Recently, a Gram Sabha was held in Tamil Nadu. It was called for discussing farmer and farming-oriented issues. Many farmers voiced their concerns and one of the tenant farmers said he has been a cultivator for 20 years but has never received any government subsidies or crop insurance. But the lessor, he said, continues to get PM Kisan payments even though he stopped farming two years ago.

The agricultural officer concerned replied that since tenant farmers do not have land ownership documents, the the Central Government has excluded them from receiving PM Kisan. The tenant farmers then said how the Odisha government has included tenant farmers under the KALIA scheme.

The Odisha model

The Direct Benefits Transfer (DBT) scheme facilitates the transfer of subsidies to beneficiaries’ bank accounts, but identifying the appropriate beneficiaries is complex. Here, the Odisha Government’s move stands out, and should prompt every other State to adopt it.

The Odisha Government restricts land leasing; however it includes tenant farmers as one of the beneficiaries to receive KALIA under the three-stage process of unification-verification-exclusion framework. Unification begins with unifying State databases with green forms.

Verification is done through multiple databases like the Agricultural Census, Socio-Economic Caste Census, National Food Security Act , National Population Registry, HRMS database of State government employees, bank account validation through bank databases and de-duplication through Aadhaar.

Algorithms for data integration were created by employing the concept of unification, verification,and exclusion. The last phase excludes ineligible recipients, such as government employees, taxpayers, large farmers and anybody who voluntarily opted out. This is a technology-led transformation to receive direct income support for tenant farmers even without having land documents. So, hereafter, no State can say that tenant farmers are not eligible to receive such payments.

Agricultural land leasing rights are restricted by Indian law.

Kerala is the only State to completely prohibit leasing. Most of the other States have some exceptions. For instance, Karnataka enables soldiers and seamen to lease their property, whereas Madhya Pradesh allows leasing to handicapped individuals and widows. And in Gujarat, the leasing regulations differ by area.

Some States allow leasing with few terms and conditions. In Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Telangana, the landlord does not get all of the land back. The landowners, therefore, have no clue what they will get when they lease out their property. This puts the profitability of leasing fully contingent on external circumstances. This has caused the official land leasing market to be severely depressed.

Based on household surveys, the Sample Survey Office estimates that 13 per cent of land in India is leased. However, according to the Agri Census statistics based on land records, just 0.36 per cent of the land is shown as officially leased. .

To mitigate this disparity, States have to come forward to adopt the Model (Agricultural) Land Leasing Act proposed by NITI Aayog in 2016. This Act would allow for the profitable use of fallow land and provide tenant farmers with access to credit and insurance services.

It also estimates that 36 per cent of India’s tenant farmers were completely landless and 56 per cent owned less than one hectare. Across the country, over 20 per cent of land holdings are farmed by tenant farmers who cannot access facilities like credit and other support services.

So, the time is right for States to amend the existing laws related to land leasing for securing the rights of tenant farmers.

The writer is a PhD and ICSSR Fellow

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