People's Democracy(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
June 17, 2007
Implement Land Reforms For A More Inclusive
And Sustainable Agricultural Growth
Views Of Bengal Govt At NDC Meeting
The following is the full text of the government of West Bengal’s written views placed in the NDC meeting held in New Delhi on May 29, 2007 by the state finance minister Dr Asim Das Gupta.
WE welcome the convening of this 53rd meeting of National Development Council (NDC) on food and agriculture. It gives us an opportunity to express our views on the major items mentioned in the Report of the Sub-Committee of NDC on Agriculture and Related Issues as well as the Paper on Agriculture Strategy for Eleventh Plan agendised for discussion in the meeting today.
CONCERNS AND OBJECTIVES OF AGRICULTURAL POLICY
Due concerns have been noted about deceleration in Indian agriculture with the growth rate of GDP from agriculture slipping from 3.62 per cent during 1984-85 to 1995-96 to less than 2 per cent in the period from 1995-96 to 2004-05. Moreover, a particular concern has been expressed about the fall in the growth rate of production and productivity of foodgrains. Confronted with this situation, the Approach Paper to the Eleventh Five Year Plan has taken as a challenge, the target of growth rate of GDP from the agricultural sector to be raised to 4 per cent per annum during the plan period. It has been further emphasised that this growth process should be inclusive.
In our view, a more comprehensive statement of objectives of agricultural policy may be helpful to accommodate our concerns about agriculture sector more completely. Our concern is not only about the fall in rate of growth or production and productivity, but also about food security and employment and incomes of common farmers and agricultural labourers. The objectives of the agricultural policy may, therefore, be stated in terms of increase in agricultural production in such a manner that self-sufficiency in foodgrains is maintained during the Eleventh Plan period and thereafter. Then, after maintaining this self-sufficiency, crop diversification would be undertaken, and through all these steps, the objective of employment generation of common farmers is to be achieved, with specific target for this achievement in every year over the plan period. Along with this priority has to be accorded to increase productivity and post-harvest storage and marketing facilities, so that, along with employment generation for farmers, there is also a sustainable increase in their incomes. Each of these objectives should be translated into state-specific targets in the plan period, so that the concept of growth with equity –– of inclusive growth can be given an operational content.
It may be mentioned that for West Bengal for the Eleventh Plan period we have already set a target of annual rate of growth of Net State Domestic Product from agriculture at 4 per cent per annum, a target of achieving about 2 per cent annual rate of growth of foodgrains to increase the level of foodgrains to 183.04 lakh MT at the end of Eleventh Plan period which would be slightly above the corresponding foodgrains requirement of 179.57 lakh MT. At the same time, a target for additional employment generation in agricultural sector (i.e. agriculture, animal resource development, fishery and forests) of at least 3 lakh has been stipulated in 2007-08, which would then steadily increase to an additional employment generation of at least 4.5 lakh at the end-year of Eleventh Plan.
INCLUSIVE GROWTH AND LAND REFORMS
Given these objectives relating to the overall growth of foodgrains production and employment generation, we can adopt two types of approaches at achieving them. In one approach, we can accept the existing unequal distribution of ownership of land i.e. unequally inclusive ownership of land, with the small and marginal farmers (comprising nearly 90 per cent of rural farming households) owing only 43 per cent of the total agricultural land. We can consequently also accept the resulting monopolistic control by a small rich group in every rural locality over labour market, credit market and trading activities (with these monopolistic distortions often being inter-connected). We may also choose not to emphasise public investment in agriculture and rely primarily on technological improvement for stimulating agriculture. This has basically been the approach adopted at the national level during the Ninth and the Tenth Five Year Plan period. As a result of this approach, there has been, to begin with, some agricultural growth, but this growth process – because of unequal land ownership and resulting market imperfection – has eventually become unsustainable, and we have now reached a situation of agricultural deceleration.
