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Indian Government revisiting land to tiller policy

NEW DELHI,IFTIKHAR GILANI : Independent India’s most revolutionary policy and remnant of socialist icon “land to the tiller, aimed at abolishing feudal practices and eradicating poverty, is set to be reversed.

A task force constituted by the government to report on measures, to eliminate poverty has found that consistent low agriculture yields are linked to this land policy, which has produced small and marginal farmers, vulnerable to crop failure. More so, fear of losing ownership of land to tillers, farmers refuse to lease out their unutilised lands to other farmers or those interested in cultivation. Under the directions from the Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the Niti Ayog is currently drafting a Model Land Leasing Act to be distributed to states and other stake holders, before being approved by the Cabinet and tabled in the Parliament.

The task force, which included deputy chairman of Niti Ayog Arvind Pangariya and five secretaries from departments of rural development, housing, micro, small and medium enterprises, skill development and financial service has also recommended to focus on increasing growth rather on anti-poverty social programmes. The post-reform history has shown that it is growth rather social programmes like MG NREGA etc that have brought down poverty and helped in increased per capita income.

Nearly 47% of India’s land is used for agriculture, followed by 22.6% as forested and 13.6% as non-cultivable (41 million hectare). According to National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO) data, 60% of the country’s population has right over only 5% of land; whereas 10% of the population has control over 55% of the land. While the agriculture employs 49% of the total workforce in India, its share in GDP was only 14.4%.

The idea to revisit the “land to tiller” policy was first mooted by current Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar, when he held agriculture portfolio in the previous NDA government led by Atal Bihari Vajpayee, between 1999 and 2001. A year before losing power, the UPA government’s draft national land reforms policy unveiled in 2013 also called for new rural tenancy laws and also revisiting the land ceiling limits.

The task force report said while the policy was originally meant to help small and marginal farmers and landless farm labourers, but now operates against them. “Some small farmers may prefer to lease their land in favour of alternative occupations if they had assurance that they would be able to return to farming, if they wished. Some large farms may lease in land and even employ the small owners on their own farms to grow specific crops under supervision,” the report argued. Further, in the wake of educated rural young men increasingly exiting farming leaving land under-cultivated, there is case to allow them to lease it out without fear of loss of ownership.

Emphasising a strong focus on increasing economic growth as a measure to reduce poverty, the task force stated that the post-economic reform data has shown that it is growth rather anti-poverty programmes like MGNREGA and the Public Distribution System (PDS) that have helped to increase incomes. In the pre-reform India for over 30-years, per capital income till 1990-91 rose from 100 to just 151. In the next two decades ending 2001-01, the income went up to 295 and during teh following 13 years ending in 2013-14, it reached 598. Despite several anti-poverty programmes the period between 1951 to 1974 saw no reduction in trend poverty

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