Lisu population totaled 1530 (Dutta Choudhury 1980, Choudhury 1996), while the 2001 census records 2106 in 376 households. However, my estimate from a household census of Lisu villages (including those in the park) in 2004 enumerates 2370. There was considerable migration from Myanmar between 1961 and 1971 (1.08 per year). Following this, the growth rate declined to an average of 0.03 per year calculated between 1971 and 1991 possibly due to the curtailment of immigration and high infant mortality rates. The growth rate has increased in the last ten years at 0.07 per year.

Lisus marry very young (often at 16, or lower) and the average number of children per family is 6. Arunachal’s growth rate is about 0.03 per year, while for India, it is 0.02 per year. Given lack of family planning and high reproductive rates, the average growth rate of 0.04 (1971-2005) among Lisus is not surprising. A more detailed demographic analysis of population structure, birth and death rates would provide a clearer understanding of the contention that Lisu numbers are increasing due to recent migration from Myanmar. Based on time spent in these villages, a socio-economic survey and cross-checking electoral rolls and other records, it appears that these rumours are baseless. They have been probably fuelled by the fact that Lisu hunters from Myanmar (and others too) do come into the area occasionally mainly to hunt and given the lack of communication it is easy for such rumours to spread. There is government administration, SIB, SB, Assam Rifles and the Air Force guarding these border areas. If migration was happening, the Government has to curtail it; the burden of proof should not be on existing Indian Lisus who are often suspected as encouraging this. Lisus say they already face land shortage, and would not support new Lisus coming into the area. In addition, this can be remedied by issuing ID cards to all Indian Lisus to check new infiltrations. Occasional migration from Myanmar is also prevalent in Changlang district by Tangsas and Singphos who also originally came from Myanmar.

In 1971, the Yobin formed 0.25% of the Scheduled Tribe population, now they form less than 0.002% of the total population. Yet there are continuing fears and rumours of Lisu population growth, influx and migration from Myanmar. Beyond the south-eastern boundary of the park (at 80 mile) are 13 villages with 673 households and a population of 5147 (2001 census) in Vijaynagar circle. There are four Lisu villages (Gandhigram, Sidikhu, Hazulu and Dawodi) with 385 households (2742 population), apart from 9 villages of Nepali ex-servicemen in 288 households with a population of 2405 who were settled here by the Assam Rifles after 1962. There are also other tribal and non-tribal Government staff and personnel of the Assam Rifles and the Indian Air Force.

Honey production and collection

61 of 329 Lisu households surveyed produced honey in home-made beehive boxes. Those who produced honey had an average of 2 beehive boxes in their households. 62 households were engaged in wild honey collection, 5 said they used to collect earlier. While 22 households were engaged both in production and collection, 36 households were engaged only in production, while 40 only collected from the wild. Honey was collected or produced mostly for household consumption and occasionally for sale to others. One litre of honey is priced at about Rs. 150. A total of about 683 litres of honey was reported as being collected by 43 of 62 households which amounts to an average of 16 litres.

Solar power and tin roofing

A total of 41 households of 329 reported (12.5%) having solar power. This was purchased at a subsidy from APEDA in 2004. 27% of households had tin roofing mostly purchased at a subsidy from Government departments. 75 households had full tin roofing, while 13 houses were partially roofed. The remaining 241 households used mainly cane (jeng patta) or more rarely tokko palm (Livistona jenkinsiana) leaves, but many households were in the process of trying to acquire tin roofing.

Access to nearest town for markets, health care, essential supplies.

Sixty-seven % of households had to make at 1-2 trips a year to Miao which takes about 3-7 days depending on the season to purchase essential commodities, or for health care. About 14% of households made between 3 to 12 trips a year to Miao, while 7% went very rarely once in 2 years. 12% of households said they had never been to Miao. The total road distance from Vijaynagar to Miao is 157 km, while from Gandhigram and Sidikhu it is 136 km. However, the actual walk is approximately 90-100 km as short cuts are taken along the river. The walk usually takes 3-4 days for most Lisu in the winter. Some supplies are available in Vijaynagar which is 21 km from Gandhigram.