It is, however, possible to have an alternative approach for a more inclusive and sustainable agricultural growth. Since the record of higher production and employment generation per hectare is obtained from the land of small and marginal farmers (a fact noted in the Report of NDC sub-committee as well as in the Discussion note), the main basis of agricultural growth, with emphasis on employment generation and inclusiveness, can indeed be provided by land reforms with redistribution of ceiling-surplus land among the poorer farmers. The land reform measurers will then need to be simultaneously supported by extension of irrigation facilities, use of improved seeds, a balanced application of fertilizers, credit and marketing facilities, and finally involvement of common farmers in a decentralised manner through the Panchayats as well as in coordination with the concerned government departments, Agricultural Universities and research institutes.
It should be noted that land reform is not an exercise in charity. With the higher record of production and employment generation, redistributive land reform is inherently a productive move – a move towards more equal competition in the agricultural sector. The process of this productive land reform can certainly be rejuvenated even within the existing ceiling laws, by at least distributing among the poorer farmers the ceiling-surplus agricultural land which has already been vested in the different state governments, but not yet been distributed (estimated at 12.08 lakh acres for the country as a whole till September, 2006). This should then be followed up by sincere efforts at further vesting of ceiling-surplus land and its distribution.
Regarding leasing out and tenancy, we are, again, for reasons of production growth and employment generation, in favour of ensuring the security of share and tenure of share-cropper by recording the names of share-croppers on the strength of law and its enforcement by administrative and organisational steps by involving the Panchayats. Land can be resumed only for personal cultivation, with proper care about the legal definition of personal cultivation.
We are not in favour of any contract farming which may alienate land of poorer farmers and increase their landlessness. At the present stage of development, we are also not in favour of corporate farming and formation of land share companies.
In West Bengal, a special emphasis has been placed on redistributive land reforms and on ensuring security of share and tenure of share croppers. It may be mentioned with modesty that in the distribution of ceiling-surplus land to the poorer farmers, West Bengal has been ranked in the first position among the states. Of the total ceiling-surplus agricultural land distributed among the poorer farmers in the country till September, 2006, about 21 per cent has been distributed in West Bengal although the state’s share in the total cultivable area of the country is only 3 per cent. Of the total number of beneficiaries of redistributive land reforms in the country, nearly 53 per cent is again from West Bengal. According to the latest National Sample Survey data on ownership and distribution of land holding (2003), it has been found that with implementation of land reforms, the small and marginal farmers in West Bengal (constituting about 90 per cent of rural farming households) have now come to own 84 per cent of the total agricultural land, as against 43 per cent for the country as a whole. The total number of beneficiaries of agricultural land distributed in this state is now 29.14 lakh. Moreover, with a special emphasis on gender equity and empowerment of women, 5.35 lakh joint patta and 1.57 lakh female patta have been distributed. For ensuring the security of share and tenure, a priority has also been accorded to the recording of names of share-croppers on the basis of law and its implementation involving administration and the Panchayats. The total number of recorded share-croppers has now reached the figure of 15.08 lakh in the state.
In our view, land reforms, for reasons of agricultural growth and meaningful inclusiveness of ordinary farmers, should be an important part of agricultural strategy for Eleventh Plan. In order to encourage and support the states for implementing land reforms, it is strongly urged that a special Additional Central Plan Assistance be extended to the states for providing non-land inputs (such as irrigation, improved seeds, a balanced package of chemical, organic and bio-fertilisers) to the beneficiaries of land reforms.
As already mentioned, along with land reforms, provision for all the critical non-land inputs need to be simultaneously augmented in the agricultural strategy for the Eleventh Plan. One of the most important non-land inputs relates to irrigation facilities.
In the sphere of irrigation, for achieving an expeditious and positive impact on agricultural production, a special emphasis may have to be placed on minor irrigation facilities, and within minor irrigation, on increased use of surface water through reclamation of ponds, lakes, canals etc. With a massive excavation programme, not only will there be an expansion of surface water-based irrigation facilities and fishery, but through augmentation of holding capacity of excess rain waters in these water bodies in a decentralised manner, effects of flood can also be moderated. In the sphere of ground water-based minor irrigation, extension of facilities need to be made on the basis of assessment of aquifer position and socially balanced use for avoiding overdrawal.
