Hyderabad: A field study by the Rythu Swarajya Vedika (RSV) has made several revelations about the conditions of farmers in Telangana, including that one in every three farmers is a tenant farmer.
The findings of the first-of-its-kind survey done in Telangana after its formation in 2014, run contrary to many claims made by the state government, said S. Ashalatha who revealed the findings in a press conference.
The modus operandi of the survey involved a door-to-door survey of 7,744 farmers in 34 villages in 20 districts across the state. It found that 2,753 were tenant farmers, which amounts to 35.6% or more than one in three farmers. If the figure is extrapolated to the whole state, there will be nearly 22 lakh tenant farmers, the study estimates.
The survey also found that 523 tenant farmers are landless, i.e. 6.8% of the total farmers and 19% of the tenant farmers.
The trend of increasing tenancy was evident from previous studies by the NITI Aayog in 2015. The committee had pegged the tenancy in Telangana at 13.56%. Even the 77th NSSO report cites the increase in tenancy from 4.7% in 2002-03 to 17.5% in 2018-19. It added that the total land under tenancy also rose from 3.1% in 2002-03 to 11.9% in 2018-19.
Presenting the report, Kiran Vissa of the RSV, said that the claim that tenant farmers cannot be identified as the land they till is ever-changing does not hold because the survey found that 72% of tenant farmers tend the same land for more than three years. Only a minority rent the land for one or two years.
“The nature of lease is also changing into cash (91%) as opposed to sharing the crop pointing to absentee ownership,” Vissa, who is also part of the All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee, said.
The average lease for a paddy crop is Rs 15,647 per acre, while lease prices are as high as Rs 25,000 per acre in Bhupalpalli, Khammam for a chilli crop, the survey found.
The timing of payment of the lease is during the lease agreement for 38.3% of farmers, while for 20.5% of the tenant farmers pay half the lease upfront and the rest at the end of the term. Around 41% of them said they pay the lease after the harvest, he added. Vissa added that the Licensed Cultivators Right Act, 2011 facilitates the identification of tenant farmers by holding gram sabhas in the villages.
The survey also provided an insight into the socio-economic conditions of the tenant farmers. It said that tenant farmers are predominantly from Other Backward Classes or OBCs (61%), Scheduled Castes or SCs (23%) and Scheduled Tribes or STs (10%). Only 4% of tenant farmers belong to the general category while 2% are Muslims, the survey said. Meanwhile, 45% of the land leased for tenancy is owned by OBCs, followed by 42% by the forward castes. Just 7% and 4% of land that is leased to tenant farmers is owned by SCs by STs respectively.
The study says that the average debt of tenant farmers is Rs 2.68 lakh, of which private debt amounts to Rs 2 lakh and institutional debt from banks is Rs 68,302. The average interest rate is between 24% and 60%. “This is just debt incurred owing to agricultural operations. The total debt incurred by families for non-agricultural purposes included is higher,” Vissa said.
Small and marginal farmers have the right to get help from the government, he added, saying that farmers should get fair minimum support price (MSP).
Telangana is the only state that does not recognise tenant farmers and the struggle to provide help has to start from there, said D. Narasimha Reddy, noted economist and a former professor at the University of Hyderabad. Forming joint liability groups and self-help groups could be explored to help small farmers, he added.
Around 8,000 farmers have died by suicide in Telangana since 2014. A sample study of 692 farmer suicides done by RSV in 2018 showed that 75.2% of those who took their own lives were tenant farmers. Another sample study of about 140 farmer suicides, conducted in 2021, showed that about 80% were tenant farmers.
Women tenant farmers worse off
Just 9.5% of the total tenant farmers are women. Their condition seems to be worse off when compared to male tenant farmers, the study data shows. It said that 22.7% of women tenant farmers are landless, while 25% are single women. These women face additional difficulties in accessing credit, the survey found.
R. Venkatamma, a farmer from Brahmanapalli village in Ranga Reddy district, was present at the press meet. She said that her husband died by suicide in 2011 because of farm debt. She said that before her husband’s death, the family cultivated four acres under tenancy, apart from one acre of their own. “As we could not avail credit from the banks, we borrowed at high interest,” she said, adding that since 2011, she has been leasing four acres of land.
“Even though we held many dharnas after my husband’s death for compensation, we haven’t received any help. Politicians like T. Harish Rao (minister of health and finance in the Telangana government) promised help but we haven’t received any so far,” she said.
Also speaking at the meet, V. Narsamma – another woman tenant farmer from Chelleru village in Yadadri Bhuvanagiri district – said that the input subsidy scheme rythu bandhu, a precursor to the centrally adopted PM Kisan Samman Nidhi, has not helped tenant farmers. The compensation that is provided for crop loss and even input subsidies are going to the land owners, while tenant farmers are left without any succour, she rued.
What is the way ahead?
Those present at the press conference sought the immediate implementation of the Licensed Cultivators Act, under which tenant cultivators are recorded and a Loan Eligibility Card (LEC) is issued. They also recommended that schemes like Rythu Bandhu and Rythu Bheema (insurance) in addition to crop loans, crop loss compensation and crop insurance should be extended to tenant farmers. A short-term measure should be to recognise cultivators on the Dharani website of Telangana government of the Telangana government, they said.
Among the long-term measures, the activists said a comprehensive Act should be put in place to define and uphold the rights of tenant farmers, placing restrictions on the purchase of agricultural land by non-agriculturists and stopping the acquisition of land distributed to the poor for other public purposes. Additionally, lands should be surveyed to end disputes and surplus lands should be distributed to the landless.
N. Venugopal, a political commentator, said that a survey conducted in 1952 found that in the erstwhile Hyderabad state – which included five districts of Maharashtra and three districts of Karnataka apart from Telangana – 50% of the land that was owned by the Nizam. Out of these, 50 lakh acres in Telangana were given to tenants based on the duration of tenancy. “But now our government is refusing to even maintain records of tenant farmers,” he said.