Eighteen % households reported 72 deaths over the last 2 years. Of the 72 deaths, 42 were of children (below 18 years). 48 deaths were of males and 21 of females. Exact cause of mortality was unknown in 42% of the deaths. 23 deaths were due to malaria and/or jaundice, 5 due to dysentery, 2 due to tuberculosis, and 1 each due to blood cancer and appendix. Three people died due to accidents (drowning, tree fall).

Agricultural land shortage

Of 48 households that had moved into the National Park, 42 % had less land or low production not enough to meet household rice requirements, while 19% of families had no agricultural land left in Gandhigram. For 14 households there appeared to be no damage to agricultural land in Gandhigram, yet they had moved in to the park probably fearing future land shortage or moving with their relatives and kin to a new area. The reasons for movement of 5 more families remain unclear.

What needs to be emphasized is that land shortage is not restricted to the families that have moved into the National Park. In a household survey in Gandhigram, 70% of households reported some land shortage (n = 254), either because of low production, less land to meet annual household needs, or direct loss to erosion, floods, sand deposition and landslides. Only 30% household reported no problem or damage.

Where to relocate the Lisu?

Changlang district has a population density of 20 per km2, however much of the district is hilly and forested. There has been high decadal growth of 31% in this district primarily due to high immigration and settlement of various tribal communities. The main tribes of the district are the Tangsa, Tutsa, Singpho and the Lisu, however, the Government since 1965 has settled various other communities in the district, primarily Chakmas (14,000), Lamas (about 150), Nepalis (2500) and Tibetan refugees (ca. 2000). Unfortunately, all these communities have been settled in the Miao and Vijaynagar circles within which the Namdapha National Park is located. In those days, population density was very low and the area was largely uninhabited and forested. The Tangsa and Singpho also originally migrated into India from Myanmar and consequently still have some ties of kinship, family, trade across the border. This has resulted in some level of immigration into the Jairampur, Miao and Kharsang circles. In addition, there are populations of tribes from other areas living here such as the Khampti, Nocte, Wancho, Adi and Nishi with increasing numbers over the last 5 years especially in the Miao township area. There is also a considerable non-tribal population mostly of Marwaris, Biharis, Assamese and Bengali residing in the townships that are engaged in private enterprises or work in government departments. There are also Army and paramilitary personnel whose presence has increased after the spurt in insurgency activities since 2002 by different factions of the NSCN and with the demand by the NSCN of including Changlang and adjoining Tirap districts as part of Greater Nagaland or Nagalim.

In Arunachal Pradesh, as in much of North-east India, there have been no cadastral surveys or demarcation on-ground of revenue land, villages are homogenous of one tribe, each tribe has land ownership claims to a traditionally designated area, therefore distinct and separate areas exist for each tribe. All community-owned forests fall under the category of Unclassed State forests (USF) and these are all traditionally occupied. Land is the most valuable resource for tribal communities here and flat land for agriculture is at a premium. The mainstay of most of these tribes is now settled wet rice cultivation and flat land available for this is limited. With the influx of other communities and increasing populations, there has been considerable encroachment into the Reserve forest areas around Miao with occupation by Singpho and Tangsa, this land could be located here. The district administration initially suggested looking for land in the Pritnagar (Lisu name: Badadi) area and ordered a survey to estimate land available here. However, there are already existing land disputes between the Lisu and Nepali here which have been long pending with no resolution by the administration. While the Lisus view this area as part of their area with 5 households cultivating here, about 4 Nepali households from nearby Mazgaon village are also cultivating land here. The Pritnagar area does not fall within areas originally allotted to the Nepali families when 195 families of ex-servicemen were given land pattas (deeds) for settlements. In any case, the land survey in October 2005 has already revealed that there is only about 30 ha (76 acres) of land suitable for cultivation here, most of which is already occupied by Lisu and Nepali families. The total area of the USF area in Vijaynagar circle is 637 km2, however flat land or valley area is restricted to 23 km2. Much of the area is above 1500 m, precluding even shifting cultivation. Almost all of this cultivable land area is occupied and there is land shortage resulting in food insecurity. Annual erosion by the Noa-dihing River results in further loss of existing agricultural land. The land requirement for the 83 Lisu families enumerated by the Forest Department survey means about 166 ha (2 ha per family) would be required to relocate the Lisu here, however a more realistic requirement maybe 250 ha.

