December 4th 2015
Dr T Haque,
Expert Group in Niti Ayog looking at Land Leasing in India.
Dear Dr Haque,
Sub: ASHA’s submission to your Expert Group’s discussions on the issue of Land Leasing in India
Namaste! Alliance for Sustainable & Holistic Agriculture (ASHA), as you are kindly aware, works on various issues that pertain to sustainable farm livelihoods in India, to ensure that the rights and entitlements of farmers/cultivators are ensured and upheld. We believe that the nation has a moral imperative, amongst other reasons, to ensure that farm livelihoods are comprehensively and holistically supported, with a particular thrust on the most marginalized farmers. This includes tenant farmers, landless agricultural workers and women farmers, amongst others.
In the context of farm livelihoods, we believe that land rights and access to land to the real cultivators should be given highest priority by the government. It is well-known that we don’t have data that is accurately estimating the incidence and prevalence of tenancy and sharecropping in the country.
- Land Rights and Access to Land to the Landless and the Cultivators:
We believe that land rights and access to land to real cultivators should be given the highest priority by the government, and failure to ensure this is one of the key reasons of impoverishment and disempowerment in rural areas. Despite a Draft Land Reforms Policy put out in 2013, there have been no firm steps to actually adopt such a policy.
While several tenancy laws have been brought into force ostensibly to protect the interests of sharecroppers and tenants, these very laws are today coming in the way of these cultivators getting various entitlements that are due to them as farmers. In the medium term, comprehensive land reforms have a firm role in addressing the agrarian distress being witnessed all over the country, and also to improve agricultural growth. Such land reforms should make land rights to cultivators as their entitlements, even as land acquisition away from agricultural uses is minimized to the fullest possible extent.
The following key principles should ALL be adhered to, while addressing the issue of land rights to cultivators. Any new law, including the Model Law for Land Leasing being attempted by your Committee, should ensure that these principles are not violated or undermined:
(a) Land distribution to the landless for cultivation to be given highest priority – from government lands, ceiling surplus lands, endowment lands, etc.. Several approaches, principles and proposals have already been included in the last draft Land Reforms Policy put out by the Government of India;
(b) Land ceiling laws should be strictly implemented – loopholes such as exempting horticulture gardens or company-owned farms from ceiling limits should be closed. Ceiling limits should be reviewed and wherever excessive, they should be revised downwards.
(c) Any landless person who is ready to cultivate should get access to land – this should include women farmers and their collectives also;
(d) Real cultivators should be thoroughly identified, recorded and entitled to all government support systems;
(e) Agricultural land should not be left fallow if there are others in the village ready to cultivate. Agricultural land left fallow for more than 3 years should be brought into land distribution or land leasing scheme with due compensation to the owner;
(f) Agricultural land should not be sold to non-agriculturists and there should be strict regulation around diversion to non-agricultural uses;
(g) Any land distributed by the government under any past and existing land distribution efforts should be considered inalienable, and cannot be acquired back by the government for any other ‘public purpose’ given that such land distribution itself was to serve a public purpose.
We strongly urge your Expert Group as well as the Government of India to look at land leasing regularization as an attempt in the right direction in the context of securing livelihoods of rural households, and not for easing the business of big companies or the wealthy. To that extent, the Model Law as well as the recommendations from the Committee should be geared towards supporting individual cultivators or farmer collectives, and not corporate entities into business, including agri-business.
- Ecological Agriculture to improve resilience, increase profitability and reduce risk of tenant farmers:
We also believe that given the risky nature of farming in general, and that of non-owner cultivators in particular, special efforts to promote agro-ecological, resilient farming systems with such tenant cultivators are needed and are to be put into place. All schemes meant for promoting low-external-input farming, with special emphasis on a farming-systems and cropping systems approach should be dovetailed with efforts related to supporting tenant farmers.
- 3. On the Model Law on Regularising Land Leasing:
The 70th Round NSSO data indicates that around 99 to 107 lakh hectares of land is possessed through leasing-in of land. This amounts to 10% of land possessed by rural households. In states like the undivided Andhra Pradesh, this is as high as 33.75%. However, non-official data from the ground indicates a much higher level of tenancy, as you are kindly aware.
We agree that while comprehensive land reforms are pending for action, there is a need for a legislation that will allow transparency recording of all oral and other leases in a village, mentioning the name of the cultivator as well as cultivator’s spouse, in addition to extent leased in, lease rent or terms and conditions, crops to be sown and survey numbers of land leased in. The law has to clearly say that ownership control remains with landowner and revenue records to be maintained as a separate set of records.
- 4. System of ID cards for recorded Cultivators, under a law similar to the Licensed Cultivators’ Act, for various entitlements
Like in the case of Andhra Pradesh, the recording of tenants should be done through the Gram Sabha, well before the beginning of the Kharif season (or the first planting season), giving opportunity to land owners to endorse or object to the recording. The processes should be run by Revenue and Agriculture departments together.
