Tenant farmers in Telangana mired in debt, have no access to govt schemes

According to a survey, 75% of tenant farmers borrow heavily from private money lenders and end up with huge debts.

A farmers' rights organisation which conducted a survey among thousands of farmers in Telangana has estimated that one in every three farmers is a tenant farmer. Rythu Swarajya Vedika (RSV), surveyed 7,774 farmers, of which 2,753 were tenant farmers, implying that one in every three farmers in Telangana is a tenant farmer. The study estimates that if the figure is extrapolated to the entire state, there will be nearly 22 lakh tenant farmers. The report was released at a conference in Hyderabad on Wednesday, December 14, 2022.

The Telangana government had earlier stated that the number of tenant farmers could not be identified because the land they cultivate is constantly changing. Contrary to the government’s stand, researchers pointed out that their survey found that 72% of tenant farmers had been cultivating the same land for more than three years. This vast discrepancy, according to the report, has led to a situation where nearly 95% of the tenant farmers surveyed do not hold loan eligibility cards (LEC). This has pushed them into debt as they have borrowed money from private money lenders. The LEC card is a provision to grant hassle-free financial support for poor and marginalised tenant farmers via nationalised banks.

A tenant farmer in the state typically has a loan of Rs 2.6 lakh, at an exorbitant interest rate of 24% to 60%. Tenant farmers borrow loans from more than two sources and nearly 75% of them borrow loans from private money lenders and other fertiliser dealers, pawn brokers or friends and families and sometimes even the land owner himself. Their continued borrowing eventually forces them into a vicious cycle of debt.

The survey was conducted across 30 mandals in 20 districts in the state and revealed that the average tenant farmer owns about 2.3 acres of land, which is again insufficient to support their livelihood. As a result, the majority of marginal and small landowners also become tenants. According to the study, nearly half of the farmers who lease land to tenant farmers are from Backward Classes, leasing 44% of the total, while 33% of farmers from upper castes are leasing 43% of the total amount of land. In contrast, upper caste farmers form only 4% of tenant farmers in the state.  

The survey found that 523 tenant farmers or 6.8% of all farmers are landless. Among the landless, 53% of tenant farmers belonged to Backward Classes, 33% belonged to Scheduled Castes, followed by ST (6.5%), Muslims (4.4%) and other classes (3.3%).

About 10% of tenant farmers are women and most of them belong to the BC category followed by SC. Ashalatha from RSV said that widowed women cultivating in tenant lands are in a poor condition. “The economically strong sections are getting all kinds of benefits and get the Rythu Bandhu amount too. Whereas widowed women who lost their husbands due to the pressure of loan amount, carry the same burden and still have to do farming to clear debts and survive.”

About 55% of the land owners are involved in non-agrarian professions and lease out their land, while only about 26% of the owners cultivate their lands. The above data counter the benefit claims of Rythu Bandhu, the Telangana government’s flagship programme, as about 97% of the tenant farmers did not benefit through this scheme, the report stated.

Kiran Vissa of the RSV said, “In every season, the Agriculture Department updates e-crop booking and a passbook is provided. This enables government procurement. Forty-one percent of the tenant farmers did not know under whose name the booking had been done, while 40% said it was done under the landowner’s name. Tenant farmers informed us that without surveying the field, the e-crop booking is updated which is why they suffer losses and have to sell to private persons.” He added that only 6% of them were able to sell their produce to the government through the cultivator certificate provided by the Agriculture Department. 

The government provides 58.33 lakh farmers Rs 5,000 per acre per season for crop investment which is claimed by the landowners instead of the tenant farmers. This implies that those from the upper caste who own land and those who don't cultivate it are receiving money in their bank accounts, the researchers argued. Aware of the meagre profits from farming, the majority of farmers (69%) are employed as farm labourers, followed by construction workers, and the remaining farmers are dependent on animal husbandry.

The report suggested that the government must immediately devise necessary amendments to make a provision to identify tenant farmers and issue LEC cards in addition to provisions like Rythu Bandu, Rythu Bhima and crop insurance schemes. For the most accurate implementation of the plans, the current cultivator of the land must also be identified in every season, the report said. The report also recommended that long-term restrictions be put in place on those who own farmlands but are not actively engaged in cultivating them, limiting their ability to purchase additional land.

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