Odisha Sun Times Bureau
Bhubaneswar, Nov 6:
An expert group consultation to review Land Tenure Laws of Odisha was organized here on Wednesday to draw attention towards the plight of small and marginal farmers and the sharecroppers who are losing lives.
The consultation programme was organised by Landesa, a global non-profit working for securing land rights for the poor.
One of the major reason of such extreme incidents like farmers’ suicides have been ‘absence of their documented rights to access and control land’ and the need for ‘Land Tenure Reform’ in the state to protect those rights.
Experts including Dr T Haque, Chaiman, NITI (National Institution for Transformation of India) Ayog’s Expert Committee working on Land Reforms, Member Board of Revenue, Aurobindo Behera; DGM NABARD, B.K. Mishra; Prof R.K. Mishra, OUAT; eminent agriculturist Natabar Khuntia; economists Dr Padmaja Mishra and Dr Mamata Swain; Sanjoy Patnaik, India Country Director, Landesa; Sibabrata Choudhury, State Director ,Landesa, Odisha; Suneel Kumar, legal expert and State Director, Landesa, AP/Telengana; Researcher Pranab Choudhury; and Former Distirct Judge Subhendra Mohanty participated in the consultation to brainstorm on developing a set of recommendations to be submitted to the NITI Ayong at the centre and the state government for relooking at the existing Land Tenure Laws of the state.
While agricultural tenancy (land leasing) is restricted in Odisha, concealed tenancy is rampant. Over the last 3-4 decades, it has been observed that the ban on tenancy has produced several exploitative farming practices leading to negative consequences – a) reduced investment by sharecroppers leading to decline in productivity, production and increased vulnerability and insecurity about access to land, b) informal loans from money lenders with high interests, c) lack of documented rights deprives farmers’ access to credit, crop insurance and compensation from the state leading to large number of farmers’ suicide in the event of crop loss, inability to pay back debt; d) unused land lie fallow; landless agricultural labourers migrate in search of alternative livelihood; e) unequal distribution of land resources leads to lack of opportunities and perpetuation of poverty.
In 2014, National Crime Records Bureau (Ministry of Home Affairs, GoI) reaffirmed that majority of the farmers suicides are caused due to crop loss causing high levels of indebtedness forcing farmers to end their lives.
In the current crisis, while government is focusing on improving the credit facility for the small and marginal farmers, the most critical question is whether dealing only with the credit crisis would address the plight of such tenant farmers?
Recently, NITI Ayog initiated a process to draft a model Agricultural Land Leasing Law with the objectives of increasing agricultural productivity and decreasing tenants’ insecurity. It recommended the states to devise transparent land leasing laws that would allow the potential tenant or sharecropper to engage in enforceable contracts with land owners creating a win-win situation for both the landowners and the tenants.
Dr Haque stressed on simplifying land leasing laws that will lead to inclusive growth and enhance agricultural productivity. He added that there is a need to review the existing laws and necessary steps need to be taken by the state for amending them.
Sanjoy Patnaik suggested for an alternative framework that would address both the tenants’ insecurities and apprehensions of the land owners resulting in a win-win situation.
The experts agreed on creating a mechanism to record tenants by engaging the local community level organisations, Panchayats, SHGs, Government institutions and financial institutions. Such record and lease documents will address multiple challenges faced by small farmers such as input level barriers, credit, crop insurance and help building market linkages.
Experts also mentioned that Odisha can learn from other states like the Licensed Cultivators Act of Andhra Pradesh and the best practices like Joint Liability Groups of Kerala and Chattishgarh.