Vikram Jadhav, a tenant farmer in Andhra Pradesh, is concerned about the 10-km journey he has to make to sell his harvest, which is 100 quintals of paddy and maize.
With only five days left to sell his family’s seasonal output, he is worried about the cost of logistics and daily expenses as he gets ready to leave for the collection centre.
“This is one of the worst years I have seen in two decades. The cost of production has been more than the return. It is not easy to make ends meet with a big family, yet we manage somehow. But this time it will be difficult to repay my debt on time because the Covid-19 lockdown has raised the cost of transportation, and I will have to take more credit to pay for the logistics. Above this, I will have to spend five days at the collection centre, so I can be present when my coupon number is called; otherwise, my turn will pass and I will have to sell my crop at throwaway prices at a private mandi,” says Jadhav.
Jadhav is one of the nearly 22 million tenant farmers who miss out on the benefits of government schemes like Pradhan Mantri Kisan Samman Nidhi Yojana (PM-Kisan), because of poor documentation and uncooperative landowners.
In the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman announced an additional aid of Rs 2,000 to all 140 million PM-Kisan beneficiaries, marked on the basis of the Agriculture Census, 2015-16. But, only 90 million farmers have been paid. “Where are those 50 million farmers? The government has failed to extend the PM-Kisan benefits to farmers.
Most of those are tenants, who form a major block of the farming community in Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Odisha, and Bihar, among other states,” says Vijoo Krishnan, joint secretary of the All-India Kisan Sabha (AIKS).
The poor implementation of the Model (Agricultural) Land Leasing Act, 2016 — because of stringent laws, tenants’ lack of awareness, and uncooperative officials in banks and revenue departments — is robbing tenants of their long-overdue rights.
“The landlords don’t give us land directly. We have to take land from the gram panchayat, which works as an intermediary for the owners, who don’t want to give leasing agreements. We have never received PM-Kisan or any state government benefit. However, when somebody wants to take bank credit, they have to pay more money to the landowners apart from bank and revenue department officials,” says Gugloth Hammu, a farmer in Waghari village, Telangana.
According to the 2012-13 National Sample Survey Office (NSSO) report, over 21.29 million (13.65 per cent) of the 156.14 million rural households were tenant farmers. Among the major states, the highest percentage of leased-in households was reported in Andhra Pradesh (37.21), followed by Himachal Pradesh (21.17), Odisha (19.28), Bihar (18.72), West Bengal (17.80), and Telangana (16.45).
In the absence of a written agreement, it is the tenant who stands to lose in terms of intended benefits like credit, subsidised inputs, crop insurance, loan waivers, and other disaster-relief measures at the time of crop failure. According to the All India National Financial Inclusion Survey (NAFIS), conducted by the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (Nabard), in 2015-16, about 52.3 per cent of the agricultural households were indebted, with an average outstanding debt of Rs 1.04 trillion.
According to the 70th round NSSO survey, Andhra Pradesh had the highest share of indebted agricultural households in the country (92.9 per cent), followed by Telangana (89.1 per cent) and Tamil Nadu (82.5 per cent).
Krishan Kumar, a farmer in Safedar Nagar village in Haryana, cultivates approximately 5 hectares every year. Of that, he owns 1 hectare, and does not have a single lease agreement. As a result, he is unable to get credit on leased land. Getting credit from a bank is a nightmare because one has to pay about 15 per cent of the loan as commission to bank officials. “During our last crop failure, the government gave us compensation, but that amount was deposited in the landowners’ account. I lost my crop and my Rs 20,000 compensation because the owners refused to pay,” says Kumar.
In availing of government benefits, tenant farmers are often at the mercy of landowners. Tenants who sell their crops through the e-Kharid portal receive their payment in landowners’ accounts. This takes two to three months and gives the landholders more power to exploit.
“This year I sold mustard at Rs 3,600 per quintal, at a loss of Rs 825 per quintal, to preclude the possibility of the owner taking advantage of my labour,” says Kumar.
Not getting institutional loans forces them to take non-institutional credit at a high rate, driving them into a debt trap. According to the studies conducted by the government of Andhra Pradesh and Venu TP, on the reach of the Land Licensed Cultivators Act in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, respectively, during 2015-16 only 18.48 per cent of tenants were issued loan eligibility cards. Furthermore, only 15.35 per cent and 18.18 per cent of the LEC holders received bank loans in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, respectively.
However, the highest bank loan disbursed to any LEC holder in Andhra Pradesh was Rs 21,000 in 2016, an increase of Rs 7,000 since 2014 (Revathi, 2014; Venu T P, 2016).
According to the NSSO study (2013), the average agricultural household earned Rs 77,112 per annum. But the average income of farmers who own up to 2 hectares was Rs 5,240 per month. The problem of indebtedness becomes all the more relevant when one looks at the data on farmer suicides. According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), of the 10,349 farmers who ended their lives in 2018, a majority of them were in Maharashtra (34.7 per cent), Karnataka (23.2 per cent), Telangana (8.8 per cent), and Andhra Pradesh (6.4 per cent).
A study conducted by the Rythu Swarajya Vedika, a non-governmental organisation, shows that between 2014 and 2018, 75.14 per cent of the farmers who committed suicide in Telangana were tenants.
“The government should maintain a proper database of farmers (including tenants) so that its benefits could reach them directly. Furthermore, the ambit of the PM Kisan scheme needs to be expanded to cover all farmers in the country, irrespective of the individual/joint/institutional status and the banks should also start lending money to the tenant farmers,” says R Ramakumar, Nabard chair professor at the School of Development Studies at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai.
Devinder Sharma, an agriculture scientist, suggests setting up a commission on farmers’ income and welfare, with the mandate to provide them at least Rs 18,000 a month. “There is a need to pay Rs 10,000 as immediate Covid-19 relief to all farmers, including tenants. It should also increase the yearly provision of the PM Kisan to Rs 18,000 apart from waiving their loans,” recommends Sharma.