Ahead of the 2019 Assembly and Lok Sabha elections, the Telangana government has launched an insurance scheme for farmers, termed as ‘Rythu Bandhu Bheema’, but the real cultivators – landless tenant farmers, agricultural labourers who are considered to be most prone to distress among farming communities are not covered under this scheme. Various norms related to age-limit and land-holding categories have further left out a large number of farmers from the insurance scheme. Tragically, almost all the farmers from a village– Sitarampur are not covered under any of the government’s farming schemes.
The Plight of Sitarampur farmers
Sitarampur is a village in Shabad Mandal in Ranga Reddy district. When several farmers’ activists visited the village recently, it was found that none of the farmers there are eligible for any of the government schemes related to farming in the state, just because they cultivate on endowment lands or Devadaya Bhumulu. The farmers from this village are claiming that their lands have been under the possession of their ancestors for the last 200 years and agriculture in those lands has been their main source of livelihood. These farmers are demanding the government to recognize them as farmers by providing them with land documents so that they can avail the benefits of the farming schemes.
Rhythu Bandhu Bheema Scheme
As per the insurance scheme, the government will pay Rs. 2,271 per farmer (only to those farmers who are eligible as defined by the government) per year to Life Insurance Corporation (LIC) and in case of the insured farmer’s death, the person’s nominee will be paid five lakh rupees. The scheme is said to be a continuous process and will be applicable from August 15.
The Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) led state government entered into a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with LIC to implement the scheme and reportedly, LIC has given a commitment to settle the insurance claims within 15 days of the death of the farmer.
Eligibility Criteria for Farmers
Farmers between the age group of 18 to 60 years, who own agricultural land registered in their names are only eligible under this scheme. While the government did not specify the lower and upper limits on the area of land held by farmers, it outrightly excluded farmers who have been cultivating endowment lands (Devadaya Bhumulu in Telangana) and RoFR lands- Recognition of Forest Rights- (Rights over specific pieces of forest lands given to Adivasis). Similarly, farmers who don’t possess land documents, landless tenant farmers and agricultural labourers are also not covered. Reportedly, numerous farmers have been facing problems as their birth years are wrongly printed on their respective Aadhar cards. For farmers whose ages are printed as above 60 years as per the documents, even though it is not the case, the insurance scheme is not applicable.
Farmers’ rights’ activists are arguing that through the exclusion of the most distressed sections among farming communities – agricultural labourers and tenant farmers, the government’s intent seems to lure certain farming sections ahead of both state and parliamentary elections next year. As per a study conducted by Rythu Swarajya Vedika (RSV), more than 75 per cent of the farmers who committed suicide in Telangana during the last four years were tenant farmers and landless agricultural labourers.
Earlier this May, Chief Minister K. Chandrashekar Rao launched a farmers’ investment support scheme – Rythu Bandhu scheme - under which the state government started providing investment support of Rs. 4,000 per acre, per season, for every farmer. Although tenant farmers’ groups held numerous protests demanding the government to include them under the scheme, they were denied the benefits of the scheme. Interestingly, it has been reported that a total of Rs. 31.05 crore under this scheme was not claimed by about 39,000 rich landowners for various reasons, yet, the government is making efforts to ensure that the promised amount reaches the landowners.
“Of the nearly 4,000 farmers who committed suicide in Telangana during the last four years, so far, the government has only provided financial assistance to some 1,100 victim families and the remaining families are still awaiting any support from the government’s side. By mandating possession of land as compulsory for this insurance scheme, a significant number of real cultivators are left out,” said Kondal, representative of Rythu Swarajya Vedika. Kondal further added that thousands of farmers who cultivate ‘podu’ land do not possess land documents and thus were not considered as farmers under this scheme.
Kondal, told Newsclick, that the plight of farmers who have been cultivating endowment lands is similar across the state.