the much-publicised efforts at legislating land reforms
by successive governments, since independence, the entire
surplus land acquired (via ceiling) and distributed among
the rural poor has been less than 1.7% of the total cultivated
area in India.
the centre of this land reform debate are the small, tenant
farmers (the 'kowl farmers') who are forced to bear a significant
burden of the agrarian crisis.
proper and healthy credit system is the necessary prerequisite
for sustainable agriculture. But these tenant farmers and
sharecroppers cannot secure annual production loans from
banks and co-operatives as they cannot furnish land titles
as collateral. No guaranteed ownership simply means no chance
of getting institutionalized credit. They are forced to
resort to private money lenders who charge them 'exorbitant'
interest rates. A single crop failure is enough to trap
these small farmers into a vicious cycle of mounting debt.
Some such deeply indebted farmers, facing the prospect of
starvation as well as loss of assets, sometimes resort to
the extreme step of committing suicide. Furthermore, a majority
of these tenanted farmers have remained on the periphery
of state-provided agricultural relief and benefits. Two
key hurdles related to the ownership of agricultural land
have to be crossed, in our journey towards rural prosperity.
first issue is that of actual land ownership. There is merit
in the argument that tenant farmers be given ownership over
the lands they cultivate. But land redistribution via the
ceiling route may yield only marginal and/or delayed results,
under today's circumstances. One possible solution is by
taking our government's current land redistribution policy
a step further, and offering small and tenant farmers ownership
or long-term lease options (at reasonable rates) over the
Wakf and Endowments lands that they were traditionally tilling.
This step must be complemented by ensuring that any and
all affected religious institutions are adequately compensated
for any loss of revenue. Additionally, there are also the
Wakf and Endowments lands valued at several crores of rupees
that are in the clutches of land grabbers. These lands too
are potential candidates for distribution among the disadvantages
sections of the agrarian community.
second issue is that of documentation of land ownership.
Surprisingly, for a highly agrarian country such as ours,
land surveys have not been conducted in most states since
the last Britisher left the shores of Bombay. For that matter,
in our own Telangana region, a comprehensive land survey
has never been conducted in its history! Even in the villages,
most poor people have no clear titles to valuable land.
If land titles are clear then poor and marginalized farmers
can be assured in ownership. This unlocks a lot of capital,
credit will be accessible and economic activity will be
generated. But the administration seems to be distracted
by secondary issues like digitization/computerization of
existing records. Electronic data can only improve the information
storage and retrieval process, but is not a substitute to
clear, authentic titles.
all, land redistribution and guaranteeing ownership by themselves,
are not cure-alls for reviving the health of our seriously
ill rural sector. Agricultural reforms must include credible
government policies in the areas of providing a healthy
credit mechanism especially for small and marginal farmers,
research and technological inputs for improving the agricultural
productivity, building of rural infrastructure along with
value-addition and market creation for our farm produce.
the property ownership issue alone does not open the door
to rural prosperity. But it is the first step to improving
the condition of the small farmers and agricultural workers.