Editorialāœ Financial Express Prelims cum Mains

Why India needs a land leasing framework

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:

  • Ā 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

  1. 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 ā€œeconomic necessityā€, not mere ā€œfeudal agrarian structureā€.

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 canā€™t afford to purchase new parcels of lands.
    • Ensuring poor peopleā€™s access to the land lease market could prove to be a gamechanger for enhancing farmersā€™ 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:Ā 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:Ā Few states like Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Uttarakhand have implemented land leasing legislations after making suitableĀ modificationsĀ to the proposed model law.
    • Leasing permitted for only some:Ā 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:Ā 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 hasĀ brought outĀ the model Agricultural Land Leasing Act in 2016.
    • This model Act doesnā€™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 Farmersā€™ Income (DFI) of the Government of India has also recommended legislating it to ensure private sector investments in agriculture.

 

  1. 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 imageryĀ coupled with ground truthing has also been suggested for the survey operations.
  • AadhaarĀ 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.

 

Conclusion:

  • 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.

 

 

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