Agriculture department officials say they do not have any data regarding how many landless farmers exist in the state. (File photo)
Last year, the Punjab government had announced it would waive the debts of ‘landless farmers’. State Finance Minister Manpreet Singh Badal had allocated Rs 3,000 crore in the budget for waiving their debts, alongwith those of khet mazdoors (farm labourers) and kin of deceased farmers. However, experts say landless farmers will barely benefit from this scheme, as is the case with several other farm welfare schemes.
So why is it that these cultivators always slip through the cracks when it comes to receiving benefits? ANJU AGNIHOTRI CHABA explains:
Who are landless farmers?
There are three categories of people who are dependent on farming in Punjab — one, the farmers own land, including marginal farmers who own less than one hectare and landlords with several hectares, second, the khet mazdoors (farm labourers) who are landless and earn their living by working in agriculture fields, third, the ‘landless farmers’, who as the term suggests do not own any land and work on land taken on rent or lease.
“Landless farmers can also be called tenant farmers or cultivators,” said Professor Gian Singh, former economics professor of Punjabi University, Patiala, who has also conducted studies on farmers, khet mazdoors etc.
In Punjab, ‘khet mazdoor’ are also generally called ‘landless farmers’ because they too do not own any land and work on landowners’ fields.
How many landless farmers does Punjab have?
Punjab agriculture department officials say they do not have any data regarding this category of farmers, but they do have data the number of farmers and khet mazdoors in the state.
“This is a million dollar question. The Punjab government, which has made budgetary allocation for them, should be asked this,” said expert and economics professor Kesar Singh Bhangu of Punjabi University, who had recently released a study on farming issues in the state, adding that the number of these farmers would be quite considerable if a census is conducted.
In Punjab, according to the PM Kisan scheme, there are 2,24,059 farmers, of which around 30-35 per cent have given plots to tenant farmers for cultivation. According to the scheme, the state has 13-14 lakh khet mazdoors.
“But we don’t have any census on landless farmers till date,” said professor Bhangu, adding that he had raised this issue on several platforms related to farmer welfare.
“Even the term landless farmer is used in a casual manner. When there is no detail is available about them, how can their debt be waived? Budgetary provision remains just a political statement till the time the actual number of such farmers and the details of the amount of their debt is not collected,” he further said, adding that Punjab’s agrarian system is quite complex and needs to be simplified.
A senior officer in the state agriculture department said getting details of these landless or tenant farmers is not going to be difficult to collect district-wise if the government has the will to waive their debts.
What other difficulties do landless farmers face?
Experts say landless farmers don’t get benefits under several government schemes including subsidies or direct benefit schemes. Under these schemes, the amount is credited in the account of the farmer who owns that land. There are very few landowner farmers who pass on a portion of these benefits to landless farmers who take their land on rent.
“Most of the time, the landowner says he will adjust it in the annual rent of the land and this way they also get delayed benefits,” said professor Gian.
A senior officer in the cooperative department said landless farmers used to get crop loans from the Punjab Primary Agriculture Cooperative Societies (PACS) too, but now cooperative societies have changed the rules, which have made it difficult for landless farmers to avail crop loans from PACS as they have to produce documents like a no-objection certificate etc. from the landowner
Has the state government taken any other measures to help landless farmers?
The state government had proposed a Bill about tenancy and leasing agriculture land to bring about reform in agriculture in a state where a large number of farmers are just cultivators and not the actual owners of that land. The Bill would save both tenant farmers and landowners, but it yet to see the light of day.
Meanwhile, the state has prepared details of khet mazdoors to waive their debts under the same budget allocation of Rs 3,000 crore but there is no mention of landless farmers.