Poor cov­er­age

In­dia's debut farm in­vest­ment sup­port scheme was rolled out in Te­lan­gana but a large sec­tion of the farm­ing com­mu­nity has been left out


Rythu Bandhu, Te­lan­gana gov­ern­ment's in­vest­ment sup­port for farm­ers, leaves out ten­ant farm­ers

IN­DIA'S NEW­EST state Te­lan­gana is wit­ness­ing an agrar­ian ex­per­i­ment of sorts. It is the first state where the gov­ern­ment is pro­vid­ing land-own­ing farm­ers mon­e­tary as­sis­tance even be­fore they plant the first seed. The scheme has even at­tracted the at­ten­tion of the prime min­is­ter as a way to achieve the tar­get of dou­bling farm in­come by 2022.

The rea­son be­hind the ini­tia­tive, named Rythu Bandhu Pathakam or Farm­ers In­vest­ment Sup­port Scheme, is the ex­treme agrar­ian dis­tress that the re­gion has wit­nessed in the past two decades. Take the case of Pot­ti­palli vil­lage in San­gareddy dis­trict. Well into the sec­ond month of the mon­soon, the farm­ers are still wait­ing for a good spell of rain. The cot­ton-grow­ing vil­lage has al­ready un­der­taken sow­ing twice this year be­cause the first at­tempt failed due to lack of rains. “Last year, un­timely rain and pest at­tacks en­sured that the vil­lage suf­fered a 100 per cent loss. A lot of hope is on this sea­son but we have al­ready sown twice,” says 40-year-old Mal­lana Dakuri, who farms on about 5 hectares (ha), a lit­tle over 1 ha of which he has rented. The vil­lage has wit­nessed one sui­cide this year and there is an over­whelm­ing feel­ing of help­less­ness all around.

Te­lan­gana has seen close to 1,000 farmer sui­cides ev­ery year since 2014, says Beeram Man­jeera, pres­i­dent of Te­lan­gana Man­jira Rythu Sa­makyi, a state-wide farmer or­gan­i­sa­tion. The state’s first Chief Min­is­ter, K Chan­drashekar Rao, came to power promis­ing re­lief from agrar­ian dis­tress and the gov­ern­ment has spent R16,600 crore so far on loan waivers.

On May 10, the chief min­is­ter launched Ryuthu Bandhu to cover in­put costs of seeds, labour and fer­tilis­ers (see ‘Trou­bled course’ on p18). Under the scheme, farm­ers get R4,000 per acre (1 acre equals 0.4 hectare) for up to 50 acres. The ex­pen­di­ture dur­ing

Since the scheme uses land-own­er­ship, rather than records of cul­ti­va­tors, for iden­ti­fi­ca­tion, a large num­ber of farm­ers have been left out

the kharif sea­son is es­ti­mated to be around R5,700 crore. A grand sum of

R12,000 crore has been set aside for this in the state bud­get for the cur­rent fis­cal, mak­ing it the most ex­pen­sive farmer wel­fare scheme by a state in the coun­try, says a June 2018 State Bank of In­dia re­port. If the scheme is ex­panded across the coun­try, it would cost the ex­che­quer around R3 lakh crore, says the re­port.

Rythu Bandhu is be­ing im­ple­mented on a war foot­ing in Te­lan­gana. Be­tween Septem­ber 2017 and March 2018, paper-based land records of the state’s farm­ers were up­dated and digi­tised. The gov­ern­ment started dis­tribut­ing cheques and patta pass­books re­quired for the col­lec­tion of the cheques in May and by mid-June, over 5 mil­lion land-own­ing farm­ers, which is about 90 per cent of the to­tal eli­gi­ble farm­ers in the state, had been iden­ti­fied and handed over cheques. “This is

truly a his­toric step. For the first time there is no ap­pli­ca­tion process. All the ben­e­fi­cia­ries have been iden­ti­fied and pro­vided with the cheques. The only cheques left undis­bursed are those stuck in land record dis­putes. These are barely 2-3 per cent of the to­tal land-own­ing farm­ers in the state,” says C Parthasarathi, prin­ci­pal sec­re­tary in the state’s agri­cul­ture de­part­ment.

Glar­ing loop­hole

Though the speed of im­ple­men­ta­tion of the scheme is com­mend­able, it has a glar­ing prob­lem—non-in­clu­sion of ten­ant farm­ers. Since the scheme uses land-own­er­ship, rather than records of cul­ti­va­tors, for iden­ti­fi­ca­tion, a large num­ber of farm­ers have been left out. “Our vil­lage was re­set­tled 30 years ago and not many of us have a patta or reg­is­tra­tion. More than half the vil­lage leases land at R15,000-20,000 per acre per year and prac­tices ten­ant farm­ing on the ba­sis of in­for­mal agree­ments. As a re­sult, many are not eli­gi­ble for the gov­ern­ment sup­port,” says Shivudu Pul­lakanti, a farmer of Pot­ti­palli, who owns 1.2 ha and has taken an­other 0.8 ha on lease to farm. “Since most of us can­not avail loans due to lack of doc­u­ments, there is a high de­pen­dence on money­len­ders who charge an in­ter­est up to 3 per cent per month. Even those who got some sup­port spent it on the first sow­ing at­tempt this year,” he adds.

