Lack of land documents keeps half of Bengal farmers out of cash assistance scheme
Around 38 lakh out of a total of 73 lakh farmers in Bengal couldn’t apply for the chief minister’s pet scheme — Krishak Bandhu — apparently because of lack of papers to claim ownership of farmland.
The trend left the top brass of the state government in a spot as it exposed the ambiguity of its direct land purchase policy based on which development projects were planned to bypass acquisition of land.
“It is surprising that less than half of the total farmers in Bengal applied for financial assistance under the scheme announced by the chief minister in December last year. Primary assessment showed that majority of the farmers could not apply for the scheme as they don’t have papers to prove that they own farmland,” said a senior government official.
This happened only because majority of the farmers did not complete the mutation process (change in the title ownership) after inheriting farmland. The government was aware that lack of interest to complete the mutation process is a problem, but the number of applications for the scheme have revealed that the problem is deep-rooted, the official explained.
The state had announced Rs 5,000 per acre annually to farmers under the Krishak Bandhu scheme. They were to receive the amount in two instalments every year.
“About 16 lakh farmers were handed over cheques of the first instalment. Process is on to give cheques to the remaining eligible farmers at the earliest. So far, Rs 315 crore have been disbursed while primary assessment was that the scheme would require about Rs 4,500 crore annually,” said the senior government official.
That half of the farmers lack ownership documents appears to be a cause of concern for the ruling party and the government in Bengal for two primary reasons.
First, Nabanna realised that it would face a tough time to get land for development projects as the less number of applications made it clear that buying plots directly from the farmers for the purpose would not be an easy task.
“As majority of the farmers don’t have papers to claim compensation, they will oppose government’s effort to buy land. As the government decided to arrange land for development schemes only through its direct purchase policy, future of such projects is bleak in Bengal, said an official.
“The problem could have been avoided if the state government had been in favour of land acquisition as it allowed the state to deposit the compensation amount in the court in case of a plot that has problem of ownership,” added the official.
A section of the officials said the problem had already started creating problem for the state government.
“The chief minister’s dream project of Rs 4,000 crore — North-South Corridor — has run into a rough weather as the state government has pressed a pause button after farmers refused to sell land to the authorities. It is now clear why the farmers were resisting even after the state government offered much higher price of the land compared to market rate,” said an official.
Sources said the uncertainty over the fate of the project —which was supposed to connect NH6 or Mumbai Road to NH34 in Murshidabad via East Midnapore, Hooghly, East Burdwan and Birbhum — has left the government in an embarrassing situation as the ADB had agreed to grant funds.
“Now, it will be tough for the state to get investment as questions on availability of land have become more pertinent,” said an official.
The lack of applications from the farmers appeared to be a cause of concern for the Trinamul Congress for another reason.
The chief minister wanted to reach out to the farmers, who hold the key of electoral success in rural areas, with the scheme but the number of applicants clearly suggested that the effort night not yield desired results.
“A similar scheme in Telangana had helped K. Chandrasekhar Rao win the Assembly polls last year. It was expected the scheme in Bengal would help Trinamul regain its lost foothold in the rural areas,” said a senior official.
Sources in the land and land reforms department said Mamata Banerjee had realised the problem and that was why the state government had announced to waive fee in case of mutation of inherited agricultural plots about a year ago.
“But the figures clearly suggest that the effort was yet to change the situation at the ground level. The government has to find a solution to get rid of the problem. For example, it can think of making the mutation process uncomplicated to draw farmers to the land offices,” said a bureaucrat.