Failure to adopt land leasing act is hurting govts in Raj, MP and Telangana

Ram Singh, a resident of Kotmi village in Madhya Pradesh’s Betul district, grew maize on 13 acres  in the previous kharif season. Under a state government scheme to support farm income, Singh was eligible for a bonus of Rs 500 per quintal on his produce. However, he could only lay claim to the produce from the three acres he owns. The rest was taken on lease from two other farmers.

Under the MP government’s revamped ‘flat bhawantar bhugtan yojana’, leased land, known as ‘sikmi bhoomi’ in local parlance, is registered only if the farmer has a letter of authorisation and the loan passbook from the original landowner. Moreover, the lease agreement should conform to the government guidelines. Unfortunately, for Singh, he had leased land under an informal arrangement, and could not benefit from the bonus.

Millions of farmers across the country are deprived of benefits of government farm-support schemes — MP’s bhawantar, Telangana’s ‘rythu bandhu’, or Rajasthan’s farm loan waiver.

The experience of the Telangana government’s bargadars, or cultivators. The K Chandrashekar Rao (KCR) government’s scheme promised support of Rs 8,000 per acre annually to farmers. Absentee landowners, however, allegedly cornered a bulk of the Rs 120 billion the government spent.

“Big landholders, who own 10-15 acres of land, would come to villages in their expensive cars to collect ‘rythu bandhu’ to millions of farmers a poll issue, the incumbent Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) seems to be in for a tough test as the state goes to the polls on Friday. 

The Opposition has not only promised to raise the annual support to over Rs 10,000 per acre, but also expand the scheme to include tenant farmers.

Ironically, the TRS, the pioneer of the scheme, has steadfastly maintained the scheme will not include tenant farmers, and the government benefit would go into the bank account of the landowners. Of an estimated 5.8 million cultivators in the state, nearly 1.5 million are tenant farmers.

In Rajasthan, the Vasundhara Raje government waived cooperative bank loans worth Rs 84 billion of only 2.9 million farmers; the state has a population of nearly 70 million. Millions of cultivators who suffered the brunt of successive droughts, but are only tenant farmers, received no money. 

“The loan waiver came with several caveats, including the size of the landholdings. It didn’t benefit smaller landholders, nor those like me, who are tenant farmers,” said Gangaram Gameti, a tribal cultivator in a village 50-km from Udaipur.

While states across India, particularly the poll-bound ones of Rajasthan, MP and Telangana, have maintained they took efforts to alleviate agrarian distress, denial of benefits to tenant farmers has contributed to farmers’ discontent. According to a study by Tajmul Haque, former chairman, Commission for Agriculture Costs and Prices (CACP), almost 57 per cent of leased area in kharif and 54 per cent in rabi seasons were on short-term leases that did not have tenure security and stability.

MP and Odisha are rare states to have legalised tenancy or land leases on the lines of the ‘model land leasing law’ prepared by the NITI Aayog. However, its implementation is tardy and full of loopholes. Uttar Pradesh has suggested amendments to the legislation, while Bihar has formed a high-powered committee to study it.

“The reluctance of the states to strictly legalise tenancy is political in nature. They mistakenly fear people with large landholding might get exposed to the law, but this is not the case,” said Haque, who also heads the expert committee of land reforms. 

In 2011, Telangana tried to reform land leasing, and registered cultivators by issuing identity cards to tenant farmers with one-year validity. “So far, not even half the tenant farmers have been covered, neither does the rythu bandhu scheme recognise these cards. This has virtually killed the scheme,” Vissa said.

Haque added: “Until land leasing is legalised, tenant farmers (who form a significant chunk of the farming community) would not get any benefit of the government doles or support programmes.”

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