In my view, this can only be obtained if the District Administration and the Forest Department carries out a survey to determine the willingness of Nepalis to move out of the area if given adequate cash compensation. There are 9 Nepali villages with an allotted land holding of 764 ha, therefore even if one or two villages could be convinced to move out; there would enough land to relocate the Lisu. Many Nepali families already have moved out and settled in the plains in Assam, the children of many families study in towns in Assam, most have at least 2-3 family members that are employed in the Assam Rifles, therefore they may be willing to resettle in the plains elsewhere with road connectivity and access to markets, health care and education. As most are employed in the Assam Rifles, they manage to avail of air sorties more than the Lisu and get other help. However, many Nepalis who have grown up in the area maybe reluctant to move out given their long association with the area and their relative economic prosperity in the area due to the large landholdings provided by the government. They also have voting rights, Panchayat representation and appointed village headmen and youth are involved in local politics. A survey and engagement with the Nepali community is necessary to determine their views. The Nepali families were settled in 1966 in 9 villages. There were originally 193 families with total allotted land being 1888 acres or 764 ha (an average of about 4 ha per family). Strangely while the allotted land area for Nepalis amounts to 764 ha, 1971 census data of land under wet rice cultivation for Nepali villages records only 120 acres (48.6 ha) as being cultivated. In the same year, 340 acres (137.6 ha) are shown as being under wet rice cultivation in the largest Lisu village of Gandhigram. According to a 1973 survey, 19 families deserted and sold land and left the area, over the years apparently others have also left the area. There population as enumerated in the 2001 census was 1658 in 300 households, while another estimate indicates 288 households with a population of 2405 (Arunachalam et al. 2004) but more recent estimates indicate a population of XXXX. There are increasing tensions and disputes with the Lisu nowadays. Some of the youth are also demanding the status of a Scheduled Tribe.

Nepalis were settled in some of their old settlements in the 1960s, their citizenship and ST status was taken away in 1979, then the national park boundary was demarcated 5 miles from their village, road access and building was stopped partly because of the national park. What options will such a marginalized people have and of what relevance is conservation to them? It is no wonder that they are antagonistic to the park. It is ironic that it is the Government that encouraged the Lisu to take up wet rice cultivation in the valley and provide farming implements. This transformed them from their earlier hunter-gatherers lifestyle with some dependence on shifting cultivation. Now they are completely dependent on wet rice cultivation.

The first-ever meeting between the Lisus, local park authorities, officials of the Arunachal Pradesh State Forest Department, Project Tiger Director and the District administration to discuss the encroachment issue and possible options for finding land and relocation took place on January 20, 2006. The consensus that was arrived at was that land had to be identified in the Vijaynagar circle possibly by determining the willingness of Nepalis to move elsewhere. In this regard, the DC suggested that the Project Tiger authorities would then have to provide a double cash compensation package to both communities. The Project Tiger Director reiterated to the Lisu that there would be no forced relocation and that any land identified would first be shown to them. The Lisus had earlier stated their land shortage problems and demanded that either the park boundary had to be moved back to 40 mile or land had to be identified and given in Vijaynagar by resettling Nepalis elsewhere. The Project Tiger Director categorically ruled out the possibility of denotification of part of the park area citing stringent wildlife laws and requested the Lisu to take the option of a relocation package. He stated that under the present scheme, all families willing to resettle would be provided 2 ha of land, at least 1 lakh cash compensation, and other facilities. He also indicated that activities for welfare of Lisu villagers in the buffer zone outside the park would be initiated and that he would arrange for visits by the Lisu to better managed tiger reserves in India to understand how local people can benefit economically through tourism-related income from the park. He also agreed to the need for a road but reiterated that it should be for limited use mainly for the people of the area and by park management and would be under the control of the Forest Department. He agreed to the double compensation package suggested by the DC but also requested the District Administration not to rule out options for locating land towards the western side near Miao. He urged the committee appointed to identify land to become more active in finding a solution quickly.