In the surface-based minor irrigation there are schemes with central financial support, such as NREGS, CADWM, and pilot projects for repair, renovation and restoration of water bodies. But in the sphere of ground water-based minor irrigation, except for loan-based RIDF and state sector schemes, there is no comprehensive scheme with sharing of expenditure between the centre and the state. It is urged that a programme for development of ground water minor irrigation facilities be considered on 75 (centre): 25 (state) cost sharing basis in the agricultural strategy for the Eleventh Plan.
In the sphere of large and medium irrigation, main priority has to be given for speedy completion of the ongoing major projects. Within large irrigation, there are projects which are, because of international implications or major inter-state beneficial effects, are of national importance. For completion of these national level projects, recommendations of NDC sub-committee should be accepted, and share of centre and states in expenditure in the proportion of 90 (centre): 10 (state) should be considered.
For fuller utilisation of irrigation potential, main emphasis needs to be placed on participatory water management, with formation of appropriate beneficiary committees by involving the local Panchayats, and every attempt should be made to recover the operation and maintenance cost of working of the relevant schemes.
National Resource Management and Watershed Development provide an important additional dimension to agricultural growth and employment generation, and we endorse the recommendation of the NDC sub-committee on the need for an integrated and participatory approach in formulation and implementation of the programme. Here, the elected Panchayats can play an important role in ensuring the involvement of local common people in the entire programme.
There is a very special problem relating to massive floods, drainage and also erosion of rivers, particularly for the states like West Bengal which is a tail-end state of the Ganga basin. In recent years as a result of flood alone, on an average 5 to 8 per cent of total foodgrains production of the state has been lost, apart from the widespread infliction of human misery. Central support to the tune of at least 75 per cent of the cost is urgently necessary to execute significant basin-specific drainage schemes and flood protection schemes. A comprehensive central support is also necessary for anti-erosion schemes of mighty rivers, such as Ganga-Padma for reasons of special international implications.
In West Bengal in the sphere of irrigation, a target has been set to increase the ratio of net irrigated area to net cropped area from the present level of 70 per cent to 80 per cent during the Eleventh Plan period, with emphasis on minor irrigation, large or medium irrigation projects, basin-specific drainage and flood protection schemes and anti-erosion schemes in a prioritised manner.
As mentioned above, in implementing these projects, central support in the sphere of groundwater minor irrigation schemes on 75 (centre): 25 (states) cost sharing basis will be specially helpful.
In the sphere of large irrigation project, the Teesta Barrage Project with its international implications is truly a national-level project. However, till, now, of the total amount spent on this project (Rs 1,085.04 crore), nearly 76 per cent (Rs 829.49 crore) has been borne by the state government. The state government has, therefore, justifiably raised the demand for treating this as a national project, with the government of India bearing 90 per cent of the remaining cost of implementation. Similarly, Subarnarekha Barrage Project, with additional potential of more than 1 lakh hectares and benefiting the states of West Bengal, Jharkhand and Orissa would also qualify as national project, according to the guidelines recommended by the NDC sub-committee with appropriate centre-state sharing of expenditure. In addition, for reasons of protection against floods and protecting agricultural production, the major basin-specific drainage projects of the state (such as, Kandi Master Plan, Keliaghyee-Kapaleswari Drainage Basin Schemes, Ghatal Master Plan etc.), Ichamati resuscitation scheme and anti-erosion scheme of Ganga-Padma (for international implications) should be considered for centre (75): state (25) sharing of expenditure.
Regarding water management, the state government has already adopted the policy of participatory management through the beneficiary groups and by involving the Panchayats in the minor irrigation sphere. It is now intended to extend this participatory management practice at the appropriate level for the large and medium irrigation projects as well as during the Eleventh Plan period.
On Watershed development, 84 projects were completed in the state and physical achievement under NWDPRA during the Tenth Plan period was 36,133 hectare as against the target of 38,796 hectare. In the Eleventh Plan period a target of developing 1 lakh hectare has been fixed for achievement in the state.
(To be continued)