Predominance of small landholders in Indian agriculture:
- Predominance of smallholders demonstrates their importance in the agriculture policy landscape.
- As per the Agriculture Census 2010-11, there are 138 million farm-holdings in India, of which about 93 million are marginal (<1 ha) and about 25 million are small (1-2 ha).
- Even though small and marginal farmers account for more than 85% of total farm holdings, their share in operational area is only 41.2%.
- About 1.5-2 million new marginal and small farmers are added every year through break up of land for inheritance.
Other small farmers:
- Also, agricultural landless labourers; pastoralists; fishermen and sharecroppers/tenants/lessee cultivators contribute to agricultural growth and deserve special attention.
PM KISAN ignores the landless:
- PM-KISAN (Pradhan Mantri Kisan Samman Nidhi) was launched as an income support scheme for small-holder farmers.
- However, the initiative does not cover landless agricultural labourers and the sharecroppers/tenants, especially due to unavailability of credible records.
Land reforms in India post-independence:
- The land reform legislations in post-Independence India consisted of:
- Redistribution of surplus land from the rich to the poor
- Abolition of intermediaries
- Security of tenure to tenants (and tenancy regulations)
- Consolidation of landholdings
- Land reforms in India have not been successful across several states, with the exception of Operation Barga in West Bengal.
More land reforms needed
- Land leasing:
- While it is important to bring policies to raise land productivity through appropriate technologies, more land reforms are needed, including legalising land leasing.
- Enacting appropriate land leasing laws should be the highest priority of state governments.
- Recently, the NITI Aayog recognised that land lease should be viewed as an “economic necessity”, not mere “feudal agrarian structure”.
Benefits of land leasing
- Enhancing investment and farm efficiency:
- With rising levels of income, the prices of agricultural lands are going up and, therefore, landless agri-labourers and small/marginal farmers can’t afford to purchase new parcels of lands.
- Ensuring poor people’s access to the land lease market could prove to be a gamechanger for enhancing farmers’ income.
- Enabling land leasing through a legal framework incentivises tenant cultivators to invest and conserve agricultural land resources, which, in turn, leads to increased land productivity and profitability.
- Improving credit flow to landless farmers:
- The issue of lack of credit flow to lessee farmers/sharecroppers/tenants could be addressed by legalising land leasing, as land is often used by lending financial institutions as collateral for farm loans.
- Bringing more land under production:
- The fear of agricultural lands falling into the hands of the sharecroppers after a specific period (due to restrictive clauses) has also led to large chunk of lands (as high as 25 million hectares, as per some estimates) remaining fallow in the country.
- Clear land leasing laws will bring this land under production.
Diverse land leasing laws across India:
- The existing legislations on land leasing are diverse and complex across the states.
- Those that allow leasing: There is no legal ban on leasing in a few states viz. Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal and Rajasthan.
- Those with laws in line with the model law: Few states like Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Uttarakhand have implemented land leasing legislations after making suitable modifications to the proposed model law.
- Leasing permitted for only some: There are few states like Odisha, Karnataka and Uttar Pradesh, where specific persons/institutions (armed forces personnel; privileged raiyats) are permitted to lease out their agricultural lands.
- Those in process of legalizing: States like Odisha and Uttar Pradesh are considering amendments to their existing revenue laws to legalise land leasing.
Model Agricultural Land Leasing Law:
- The existing legislations on land revenue matters are diverse and complex across the states.
- NITI Aayog has brought out the model Agricultural Land Leasing Act in 2016.
- This model Act doesn’t specify the rent on leased land and the period of lease and has rightly left it to the concerned parties without any interference from the government.
- The committee on Doubling Farmers’ Income (DFI) of the Government of India has also recommended legislating it to ensure private sector investments in agriculture.
- Digitisation of land records
- Another important aspect of land reforms is ensuring effective modernisation and digitisation of land records.
- The computerisation of land records, land-property transactions and the registration processes have not been achieved in land revenue administration so far.
- The process of mutation and updating of land records has been slow in many states.
- The poor maintenance of land records and slow pace of digitisation of land revenue administration is negatively impacting agriculture.
- A massive upgradation of land records and existing processes through computerisation, capacity building of stakeholders and amending the appropriate land laws is needed.
Use of technology for this:
- High resolution satellite imagery coupled with ground truthing has also been suggested for the survey operations.
- Aadhaar provides a perfect tool to assist the ongoing process of modernising land records to validate land assets.
Will help farmers also:
- Police records in many Indian states show that land disputes are the reason behind a sizeable chunk of cognisable offences (as high as 40% in Bihar). An updated record of ownership would help farmers avoid land-related litigations.
- Clear land titles will also enable farmers access to credit as well as government benefits like the recently launched PM-KISAN.
- Ensuring food and nutrition security and tackling the looming threat of climate change makes land reforms necessary.
- A land reforms agenda, particularly the land leasing legislations and updated land records, should receive the highest priority to increase incomes of smallholders, tenant farmers and sharecroppers.