AP law that aims to protect tenant farmers' rights fails to provide benefits

Only 9.4% of tenant farmers in Andhra Pradesh receive Crop Cultivator Rights Cards (CCRC), according to a recent study by RSV conducted in 31 gram panchayats in nine districts of Andhra Pradesh

By Nimisha S Pradeep  Published on  8 March 2022 4:08 PM GMT
AP law that aims to protect tenant farmers rights fails to provide benefits

Hyderabad: Isukupatla Satya Narayana, a tenant farmer in Nedunuru village in Ainavilli mandal, was cultivating on leased land for the past 10 years. For the last three years, he faced heavy crop losses. He could not pay the regular land lease in the form of bags of paddy since he had lost his entire crop in the Kharif season in 2021. One day, in February 2021, the landowner visited his home and publicly pressured him to pay the lease. Weighed down by the debt and insult, he consumed pesticide and died by suicide.

Almost 75% of all farmer suicides in Andhra Pradesh are by tenant farmers, notes Rythu Swarajya Vedika (RSV). What forces them to take this step?

Only 9.4% of tenant farmers in Andhra Pradesh receive Crop Cultivator Rights Cards (CCRC), according to a recent study by RSV conducted in 31 gram panchayats in nine districts of Andhra Pradesh – Visakhapatnam, East Godavari, West Godavari, Kurnool, Guntur, Krishna, Prakasam, YSR Kadapa, and Anantapur. The extensive survey focusing on the tenant farmers in the state also revealed that the new system is not helping farmers as much as the old system of Loan Eligibility Cards (LEC).

What is CCRC and how does it work?

In its efforts to include tenant farmers under schemes like Rythu Bharosa, zero-interest crop loan, disaster compensation, etc., the Andhra Pradesh government introduced the Crop Cultivator Rights Act in 2019 repealing the AP Land Licenced Cultivators Act of 2011.

But what was introduced with the intention to include tenant farmers has made it more difficult for them to avail of these benefits.

While the Land Licenced Cultivators (LLC) Act required the cultivators to submit a simple application to the Revenue officials specifying the details of the land taken on lease, the Crop Cultivators Act requires the landowner's signature on the application. Under the LLC Act, it was the responsibility of the revenue officials MRO and VRO to verify through the gram sabha and issue the card. Under the CC Act, the signature of the landowner is the verification.

Only 26% of estimated tenants got CCRC

According to an RTI response obtained by RSV, in 2021, out of the 16,00,483 estimated tenant farmers in the state, only 26% received CCRC. CCRC was poorly distributed in districts like Chittoor, Anantapur, and Nellore where only 1%, 2%, and 5% of estimated tenant farmers received CCRC in 2021.

When the LEC was in place in 2019, 7,14,020 tenant farmers received LEC but after the formulation of CCRC, in 2020 only 2,72,679 tenant farmers received CCRC and in 2021, only 4,14,795 received CCRC.

9.4% of tenant farmers received CCRC

Out of the 3,855 tenant farmers surveyed, only 364 received CCRC, i.e., 9.4% in 2021. In 2020 and 2019, it was even lesser – 8.1% and 6.1%, respectively. Whereas in 2019 and earlier when the LEC was in place, 17.7% of surveyed farmers had received LEC.

The distribution of CCRC is abysmally low in districts like YSR Kadapa, Visakhapatnam, Anantapur, and Prakasam districts with only 0%, 1%, 2%, and 3% surveyed farmers receiving CCRC in 2021.

The study also found that there was a huge disparity in the distribution of CCRC among social categories. While Other Castes (OC) constitute 29% of the total tenant farmers in these villages, they received 41% of the CCRCs issued. In contrast, Backward Castes (BC) constitute 40% of the total tenant farmers in these villages, but they received only 28% of the CCRCs issued.

Reasons for not receiving CCRC

The study found out four reasons why tenant farmers are not receiving CCRC – lack of awareness, owner not consenting, belief that it's of no use, and others who had applied for the card but it was not issued. At the state level, in 2021, 45% of the tenants cited lack of awareness as the reason while 43% said it was due to the owner not consenting. Seven per cent decided not to apply because they believed it was of no use, and 5% had applied but did not receive the CCRC.

It was found that landowners not consenting is the biggest reason why tenant farmers are not able to get CCRC. A large proportion of the tenant farmers said that if they insisted that the landowner consent for the CCRC, the owner clearly stated that he or she would not give the land on lease to the tenant.

In districts like Visakhapatnam, Prakasam, Kadapa, Anantapur, and Kurnool, 66% of the tenant farmers didn't receive CCRC because of lack of awareness whereas in districts like East Godavari, West Godavari, Krishna, Guntur, 69% of tenant farmers didn't receive CCRC because of landowners not consenting and not signing the applications.

The 2011 Act allowed LECs to be issued to tenant farmers without requiring them to obtain the landowner's signature. The local revenue officials had the power to ascertain the fact of the lease through field verification and gram sabha. The absence of objection from the landowner was treated as implicit consent. The fact that 17.1% of tenant farmers in the study received LEC while only 9.6% received CCRC is evidence that the new requirement of owner signature for CCRC has proved a big obstacle.

Why are landowners refusing to sign applications?

The study also tried to understand why landowners were unwilling to sign the applications. The landowners are reluctant for two reasons:

(a) The danger that their signature would affect their ownership rights on the land and make them vulnerable to lawsuits by tenants claiming rights over the land.

(b) If they allow the tenants to get CCRC and the tenant takes a bank loan, the burden of repayment could fall on the owner because his land is involved in the cultivation.

But the CCRC Act clearly specifies that the issuance of the card does not affect the land ownership rights, or that the banker is not allowed to recover the crop loans issued to the CCRC holding tenant by proceeding against the owner's land.

Some landowners still hold on to the AP Tenancy Act (1956) not knowing that it has been repealed and that it poses risks to land ownership rights. Also, most of them are availing of significant benefits such as interest-free crop loans, disaster compensation, crop insurance payments, and even the benefit of the occasional loan waivers, based on their land title.

Role of village-level authorities

Though the CCRC Act states the role of village-level authorities in facilitating agreement between the landowner and tenant farmers, in reality, there is hardly any effort from their side.

Out of the 3,855 tenant farmers, 86.5% or 3,522 tenants received no help from the village officials while 9.6% tried to facilitate but did not succeed. Only in 3.7% of cases did village officials successfully convince the landowner to allow the tenant to be issued the CCRC. The study reveals that a majority of the Village Revenue Officers (VROs) do not wish to enter into these uncomfortable interactions with the landowners who are often the more influential people in the village and the village volunteers are too young to even attempt to convince the landowners.

Rythu Bharosa and disaster compensation

Rythu Bharosa and disaster compensation are two government schemes that can be availed with the CCRC.

Unlike Telangana's Rythu Bandhu or the Central government's PM KISAN scheme that requires the farmer to own land to be eligible for the scheme, Rythu Bharosa can be availed by landless tenant farmers too. However, the study has shown that out of the 210 landless tenants who received CCRC, only 63 received Rythu Bharosa. This means that only 11.5% of the landless tenant farmers receive CCRC cards, and of that, only 3% receive the Rythu Bharosa support.

Crop loss due to disasters like unseasonal rains is one of the major reasons for high indebtedness and distress among tenant farmers. However, only four tenant farmers out of the 3,855 surveyed reported that they received disaster compensation.

Graphs: Rythu Swarajya Vedika

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