The All In­dia Kisan Sang­harsh Co­or­di­na­tion Com­mit­tee, an um­brella or­gan­i­sa­tion of farmer unions and non-prof­its, has or­gan­ised sev­eral protests against the ex­clu­sion of ten­ant farm­ers. “The gov­ern­ment, how­ever, thinks that ten­ant farm­ing is neg­li­gi­ble in the state. But this claim of the gov­ern­ment is turn­ing out to be a gross un­der­es­ti­ma­tion,” says Ki­ran Ku­mar Vissa of Hy­der­abad-based non-profit Rythu Swara­jya Vedika (rsv). A sur­vey

in May-June 2018 by rsv, along with stu­dents from the Tata In­sti­tute of So­cial Sciences, Hy­der­abad, and Azim Premji Univer­sity, Ben­galuru, in three vil­lages—Pot­ti­palli, Itikyala in Mancherial dis­trict and Gimma in Adi­l­abad dis­trict—found that in Pot­ti­palli and Itikyala 40 per cent of the land was under ten­ancy. “The ex­tent of ten­ancy is sur­pris­ing even to us. It was thought that ten­ancy in the state is very low but this has clearly changed,” says Vissa, who is also one of the au­thors of the study. “The last 50 years have seen tremen­dous changes in the agrar­ian land­scape of Te­lan­gana. Land own­er­ship and land use have changed dras­ti­cally. The Rythu Bandhu scheme does not take cog­ni­sance of these changes,” says M Ko­dan­daram, a for­mer pro­fes­sor at Os­ma­nia Univer­sity in Hy­der­abad. In the four vil­lages vis­ited by Down

To Earth, ten­ancy was quite com­mon. In Jan­gaon dis­trict’s Venkatadripet vil­lage, around half of the farm­ers are en­gaged in ten­ant farm­ing, says Srini­vas Reddy, who farms on 3.6 ha, more than 50 per cent of which he has taken on rent. In the neigh­bour­ing vil­lage of Malka­pur, where the aver­age land­hold­ing per house­hold is about 2 ha, a ma­jor­ity of the farm­ers prac­tice ten­ant farm­ing, says vil­lage sarpanch Kon­gar Ravi. “Most peo­ple here own a lit­tle land and lease too. So the scheme is help­ful to some ex­tent. But a lot of money that has been dis­trib­uted has ended up with those who do not farm and only own land,” he adds. What’s worse, the money spent will re­main the same in rabi, though cul­ti­va­tion dur­ing the sea­son is 70 per cent less than that in kharif, as per Te­lan­gana agri­cul­ture de­part­ment.

Court in­ter­ven­tion

On June 29, while hear­ing a pub­lic in­ter­est pe­ti­tion filed by Durgam Pras­anth, a ten­ant farmer of Jayshankar Bhu­pala­pally dis­trict’s Ankusha­pur vil­lage, on non-in­clu­sion of ten­ant farm­ers in gov­ern­ment schemes, the Hy­der­abad high court is­sued no­tices to the state’s top agri­cul­ture and rev­enue of­fi­cials ask­ing for a re­ply in three weeks. The court has also taken up a letter seek­ing the ex­clu­sion of wealthy per­sons from Rythu Bandhu as a pub­lic in­ter­est pe­ti­tion. “This is not an anti-poverty scheme, it is to as­sist farm­ers. The gov­ern­ment can­not af­ford to be­come party to agree­ments be­tween land own­ers and ten­ants. There is no chance that the cur­rent de­sign of the scheme will be changed for the next sea­son,” says Parthasarathi.

The rea­son the gov­ern­ment has not been able to in­clude ten­ant farm­ers in the scheme is that it sim­ply has no idea of area under ten­ancy or the num­ber of

ten­ant farm­ers. “The rev­enue de­part­ment needs to main­tain a reg­istry of cul­ti­va­tors and own­ers ev­ery year. But these records are poorly main­tained. In over 90 per cent of cases, the col­umn re­lat­ing to cul­ti­va­tor is left blank. These records could have been used to es­ti­mate the num­ber of ten­ant farm­ers and the acreage under ten­ancy,” says Vissa. The al­ter­na­tive, he says, is to un­der­take a com­plete sur­vey of the land­hold­ings.

