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Injustice Invisible - 68

Injustice Invisible - 68

In continuation of the earlier two write ups of the same title, this highlights the rest of the major crippling factors in agriculture.

Endless division and subdivision of the agricultural land holdings cuts the root of all agricultural development in India. Every member of a family has a legal right to the share of his/her parental property and they demand it. As a result generally the big farms are becoming the medium holdings and the medium becoming semi-medium holdings and the semi-medium becoming small and the small becoming marginal and marginal becoming sub-marginal and sub-marginal is becoming nominal holdings and nominal holdings are becoming small house plots. It is only the land of the agri-business people that are remaining undivided like the lands under coffee, tea, rubber, cardamom and other plantation crops and horticultural crops. In many cases a family has several plots of varying soil fertility and productivity at different locations and it is so common in India that all the children claim equal share of all the plots. The result of such practice can be imagined by any one. Such craze for a small piece of land even as small as the size of a table tennis board is a terrible socio-cultural crippling factor in Indian agriculture: a collective invisible self-injustice.  

Till the first half of the last century and to a great extent till the initiation of globalization (1990 onwards), a family of five to six could meet its food and nonfood requirements from a two cropped fertile land of one hectare. But, after globalization many things which were considered luxury have become needs and many things which were in the need category have become necessity and essential.

For example a TV and mobile phones which were luxury items once upon a time have become essentials now. At the time of independence the literacy rate was only 12% because education was not a felt need at that time. Today education of the children has become very essential and at the same time it has become very costly. About fifty years ago use of footwear was rare in India; but today practically everyone, including children, go about with proper footwear. Where people used to go about with a single piece clothing ( dhoti or a loin cloth), there they go about with four or five piece clothing. Where people had only two sets of clothing, there now they have one dozen or more sets of clothing. The list of luxury items becoming needs and needs becoming necessities is endless. In short, life became many times more expensive, and a family of five to six which thrived well in the last century on the income from one hectare of land, cannot even meet its food requirement let alone other expenses.

Farm life becomes more difficult or impossible when the land holdings become less than one hectare. Yet people still hold on to the age-old practice of equal inheritance resulting in endless divisions and multiplication of agricultural holdings. Even if everything else is made conducive to the stability of farm sector the practice of the law of equal inheritance will be an inherently crippling factor in agriculture.

Change of hands in management is the immediate result of division and subdivision of the land holdings. Management of the productivity of a piece of land, whether big or small, requires a multi-disciplinary approach. An agriculture land holding is an organic unit and the productivity depends on the combined effect of many factors like irrigation system, cropping pattern, soil conservation practices, soil fertility management, water conservation system etc. will get disrupted and land productivity will be drastically reduced. Even in non-agriculture sectors frequent change of hands affects seriously the production potential.

The law of equal inheritance results in a piece of land going to somebody who is least interested in farming and soil management. Besides the size of the land unit is so small that it will not be economically viable to cultivate. Nor will anyone be interested in cultivation since they have alternative means of livelihood in a government or private job or a lucrative professional carrier or business. Eventually they will sell their inherited property to some other people or convert it into house plots or for some other non-agricultural purpose. Hence the age-old practice of endless change of hands in the management of the land holding is a perennial hindrance for the development of the agriculture and the farmers.

Conversion of prime agricultural land into non-agricultural usages is another great mistake done at the government and individual people level. Our ancient practice was to establish villages and towns in less fertile uplands leaving the fertile land for farming and less fertile lands for grassing etc.

Today housing and institutional complexes have become an industry that they are encroaching upon best of the agriculture land legally or illegally. Studies have indicated that in a decades’ time on an average 16,00,000 hectares of agricultural lands are converted into nonagricultural usages. Several studies have shown that the urban areas in our country are increasing by 24,00,000 hectares per decades. The difference of 8,00,000 hectares is an indication that many of the transfers are done illegally and anonymously. I do not think anyone needs any survey data to know that large tracks agricultural land is converted into nonagricultural purposes: everyone can see how much the city of Delhi, Bombay, Pune, Bangalore etc. have expanded into the prime agricultural lands of the surrounding areas; similar expansion is known to people of every city and towns; people themselves are ready to sell their prime agricultural land for non-agricultural purposes as they get premium amount with which they can start some non-agricultural business. Many a time, people are compelled to give up their land for airports, railways or some other public sector concerns.

"As cities grow, agricultural area around them comes down," says a senior official of the National Remote Sensing Centre (NRSC), on the condition of anonymity, as he is not authorized to speak to the press. Micro-studies and anecdotal observations suggest the extent of loss of agricultural land is greater.

In a paper published in the Economic & Political Weekly in August 2007, authored by V Ratna Reddy and B Suresh Reddy on 'Land Alienation and Local Communities: Case Studies in Hyderabad-Secunderabad' area, concluded that "Agriculture (has) ceased to be the main activity in all the 25 mandals in and around Hyderabad. The total sown area that has gone out of cultivation in these mandals is estimated at more than 90,000 hectares or 900 sq. kilometers. According to Ramesh Chand of the National Centre for Agricultural Policy and Research, fertile lands are being replaced by less fertile lands is one reason why the magnitude of this shift might be underestimated. NRSC data between 2004-05 and 2011-12 shows a decline in the areas of shrub lands, grasslands, grazing lands, swamps and wastelands and are poorer alternatives to fertile land if co-opted into farming. As the population is growing geometrically and the nonagricultural businesses are growing arithmetically the prime agricultural lands are disappearing stealthily, unethically and illegally. Endless division and subdivision of agriculture land is suicidal: Invisible Injustice.