Another possible solution is rationalization of the park boundary. Although this will seem detrimental to wildlife conservation and be anathema to conservationists, it is more prudent to save and be able to protect a smaller area of the park properly than have a large area that is vulnerable to ever-increasing encroachments. Parts of it are already becoming degraded all along in patches due to the scattered settlements inside. The park’s area is 1985 km2, with contiguous large tracts of forest (several adjoining PAs) on all sides including across the border in Myanmar. It will not be such a great loss to conservation if 2-5 km2 is sacrificed for the genuine land needs of a people hemmed in by high mountains and the international boundary on three sides, the national park on one side and confined to a stretch of 11 km. Given the problems of locating land on the western side and possibly even on the eastern side as it requires willingness of the Nepalis to resettle elsewhere and compensation to be paid to them, it may be more pragmatic to do this rather than procrastinate for several more years. The families in the park have already been there for about 8-10 years now and the longer it takes to find land to resettle them, the greater the reluctance and more difficult to implement this. If the boundary is rationalized, there can be safeguards against further encroachment which would of course need to be properly implemented by enforcement agencies.

Landholdings of individual families

We measured the agricultural landholdings of 16 households; the average landholding was 1.51 ha ranging from 0.19 ha to 4.5 ha. Seven families had less than 1 ha of land, while seven had about 2 to 2.5 ha. Interestingly, two families that had over 2 ha of land and the one family with 4.5 ha had left Gandhigram and moved into the National Park in the settlement at 38 mile. One family that had only 0.4 ha of land had returned back to Gandhigram from 52 mile despite lack of land as all his children had died due to malaria in 52 mile. In 2005, we measured the entire area available for rice cultivation in Gandhigram village. The total area currently available is 311 ha in the valley which amounts to about 1.35 ha per family in Gandhigram. Based on our mapping, the total estimated valley land for cultivation and settlements for Lisus amounts to 375 ha. In contrast, the agricultural landholdings of Nepalis amount to 764 ha with an average landholding of 3.96 ha. Nepali families reportedly have excess rice production often up to 800 tins per household. Excess rice is sold or made into liquor.

The 65 Lisu families in the park are now cultivating an estimated area of 86 ha with an average landholding of 1.32 ha. In addition, 10-15 km2 of the park area adjoining these settlements are partially affected by fuelwood extraction, felling of poles and timber clearing.

Impact zone of various communities on the Namdapha National Park

Currently 12% of the Lisu population is settled inside the park in 3 settlements, while 62% are settled in two villages that are less than 5 km from the eastern boundary of the park. The entire Nepali population is settled in 9 villages that are > 10 km from the eastern park boundary. The Chakma population numbering about 2500 is < 5 km from the western boundary of the park. The Mishmi and Lama are settled in one small village each < 5 km towards the west of the park. Only the Lisu and some Nepali traverse the park on their way to Miao and back to access various facilities. Others who access the park are Chakmas, Lamas, some Singpho and non-tribals as porters to carry ration supplies to Vijaynagar. This is done mainly in the winter months (November to February). However, this has been mostly stopped since last year and supplies are now being carried mostly by elephants. Chakmas and a few Mishmis enter the park to collect fuelwood and NTFP, and for fishing and hunting but this impact is restricted to areas up to Firmbase.

