Friday , 24 May 2019

The Passage of Farming Tenancy Law


AGRICULTURE is a sector which constitutes a growth support of any state. A prosperous agriculture sector can ensure the supply of essential food requirements to its people and provide the required inputs to other sectors of economy. Without minimizing the importance of ‘industrial’ development which is equally required for the prosperity of the state, the development of agriculture constitutes the basis for the overall development of a state.

Due to several bottlenecks, namely small size of agriculture holdings, lack of comprehensive viable agriculture reforms, growth of literacy, lack of  irrigation and mechanized facilities, indiscriminate conversion of agriculture land into non-agriculture, poor maintenance of protective bunds of khazan land  etc, the agriculture sector is not getting adequate  impetus to growth. Agriculture is being perceived as a low income/ low return earner and looked upon as a profession for illiterates and of low labour dignity.

Protected tenants

Initially, since most of agriculture  land was being cultivated on  temporary lease basis and in order to ensure security of tenancy to the tenants, the first chief minister of Goa brought in force the ‘The Goa, Daman and Diu Agriculture Tenancy Act 1964’  with effect from February 8, 1965 by declaring all tenants of leased agriculture land as “protected tenants” with heritable permanent tenancy rights, having to pay only 1/6 of their produce as rent and with no liability to maintain protective bunds of khazans land including maintenance work of the fields that was, earlier, attended to by the owner (lesser). The said Act was  a copy of the Maharashtra Tenancy Act. The same was made applicable to Goa without considering several special aspects of land holdings, such as size of fields/ cultivated land, aim of cultivating paddy/other crops, the occupation of persons holding such  agriculture tenancies (government servants, businessmen etc) and the inexistence of  zamindari type of system that prevailed in other parts in India.

The law that gave security of tenancy presumed that with such security of tenancy the tenant would be induced to get better return from the land by adopting better cultivation practices. But, in practice, it was found that such a presumption was ill-conceived as far as inducement to increase production.

The  Goa, Daman and Diu Agriculture Tenancy Act 1964 also provided, under section 36, for ‘power to assume management” of tenanted land in case the land remained uncultivated for any two years and the management of the same , after due enquires,  could  be taken over by the government and the manager of the said land could enter into any contract with respect of the said land for purpose of bringing the land under cultivation. Unfortunately, the governments in power in Goa, at no point of time, tried to implement the said provision of law. Some of the protected tenants even went of registering their production with the talathi office, without producing anything in the field, only to secure the protection of tenancy. Subsequently, our elected representatives, without even assessing whether the aim of tenancy legislation had been achieved, approved the Goa Daman and Diu Agricultural Tenancy (Fifth Amendment) Act 1976 which gave full ownership of land to ‘protected tenants’.  It was a transfer of land from Peter to Paul to build up vote bank. Though Section 36 remained in force, no action was taken to enforce the same. Though the government has  a revenue setup, with a collector in each district who is suppose to collect ‘land revenue’, under the Land Revenue Code, through the administrative machinery of mamlatdars /talathis who are expected to maintain records of land under their jurisdiction, including yearly production of each agriculture plot, the governments in power have not bothered to activate the revenue setup, for the reasons best known to them. The only revenue they collect seating in the office is the ’tax on conversion of agriculture land’. The collection of such revenue has been, on an average, about Rs 8 crore, per year. Such conversion of agriculture land indicates how fast the area under agriculture is being reduced.

The first chief minister of Goa, taking cognizance of the inadequate effects of legislation already implemented, aimed to increase in agriculture production when I was holding the additional charge of revenue secretary, had requested me to draft a comprehensive land reform bill which I did (the rough draft papers of the same I still maintain) and discussed with him. The only issues that remained to be finalized were the fixation of size of ‘economic holding’  for dry/wet/mix land and the problems of “consolidation of cultivated plots”. Unfortunately, a week before the next meeting to finalize those issues, he passed away. Thereafter, the matter was lost in the file of the Secretariat.

Contract farming

The present government in power, approved the Goa Agricultural Tenancy (Amendment) Act 2014 which introduced the concept of ‘contract farming’ and the transfer of litigation cases dealt by revenue authorities, under the Tenancy Act, to the civil courts. Was this an attempt for agriculture reform?

First of all contract farming was not clearly defined and it was vaguely referred under Section 4A of the Act that any person may enter by an agreement in writing with the landowner to cultivate and carry agriculture operation. Without fixing the contents of such agreements such an attempt would have led to litigations and even loss of agriculture land to tenant-owner. In the first place the original owner of land lost the land to the tenant due to Tenancy Act, and the tenant became the owner of land. Now, certainly the farming contractor could take over the land from tenant-owner and become owner. This would have resulted in the transfer of ownership of the land without ensuring increase in the agriculture produce. This could not be considered as agricultural reform. The state is fortunate that due to public criticism the said provision 4A has been deleted under the Goa Agricultural Tenancy (Amendment) Act 2015.

Regarding the legal approval to transfer of litigation cases dealt by revenue authorities to civil courts, the decision on such cases is going to be delayed further since the civil courts are overloaded with work. The revenue officers would have disposed of litigation cases faster if the government had fixed a schedule of disposal to them and followed up its compliance.

The state government spends nearly Rs 126 crore yearly in agriculture sector of which around Rs 50 crore are in the form of subsidies and grants in aid without achieving proper growth in the agriculture produce. Subsidies may help the cultivator but do not bring prosperity in the agriculture sector. Around 50 per cent of cultivated plots are less than 4000sq mts which makes fulltime cultivation unviable. There is a need to bring about  proper land reforms to usher in prosperity in the agriculture sector and introduce total ban in the conversion of agriculture land.