Hyderabad: Farmers’ rights activists are arguing that tenant farmers will be severely impacted by the new farm laws brought in by the central government as their social status and livelihood will be affected. In Telangana, farmers’ organisations claim that the tenant farmers have constituted the most distressed class among the farming communities since the Nizam era to the present Telangana Rasthra Samithi regime.
For the last 48 days, lakhs of farmers across the country have been protesting and demanding the scrapping of controversial farm laws. On Tuesday, the Supreme Court stayed the implementation of the laws till “further orders” and proposed the setting up of a committee to resolve the impasse between the government and farmer unions.
According to farmer organisations, there are about 14 to 18 lakh tenant farmers who are cultivating around 14% of 1.25 crore acres of agricultural land in Telangana. However, Chief Minister K Chandrashekar Rao in February 2019 had stated that the government will not consider tenant farmers and agricultural labourers as farmers and that the government schemes and subsidies will not be applicable to them.
While the state government provides investment support of Rs 10,000 per acre per year to farmers under the ‘Rythu Bandhu’ Scheme, tenant farmers are not included in the scheme. That means the land owners will receive the money even if their land is being cultivated by tenant farmers.
Ravi Kanneganti of Rythu Swarjya Vedika says that the statements of CM KCR on agriculture indicate that he does not know the real problems in the sector.
Sarampally Mallareddy, Vice President of All India Kisan Sabha, says that the laws providing rights to the tenant farmers have remained unimplemented in the state and that the new central laws pose severe threat to their livelihood and social status.
“Tenancy farming is practiced in villages as many people there consider that farming improves social status compared to migrating to cities and towns for other kinds of work. Tenant farmers are already struggling to sell their crop produce at government procurement centres as they lack proof of ownership and hence, they have been denied minimum support price (MSP). Further, they will lose possession of the land they have been cultivating as one of the new laws promotes contract farming. Their families will face a livelihood threat as they cannot compete with corporates,” explains Mallareddy.
The three new laws are Farmers (Empowerment & Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance & Farm Services Act 2020, Farmers Produce Trade & Commerce (Promotion & Facilitation) Act and Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act.
“As the new law does not ensure MSP as a legal right and supposedly weakens the government procurement centres, the tenant farmers will be burdened with tenancy payments and low income,” said Ravi Kanneganti.
When Jawahar Lal Nehru was the Prime Minister of India, Andhra Pradesh (Telangana Area) Tenancy & Agricultural Lands Act, 1950 (Act 21 of 1950) was enacted marking the end of the Telangana Peasant struggle.
Later, when Telangana and Andhra Pradesh were merged in 1956, Andhra Pradesh Tenancy Act, 1956 was enacted. The law was further amended in 1974. According to the law, the maximum rate of rent payable by a cultivating tenant was fixed at 25% of the gross produce in case of irrigable land and at 20% in case of dry land.
“Despite the law, tenant farmers pay rent equal to about 80% to 90% of their gross produce to the land owners,” says Mallareddy.
Farmers’ organisations estimate that about 350 tenant farmers have died of distress suicides in the last two years in Telangana. As many as 5,912 farmers died of suicides between 2014 and 2019 in the state, and 1,478 of them were tenant farmers.
Under the Andhra Pradesh Land Licensed Cultivators Act, 2011, tenant farmers are to be provided with eligibility cards, crop loans, government subsidies, insurance and compensation in times of natural calamities. However, the law remains unimplemented.
An estimated 28% village people are landless poor in Telangana against 70% in Andhra Pradesh. According to banks, there are about 28 lakh tenant farmers in Andhra Pradesh.
Demanding the scrapping of the laws, farmers in Telugu states have been holding large scale protests as part of the ongoing farmers movement.