(a) The system adopted through the implementation of the Licensed Cultivators Act in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana could be built into the model law that your Committee is creating wherein Identity Cards in the form of Loan Eligibility Cards (LECs) are issued in these states. Such cards could be termed as TENANT ENTITLEMENTS CARD (to cover various entitlements and not just credit), and the ID cards issued should be for at least 5 years at a time. There could be a system of official endorsement each year on the passbook by the Village Revenue Officer certifying the extent of lease for that year, in case the land owner and survey number is the same. A passbook type facility and not just a one-time laminated ID card should therefore be issued. The multiple year validity becomes important for bankers also to feel more confident.
The passbook itself could have place for noting the bank loan issued etc., so that the bank’s concerns about multiple loans being issued (for the landowner and lessee separately, if different records are present) can be addressed.
(b) The Model Law could prescribe that the new system of Bhoomiheen Kisan Credit Card be tied up mainly with the TENANT ENTITLEMENTS CARD system, ideally creating JLGs amongst the lessees wherever possible, for lending more confidence to bankers. The Bhoomiheen Kisan Credit Card should be brought on par with regular Kisan Credit Cards in all aspects including accident insurance etc. Additionally, the scale of finance for tenant farmers should be enhanced to include the lease rent prevalent in the area. Even if there are no term loans extended on these TECs, it is important to build in enhanced scale of finance so that lease rent is covered through institutional credit. Even otherwise, the RBI guidelines which seek to do away with a collateral for upto one lakh rupees of crop loans should be implemented. It is also important that the Model Law contains guidelines for all bankers to respect the TEC system to ensure that loans are extended to tenants, based on this ID card system.
(c) There should be a Tenant Farmers’ Credit Guarantee Fund for bankers’ credit to TECs so that banks come forward more readily to extent credit to tenants under this new law. The state government should set up such a fund under this law.
Non-cultivator owners will lose eligibility over agricultural loans once TECs are issued under this law. Bankers should get copies of all the TECs issued, including any revisions thereof on an yearly basis, based on which credit can be extended.
The Model Law should have a provision for compulsory insurance to be extended to TECs, with insurance companies having to appoint agents to reach out to TEC holders, especially if such tenants are non-loanee farmers, to get them into the fold of crop insurance.
The tenants should be entitled to any marketing support in the form of procurement at MSP that the government extends to all other farmers, based on the TECs.
ANY OTHER DIRECT BENEFIT SCHEMES AND OTHER SCHEMES FOR FARMERS:
All other schemes, including any DBT should be accessible to tenants registered with TECs. This includes disaster relief provided by the government. This should also include any schemes meant for FPOs, where tenant farmers’ associations can be organized at the village level.
RELIEF AND REHABILITATION ELIGIBILITY IN CASE OF FARM SUICIDES:
As is well known, many state governments do not recognize any suicides in families of cultivators who don’t own land as farm suicides. These families are denied any relief and rehabilitation support that may exist. However, this model law could address this serious lacuna by laying down that where a TEC holder commits suicide, all support on par with other farmers should be extended to the family.
- Maintenance of Gender Disaggregated Data Systems:
The Model Law should lay down a provision prescribing that the bankers as well as revenue department maintain a gender-disaggregated data system, to capture ‘intersectionality’ in terms of different social groups also, for the records related to tenants and TECs.
- Publicity of the new law:
The statute should have a provision for publicity on the new law built into the statute, so that the responsibility of publicizing vests with both the Agriculture and Revenue departments. Similarly, a provision could be built in laying down the need for transparent processes, which means that from the time that registration processes are initiated each year, applicants’ lists, approved lessees’ lists, objections’ lists etc., are all put out in the public domain. The records of ownership and lease should be displayed publicly.
- Building in a redressal and accountability mechanisms from the block level upwards in addition to village level Social Audits:
A statute to provide some basic entitlements to tenant farmers should necessarily have a provision for redressal at the block level, which could be a Committee comprising of officials from revenue and agriculture departments in addition to representatives of tenant farmer associations or FPOs. Similarly, there should be penal clauses on officials for failure to discharge their responsibility, including a provision that increases the penalty with increasing delays. Further, there should be a provision of Social Audit at the village level for monitoring of the implementation of the law, and provisions related to best practices around such social audit can be built in after looking at other laws like NREGA.
- Collective enterprises should be covered under this law:
This law should specifically support and even incentivize collective land lease and cultivation enterprises, especially by women’s groups and on ecological farming. The same provisions as given to individual tenant farmers should be extended as entitlements of a farmers’ collective under the law.
We also request that your Expert Group kindly provide the representatives of this network to make a personal presentation to you on the points listed above, especially when you visit Hyderabad, given that Raithu Swarajya Vedika is monitoring very closely the implementation of Licensed Cultivators Act in both Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. Thanking you,
Kavitha Kuruganti Kiran Vissa
Mob: 09393001550 Mob: 09701705743