Adivasi agriculture question: Increasing alienation due to failure to implement protective land laws

By Dr Palla Trinadha Rao

Abstract: This paper discusses various issues concerning the Adivasi farmers, and the policy and legal concerns of agriculture in general and Scheduled Areas of Andhra Pradesh in particular. It looks at the provisions of the Indian Constitution and other central and state legislations and policies governing the agriculture, agro markets, irrigation, tenancy farmers and examine its implications and the impacts created. The paper emphasizes the interventions in relation to the crop diversity, output and outcomes of the yield and markets, which are playing a critical role in the Adivasi agriculture sector. Besides, Adivasis are increasingly alienated from their land to non-Adivasis due to government failure in implementing the Adivasi protective land laws (1 of 70 Regulations). The paper takes cognizance of the role of Gram Sabha under the PESA Act in respect of the agriculture, markets and irrigation, which are sidelined by the parallel institutions created by the Government for implementation of different agriculture programs. The paper articulates the need of strong institutional mechanism and agro-plans and programs suitable to the agro-climatic conditions of the Scheduled Area and also keeping in view of the indigenous and traditional farming practices of Adivasi farmers.

I Agriculture –An over view

Problem Perspective:

Over 120.4 million hectares of the total land area of 328.73 million hectares, about a third, has degraded soil now, mostly in the ‘green revolution belt’ in India. (Prabhakaran Nair 2021). Agriculture, with 15 percent share in the national income, still absorbs more than 45 percent of the labour force (Seema Bathla and Siraj Hussain 2021).

The Government of India announced its intent to double farmers’ income by 2022 (NITI Aayog 2017). An average Indian farmer earns ₹6,426 per month while the expenditure is ₹6,223. Also, only 15 per cent of farmers earn 91 per cent of the total agricultural income amid overwhelming inequality (Richard Mahapatra 2021). According to the government’s own data, almost 70 per cent of the market transactions for 10 select crops in 600 wholesale markets were at prices lower than minimum support price (MSP) (Sunita Narain 2021).

The Central government hiked the MSP in June 2021 for common paddy to ₹1,940 a quintal for the coming kharif season, close to 4% higher than last year’s price of ₹1,868. “There is no mechanism that guarantees that every farmer can get at least the MSP as the floor price in the market. Therefore, this is a meaningless concept as far as farmers are concerned, and that is why this movement has been asking for a statutory entitlement for all farmers so that a remunerative MSP can be ensured for all farmers,” said Samyukt Kisan Morcha (SKM) ( The Hindu 10 June 2021).

The impact of climate change is much more evident in Indian agriculture where around 85 per cent farmers are small and marginal, and 60 per cent agriculture is dependent upon the vagaries of monsoon (Ridham Kakar 2020). Each farm is unique. So, farmers should be exposed to some basic principles of agro-ecology and simple techniques, and then left free to experiment, innovate and implement what suites the local conditions (Kapil Shah 2021). Micro-irrigation can increase yields and decrease water, fertilizer and labour requirements. By applying water directly to the root zone, the practice reduces loss of water through conveyance, run-off, deep percolation and evaporation. These losses are unavoidable in traditional irrigation practices; micro-irrigation, through its water-saving approach has paved the way for higher water use efficiency of around 75-95 per cent (Ridham Kakar 2020).

Organic farming is in a nascent stage in India. About 2.78 million hectare of farmland was under organic cultivation as of March 2020, according to the Union Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers’ Welfare. This is two per cent of the 140.1 million ha net sown area in the country. India introduced the organic farming policy in 2005 (Amit Khurana and Vineet Kumar 2020).

The future of Indian agribusiness, including agriculture, would be bright if it is attended with people’s institutions like co-operatives and farmer producer companies (FPCs ) rather than relying mostly on corporate agencies (Sukhpal Singh 2021).

Agriculture in Andhra Pradesh

Agriculture plays an important role in the livelihoods of people as 70 per cent of the population in Andhra Pradesh live in rural areas and depend on agriculture and related livelihood opportunities. Average size of land holdings in the state marginally declined to 0.94 hectares during 2015-16 from 1.06 hectares in 2010-11.Correspondingly the number of holdings increased from 76.21 lakh in 2010-11 to 85.24 lakh in 2015-16 (SESR 2020-21).

Decreasing size of agricultural land holdings, continued dependence on the monsoon, inadequate access to irrigation, imbalanced use of soil nutrients resulting in loss of soil fertility, uneven access to modern technology, lack of access to formal agricultural credit, limited procurement of food grains by government agencies, and failure to provide remunerative prices to farmers are some of the key issues affecting agricultural productivity at the national and State level (SESR 2019-2020).

The total demand for water is 7.6 lakh ha m, while the supply is only 4.08 lakh ha m. The deficit for water is to the extent of 3.6 lakh ha m (GoAP 2016). “Better access to land for marginal and landless farmers and, even more crucially, equitable access to water, is a must to improve the performance of the sector” (Sukhpal Singh 2021a).

