Rise in small fragmented holdings, leasing still a tedious process
In 2012-2013, India had 142 million hectare (mha) of land under cultivation. As the accompanying table shows, the number of marginal landholdings (less than one hectare) has increased from 36 million in 1971 to 93 million in 2011. The average plot size in the country has reduced from nearly 2.3 hectare (1 hectare = 2.5 acres) in 1970 to under 1.2 hectare at present. Agricultural economist Yoginder Alagh says, “Forget 1.2 hectares, the majority of Indian farmers have less than one acre of land. Almost 70 per cent of farmers own less than 30 per cent of cultivable land.” The small size of the holdings makes them good only for subsistence agriculture.
Since smaller land holdings are fragments of larger holdings that have been passed down generations, farmers who cultivate them often do not have a formal lease agreement. The absence of such land records does not allow these farmers to access formal credit or be eligible for government benefits such as input subsidies or crop insurance schemes. Socialist-era state laws also limit the amount of land a single person or a single family may own. For instance, as per the West Bengal Land Reforms Act, private ownership of agricultural land in the state is capped at 17.5 acres for irrigated areas and 24.5 acres for rainfed areas. Buying agricultural
land is also cumbersome, entailing proof that one has been an agriculturist in the past.
Leasing land too is tedious in most states. Laws governing land ceiling and leasing of agricultural land vary across states. States such as Kerala, Manipur and Jammu and Kashmir completely prohibit leasing agricultural land. Bihar, UP, Telangana, Karnataka and Odisha allow land leasing only by certain categories of land owners. Agriculturally prosperous states such as Gujarat and Maharashtra as well as Assam do not explicitly prohibit leasing. They allow the tenant to purchase the land from the owner after a specified period. In Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal, there is no legal ban on leasing land.
HOW TO FIX IT
Initiate land reforms that will encourage consolidation of land holdings; create a ‘land bank’ where interested landowners can deposit their land parcels for tenants to lease; update and digitise land records and titles
Legalise land leasing. The NITI Aayog, under the direction of Ramesh Chand, proposed a model land leasing law that will ensure that land owners have the security of ownership rights and tenants are secure by simply registering. Legalisation of land tenancy would also ensure that farmers get access to formal credit, insurance and inputs such as fertilisers. However, only Madhya Pradesh has adopted the model land leasing law so far.
Provide alternative employment avenues for those who want to move away from agriculture. This requires the creation of more industry and jobs.
Ensure transparency and rebuild trust between farmers and governments, says Alagh. Especially when land is being acquired “for public purposes”. In the recent past, all too often governments or private players have acquired farmland cheaply without adequate compensation to the farmers.
Bundelkhand’s tale of sorrow (Left) The widow and daughters of farmer Kuldeep Singh who committed suicide; Sia Rani’s husband took his life as half his crop was eaten by cattle