Farmland-lease nod on table

A high-level panel is set to propose legalising the leasing of farmland in all states, a practice now banned in many states as a perceived legacy of the zamindari system.

By Basant Kumar Mohanty
  • Published 8.01.16

New Delhi, Jan. 7: A high-level panel is set to propose legalising the leasing of farmland in all states, a practice now banned in many states as a perceived legacy of the zamindari system.

If it's legalised, people unable or unwilling to till their farmland - or at least the whole of it - can formally lease their land or a part of it for cultivation by others.

This will allow millions of tillers who now informally rent others' land and cultivate it (in states where land-leasing is banned) to obtain institutional credit, crop-insurance benefits, market support and relief during calamities.

But even if the panel suggests legalising land-leasing and the Centre endorses it, the states will be free to accept, reject or modify the recommendation.

The committee, set up by the Niti Aayog under T. Haque, former chairperson of the Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices, has held nationwide consultations on the subject.

Haque told The Telegraph that Kerala, Jammu and Kashmir, Maharashtra and Gujarat were among states where land-leasing was banned.

In Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar and Chhattisgarh, land-leasing is allowed in special cases, such as when the landowner is a charitable trust or is disabled, widowed or an armed forces employee.

Punjab, Haryana and Tamil Nadu are among states where land-leasing is allowed, with the proviso that the landowner cannot prematurely evict the tenant. At best, the owner can prematurely take back a third of the land leased.

Bengal has a system of sharecroppers who till the land and pay a certain share of the harvest to the owner. Unlike ordinary lessees, a sharecropper has heritable rights and can only be evicted by an order from a sub-divisional officer for any violation of the agreement, or by a court decree.

A government survey has found that about 10 per cent of India's 140 million hectares of farmland was formally or informally leased out in 2012-13, though. 

Haque said that informal renting of land had many disadvantages for the tenant.

"Because the land doesn't belong to him, the tiller doesn't get a bank loan, insurance for crop loss, relief during a calamity, or access to the market," he said.

The Food Corporation of India, the government arm that procures food from farmers against a "minimum support price", does not buy from people who have no authorisation over the land they cultivate.

With social security measures such as the rural job guarantee scheme and the food security law in place, farmers in many states are now unwilling to rent land informally and run the risk of loss.

As people continue moving from villages to towns, their land remains uncultivated because of the restrictions on land-leasing. In states that allow land-leasing, landowners often hesitate to rent out their land because they cannot evict the tenants easily.

"We may suggest a model land-leasing policy. Every state can deviate a little depending on the local situation," Haque said.

Niti Aayog sources said a national-level consultation would be held tomorrow with land experts, farmers' bodies and the government departments concerned to decide how to go about the matter.

Sources in the department of land resources said that land-leasing was banned in most states in the 1950s and the 1960s.