Slow mechanization of agriculture: Automation, mechanization, computerization and digitization are there in every sphere of human life; then why not in agriculture too? There is a growing antipathy at the ideological level towards mechanization among our people and yet they will be first one to go for mechanization. For example, when computers were introduced people were up in arms shouting it will replace the labourers. When JCB and tractors were brought in, the people were protesting that those will replace large number of labourers; yet today everything is computerized, JCBs and tractors are everywhere. Mechanization in agriculture is necessary to do most of the agri-works efficiently, effectively and timely. Mechanization increases the output of human labour many times augmenting the farm return many times. Low rate of mechanization and automation/computerization is one of the inherently crippling factors of Indian agriculture.

Too many people are in the agriculture sector : All the developed countries in the world have only less than 5% of the population engaged in agriculture. Agriculture is the largest economic sector in many parts of the world. It still remains the largest provider of jobs in the world though it accounts only for 4.2% of direct employment in developed nations. It currently employs over  52% of the workforce in Africa, and  59% in Oceania. In India nearly 70% of the population is still depending on agriculture whereas in China is around 28%. Too huge a population depending on agriculture is itself is a major crippling factor in agriculture. China is one of the modern economies that is fast-tracking the transition from rural agrarian status to urban industrial status. Chinese government is systematically encouraging mass shifting of rural agricultural population to urban non agrarian sector. The urban population is already exceeding the rural population.

Poorly implemented land reform is another inherently crippling factor of Indian agriculture. In 1972 Centre Government passed the Land Reform Bill and suggested that the land ceiling be fixed at 5.05-7.28 hectare for two irrigated crop lands and 10.93 hectare for single irrigated crop and 21.85 hectare unirrigated crops. But when it came to the state level assemblies each state adopted much different ceiling levels obviously influenced by the big farmers in the respective states. Except in Kerala and West Bengal, the land reforms were not implemented seriously in spite of the state level passing of the land reform bills. Land reforms have been half-heartedly attempted at various times and this has proved to be a case of the remedy being worse than the disease. Commenting on the process of land reforms, Prof. M.L. Dantwala observes; "By and large land reforms contemplated and enacted in India so far and those contemplated in the near future are in the right direction; and yet due to lack of implementation the actual results are far from satisfactory". Now after 55 years no one even talks about the land reform.

Depleting water resources: Water is the most essential input for agriculture and water scarcity in our country is becoming more and more acute. The Central Ground Water Board (CGWB), a government agency, came to this conclusion by analyzing 10,219 wells across the country. It found that 5,699 wells had reported decline during that period. It also concluded that agriculture sector is the biggest user of water followed by domestic and industrial sector. According to Times of India 27, July 2014 Ground water levels in various parts of India are declining as the country could not adequately recharge aquifers in deficit areas where it has been used for irrigation, industries and drinking water needs of the growing population over the years. The Central Ground Water Board (CGWB) has told the ministry of water resources that around 56% of the wells, which are analyzed to keep a tab on ground water level, showed decline in its level in 2013 as compared to the average of preceding 10 years (2003-12) period. The ground water was continuously being exploited due to growth in population, increased industrialization and irrigation. As a result, ground water levels in various parts of the country are declining... The state governments have been advised to take suitable remedial measures to check ground water exploitation and ensure recharge of aquifers in water stressed areas. Water scarcity is an inherently crippling factor in agriculture.

Poorly implemented environmental conservation programmes: As we all know that proper environmental conservation is an essential pre-requisite for agriculture stability and development. In India we are supposed to have two-third of the area under forest cover including all the areas above 20% slope. That means any area above 20% (1 unit vertical to 5 unit horizontal) should not be cultivated to minimize the soil erosion loss and to conserve maximum of rain water in the forest of the hilly regions. From the point of the of the soil and water conservation in India not even 10% of the optimum requirement is not done in our country. Soil and water conservation also should include all the measures of flood control also. This year for example the low lying areas of Bihar, West Bengal, Assam and parts of Orissa are under flood waters for several months making it impossible for the people to have the Kharif crops besides people are subjected to untold miseries due to hunger and diseases. Loss of kharif crop results reduction in the production of the kharif crops like paddy, maize, arhar etc.

Youth turning away from farming : The present tendency of the youth in India is to do anything but agriculture. Kothari Commission as early as 1964-66 recommended agriculture subjects at the school level and to link science subjects with agriculture. Even fifty years after Kothari Commission nothing has been done in that line. The present education system is taking people away from nature and direct involvement with nature like farming. In the present school education biological sciences are given less importance compared to mathematics and computer sciences. Everybody can get involved in vegetable gardening even if one does not have any land: they can be grown on roof tops, in pots and similar containers. Half of the daily diet should be consisting different types of vegetables and a family can produce most of the vegetables required. Unfortunately nothing comparable to the importance of agriculture in everyone’s life is being done as a part of the curriculum in the schools.

Part III of the “Inherently Crippling Factors of Agriculture” can be summarized as endless division and subdivision of the agricultural land holdings resulting in change of hands in management accompanied by the steady conversion of prime agricultural land into non-agricultural usages.  Slow mechanization, the burden of too many people in the agriculture sector, poorly implemented land reforms, depleting water resources, poorly implemented environmental programmes and the general tendency youth turning away from farming are the additional inherently crippling factors in agriculture.

(The writer is Retired Professor of Agriculture Economics at XIM, Bhubaneswar. Email: ktchandysj@gmail.com)

(Published on 24th September 2017, Volume XXIX, Issue 39)