Such a sur­vey was sup­posed to be done under the Na­tional Land Man­age­ment Pro­gramme of 2014 and the Cen­tre has al­ready re­leased

R85 crore of the R165 crore al­lot­ted for the sur­vey to Te­lan­gana. The state’s agri­cul­ture de­part­ment un­der­took a pre­lim­i­nary sur­vey last year, cov­er­ing about 70-80 per cent of the state, but the ex­er­cise was scut­tled by the own­er­ship dis­putes that emerged. These in­clude mis­match of land and own­ers, multiple own­ers for the same piece of land and dis­crep­an­cies in plot sizes. “A de­tailed sur­vey could take years. For the scheme we had a tight dead­line and could not af­ford to link the two. It was de­cided that an up­dated and digi­tised land record shall be used for the scheme in­stead of un­der­tak­ing a sur­vey,” says Parthasarathi, and adds that the gov­ern­ment has not aban­doned plans of a sur­vey but it is no longer a pri­or­ity.

How­ever, there are ma­jor prob­lems with the up­da­tion and digi­ti­sa­tion drive the gov­ern­ment un­der­took. “Many farm­ers have not been able to avail the ben­e­fits of the scheme since their old records do not match the up­dated records,” says M Raju of Peesara vil­lage in Waran­gal Ur­ban dis­trict. Raju, for in­stance, owns 3.2 ha farm­land, which is em­broiled now in a dis­pute due to dou­ble reg­is­tra­tion of a patch of land that in­cludes his. “Such prob­lems are com­mon be­cause 20 mil­lion records were digi­tised in just six months to com­plete the process be­fore the launch of Rythu Bandhu. There are bound to be er­rors,” says Vissa.

Be­fore the for­ma­tion of Te­lan­gana, the Andhra Pradesh gov­ern­ment was is­su­ing Loan El­i­gi­bil­ity Cards

(lecs) since 2011 to en­able ten­ant farm­ers claim loans from banks and to re­duce de­pen­dence on money­len­ders. But the scheme was not suc­cess­ful. The cur­rent gov­ern­ment is not en­thu­si­as­tic about is­su­ing lecs. In 2014, it did not is­sue a sin­gle card. In the past two years, it has is­sued just 0.1 mil­lion cards. lecs could also have been used to cover ten­ant farm­ers under Rythu Bandhu.

Ef­fi­cacy ques­tion­able

Rythu Bandhu has even proved in­ef­fec­tive in meet­ing farm­ers’ in­put costs be­cause the as­sis­tance of R4,000 per acre (R10,000 per ha) is in­suf­fi­cient for crops cul­ti­vated in Te­lan­gana. For paddy, maize, cot­ton and chill­ies, the four most com­mon crops of the re­gion, the aver­age in­put costs are around

R62,000, R50,000, R1,00,000 and R1,70,000 per hectare re­spec­tively. “The in­vest­ment sup­port is so mea­gre that farm­ers still de­pend on loans from banks and money­len­ders,” says Kon­dal Reddy of rsv. This is cor­rob­o­rated by the banks too. “Com­pared to last year, we have is­sued more loans this year,” says M Ramesh, branch man­ager at In­dian Bank in Jan­gaon dis­trict’s Malka­pur vil­lage. This is the no­dal bank for the scheme in the area. In Pot­ti­palli, res­i­dents say that both ten­ancy and bor­row­ing from money­len­ders have in­creased this year. “This is be­cause we have more area under cul­ti­va­tion to make up for the losses in­curred in pre­vi­ous years,” says Srini­vas Golla, a farmer of Pot­ti­palli.

There has been a luke­warm re­sponse to Rythu Bandhu from farm­ers too. “Im­prov­ing re­mu­ner­a­tion through gov­ern­ment pro­cure­ment and mech­a­nisms such as the min­i­mum sup­port price would have en­sured as­sis­tance to the real cul­ti­va­tor,” says Ko­dan­daram. “An­other way is to pro­vide the in­puts in kind, rather than cash,” says Man­jeera.

While the im­pact of the in­vest­ment sup­port scheme will only be clear af­ter the kharif sea­son, the Union gov­ern­ment and states like Ma­ha­rash­tra and Kar­nataka have al­ready shown in­ter­est to launch sim­i­lar ini­tia­tives. The signs from Te­lan­gana, how­ever, are not promis­ing as of now.

Rythu Bandhu is only for land-own­ing farm­ers, not ten­ants. We still de­pend on money­len­ders ‹ 0DOODQD 'DNXUL D IDUPHU RI 3RWWLSDOOL YLOODJH 6DQJDUHGG\ GLVWULFW As there was no time for a sur­vey, we based the scheme on ex­ist­ing land records ‹ & 3DUWKDVDUDWKL SULQFLSDO VHFUHWDU\ DJULFXOWXUH GHSDUWPHQW 7HODQJDQD The Union gov­ern­ment is con­sid­er­ing to repli­cate the scheme across the coun­try, which could cost the ex­che­quer R3 lakh crore

GOV­ERN­MENT OF TE­LAN­GANA Te­lan­gana Chief Min­is­ter K Chan­drashekar Rao launched Rythu Bandhu scheme on May 10

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