Rice production

We estimated Lisu rice production based on an estimate of rice yield per landholding. We calculated this based on the number of tins of rice produced from a sample of landholdings of households. Lisus measure rice production from the number of tins of rice produced. Rice is nowadays dehusked in machine mills that several households possess, while some amount is dehusked using traditional water mills. One tin of grain converts to approximately 6.5 kg of dehusked rice. The total rice production by all Lisu households amounts to 535,000 kg with an average of 150 tins per household. An average Lisu household consumes about 5 kg of rice per day, therefore annual requirement of rice amounts to 600,000 kg resulting in an overall shortfall. This shortfall is met by either purchasing subsidized rice from the Government Public Distribution System (PDS) store Supplies are brought in on foot from Miao and transported to the Vijaynagar civil supplies store. Almost all households have ration cards. More often families meet the shortfall by purchasing rice from other Lisu households with excess rice or by taking from relatives and kin. In times of severe shortage and no alternatives, people resort to eating flour made from pith of tubers, palms and ferns. Lisus plant their rice fields in May-June and harvest the crop in October-November. Usually the shortfall of rice occurs after August, before the next crop is ready for harvest. Therefore some families have shortage of rice for 2-3 months between August and October.

Shifting cultivation

While slash and burn agriculture used to be the mainstay of the Lisu earlier, currently they are moving away from practicing shifting cultivation mainly because of the high amounts of time, energy and effort required often with meager returns. Crops are often damaged by insect attack, unseasonal rains and other factors. The younger generation is also veering away from this practice. Although almost all households have designated jhum land which is kept as an asset for the future, 66% of households have stopped jhumming, while 32% still practice some jhum mainly for maize and vegetable crops and 2% reported practicing jhum a few years earlier.

Cash income of households

Two hundred households reported cash incomes of less than Rs. 5,000 per year, while 10 reported no cash income. Ten households did not report their income. 65 households reported cash incomes between Rs. 5000-10,000 a year, while 37 reported cash incomes between Rs. 12000-60,000 a year. Three households had incomes greater than Rs. 1 lakh. The average income per household (n = 315) was about Rs. 7245 per year (Rs. 605 per month). However, it is likely that incomes were not accurately reported; therefore not much confidence can be placed on these numbers.

Home gardens, bamboo groves

Eighty-three percent of households (n = 278) had planted bamboo groves around their homesteads for household consumption, while 48 households had no planted bamboo. Data on bamboo groves were not recorded for 50 households.

Literacy rates and formal education

Lisu literacy rate is 42% with 48% literacy among males and 36% among females. There was very low literacy among Lisus with only 30% of adult males being literate. Adult female literacy was only 12%. While 10% of adult males had at least studied in school (maximum of Class 7), about 15% had studied between Class 7 to 10. Only 10 males had studied up to Class 12, while 11 had done BA or MA. Overall, among children currently, the school going rate appears to be high with 73 % children between the ages of 3 to 17 years now going to school. In the age group of 3-5 years, 56% go to school, while between 6-11 years, 85% go to school and in the 11-17 year age group about 76% go to school. Interestingly, the literacy rates of the Lisu appear to have been the highest among all tribes in 1971t appears that there has been little progress in achieving higher literacy among the Lisu because in 1971, literacy rates were 28%.

Health care facilities

There is no Government facility. Till 2004, villagers used to get some medical help from Assam Rifles stationed at Gandhigram and Vijayanagar. For proper treatment they had to go to Miao on foot, very rarely people would take the infrequent and expensive air sortie from Vijaynagar to Dibrugarh. Many ailments are treated by traditional medicines. In Vijaynagar, there is supposed to be a primary health care centre but there is only a compounder with a meager supply of medicines. In 2004, the Assam Rifles camp in Gandhigram was discontinued. Since 2004, the villagers get medicines regularly through NCF, provided by NCF health worker Khiyohey Yobin, who is from Gandhigram village. No deaths were recorded in this village in the last one year.

2 thoughts on “Namdapha Management Plan: Lisu Socio-Economic Conditions

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s