LAND

Rise in small frag­mented hold­ings, leas­ing still a te­dious process

India Today - - COVER STORY -

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.

YASIR IQBAL

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

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