In Andhra Pradesh around 5,94,899 farmers are practicing AP Community managed Natural Farming (APCNF) in an area of 2,60,781 ha during 2020-21 as of 30th November, 2020 (GoAP 2020). “Interestingly, there has been a lot of discussions around the results of Zero Budget Natural Farming (ZBNF), especially, since the Union finance minister mentioned the same in Budget 2019-20. Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) has also set up a committee to validate ZBNF results, the decision for which is still awaited” (Vineet Kumar 2020).

In fact, traditional farmers and small and marginal farmers who cannot afford modern fertilizers are engaged in organic farming. Indian farmers practiced organic farming until modern farming techniques were instituted. So the organic farming is being revived after decades. Organic farming can be seen by default in tribal areas. There is need to strengthen the traditional farming practices by adding value through external inputs instead of replacing them altogether for commercial needs.

The Government of AP claims to have introduced flagship programmes under ‘Navaratnalu’ as a social development measure with cross cutting nine themes including “Rythu Bharosa” for Farmers’ welfare and improving irrigation cover through “Jalayagnam” with a definite vision to achieve the set Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) (SESR 2019-20).The State Government is implementing agriculture related schemes including Ryutu Bharosa Scheme (RBS) by providing financial assistance of ₹13,500 per farmer family per year. The outcome of this scheme depends totally on several technical and documentary proofs required to make a claim for the entitlement like aadhaar, bank linkages, mutation and updation of land details on webportal, etc. As per the norms of RBS, all the land holder farmer families who collectively own cultivable land irrespective of size of land holdings are eligible for the scheme. 2019-20, ST farmers who benefited in 2019-20 was 2,82,780 and 3,23,447 in 2020-21 under the RBS receiving ₹249.51 Cr and ₹293.03 Cr respectively.

The Government of AP is also giving importance for monoculture plantations. The AP Forest Development Corporation (APFDC) is raising large scale plantations (49,960 Ha) to meet the demands of forest-based industries with species such as Eucalyptus (36193 Ha), Cashew (5,707 Ha), Coffee (4,010 Ha), Bamboo (2,418 Ha ) etc. (SESR 20-21).

Adivasi’ Agriculture

The Scheduled Area is spread over Srikakulam, Vizianagaram, Visakhapatnam and Godavari Districts. Based on the rainfall received, type and topography of the soil and the high altitude, the tribal areas comprised of Northern borders of Srikakulam, Vizianagaram and Visakhapatnam are divided into the North Coastal Zone comprising Srikakulam, Vizianagaram and Visakhapatnam districts and the Godavari zone covering East Godavari and West Godavari districts (GoAP 2016).

The Scheduled Area (SA) is often seen in narrow perspective, focussed on its rich natural resources and tremendous potential to meet market demands for agri-business, industry, and mining activity to the neglect of the Adivasis. As a result, SAs are pockets of poverty, growing impoverishment, displacement, land alienation, and exploitation of natural resources for commercial and industrial interests. Agriculture is the primary source of livelihood of Adivasis in the SAs, and it is subsistence in nature. Their traditional beliefs and customary practices are linked inseparably with its need based agricultural practices.

“The Scheduled Areas are already experiencing land pollution and decline or loss of farm income due to excess use of fertilizers for the commercial crops to get more yields and also maintain the standards of farm produces with the active intervention of traders. The traders’ increased intervention will affect the choice of the farmers to grow their sustainable food crops” (Palla Trinadha Rao 2020).

Adivasi agriculture in the SAs of Andhra Pradesh is facing multi dimensional vulnerability. The key issues around Adivasi agriculture are land alienation, adverse terrain, degraded soils, rain fed agriculture, absence of irrigation infrastructure and poor investment capacity. Sustainable traditional mixed agricultural crops have been replaced by monoculture, commercial and cash intensive crops due to influences of business groups, outsiders and programs introduced by Government (Palla Trinadha Rao 2015).

Land alienation is a major influencing factor of growing vulnerability of Adivasi agriculture. The reports of ITDAs show that as of May 2021, 44 percent of cases (12,664), covering 39 percent of the land (5,6921 acres) only were decided in favor of tribals under the tribal protective land transfer regulations 1 of 70 in 28,716 cases disposed covering an extent of 1,47,450 acres of land situated in the SA. Of the land secured through court orders, only 90 percent of land (51,253 acres) actually were put to successful physical possession of tribal farmers. Non-tribals were able to illegally retain the rest of the lands in their possession.

Lands holding in the Scheduled Area:

As per the Annual Administration Reports, during 2015-2016, the total cultivable extent of both dry and wet land was 4.83 lakh acres and the cultivated extent was 4,76,424 acres during kharif and 1,03,257 acres in Rabi season. Surprisingly, the cultivable extent decreased to 3,81 lakh acres during 2019-2020 while the extent cultivated of both dry and wet land was 2.93 lakh acres during kharif and 1.03 lakh acres in Rabi season. Therefore the data in respect of revenue lands show that there was a declining trend in both cultivable and cultivated extent of the lands in the SA. The decrease of cultivable extent may be due to diversion of land for other purposes, while diminishing of the cultivated extent may be due to several problems faced by farmers in the SA as discussed in this paper.

Lands held by ST farmers:

There are around 2,50,760 ST families in the SA of AP having an extent of 10,08,527 acres of land including ryotwari, assigned and patta lands under Forest Rights Act 2006 as per the NIC-Webland and Tribal Welfare Department sources. Therefore each family is holding an average of 4 acres of land. The increase in the extent of family land holding was due to grant of several individual forest land pattas to STs under FRA 2006 for last two years. Of the total extent of 10,08,527 acres, FRA patta land was an extent of 3,10,811.41acres (31%) as of May 2021. Tribal families numbering 2,24,078 (89%) have more than 2 acres of land, while 26,682 (11%) families have less than 2 acres of land. Therefore the land holding families are in the group of either small or marginal farmers and the question of productivity of lands is also questionable.

The low yield in the SA is evident from the finding of a study by Centre for Economic and Social Studies (CESS). “The average yield of paddy per acre in the Paderu region was observed to be 450 kg, as against 645 kg in Visakhapatnam district. (Purushottam P and Mishra B 2017)

There are no proper irrigation plans in place to avail the water potential in the tribal areas. On the other hand, the available water resources are diverted from the tribal areas to general areas for the irrigation and industrial purposes by construction of medium as well as major irrigation projects like Polavaram on the river Godavari. The State Commission on Agriculture also pointed out that check dams constructed earlier in a few places are unable to store water and irrigate the fields due to poor maintenance. Similarly, water harvesting structures created earlier for the better utilisation of streams have not been serving the intended purpose. (Go AP 2016 ). Therefore, interventions in relation to the irrigation, output and outcomes of the yield are playing a critical role in the Adivasi agriculture sector.

In Andhra Pradesh, the tribal farmers depend heavily on the money lender-cum–trader for credit for consumption and production needs. There is a need to restructure the Girijan Cooperative Corporation (GCC) and ITDA to make them accountable to tribal farmers. The monopoly powers of GCC should be curtailed and it should procure agricultural produce and non-timber forest products (NTFPs) in consultation with Gram Sabhas/ Gram Panchayats (GoAP 2016).

II Agro Policy & Legal Frame work

Achieving food security has been a main objective of agricultural policy due to shortage in the early 1960s, with a direction towards self-sufficiency in food production. “Recent objectives have been focused on seeking faster, more inclusive and sustainable growth more broadly by bringing macroeconomic imbalances under control and reversing the economic slowdown while also pushing for structural reforms” ( OECD/ICRIER 2018).

India is a signatory to the United Nations sponsored framework of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which comprises a set of 17 Goals and 169 Targets to be achieved before the end of 2030.

The directive in Article 48 of Indian Constitution states that the State shall endeavor to organize agriculture and animal husbandry on modern and scientific lines and take steps for preserving and improving the breeds etc. Indian Constitution clearly and categorically put ‘agriculture’ and its allied activities and irrigation etc as items 14 to 17of State List II of the Seventh Schedule under the jurisdiction of States.

Even though the Constitution places agriculture production and irrigation development (including flood control) squarely under the jurisdiction of States, it has taken a different approach to the marketing of agri-produce. Article 301 says trade, commerce and intercourse shall be free across all of India, while Article 302 provides the Parliament the power to enact law imposing restrictions on inter-state trade.

The 73rd Constitutional Amendment allows the states to endow its powers and functions in relation to agriculture subjects to local bodies. However, the Parliament enacted the PESA Act 1996 specific to SA of the country, empowering the Gram Sabha to approve plans, programmes and projects for social and economic development before such plans and projects are taken up by the Panchayat at the village level.

As per the provisions of AP PESA Rules 2011, the concerned agricultural department shall place the “village agriculture production plans” before the Gram Sabha for its consideration in the SA before its implementation. The local bodies are also empowered to plan and manage the minor water bodies which cater to the needs of 40 hectares of land under PESA Rules.

Therefore the role of Gram Sabha is crucial for implementation of the plans and programs of Agriculture. However, without any functional linkage with the Gram Sabhas or Gram Panchayats (GPs), the Government of AP established Ryutu Bharosa Centres (RBCs) for the welfare of farmers and delivery of farm related services. It is essential to bring convergence between these RBCs and the Gram Sabhas or GPs in the SA.

AP Water, Land and Trees Act 2002, as amended by 2004 aimed to promote Water Conservation and Tree cover and regulate the exploitation and use of Ground and surface water etc. The AP State Commission on Agriculture while examining the implementation of this Act pointed out that “framing of socially viable regulations and their strict implementation are needed to regulate groundwater overdraft”.

In India, states have constitutional responsibility for many aspects of agriculture, but the central government plays an important role by developing national approaches to policy and providing the necessary funds for implementation at the state level. However there is no sufficiently strong mechanism to bring state and central level policy-makers together to discuss problems, design solutions, and monitor performance ( OECD/ICRIER 2018).

There are certain legislations made by both the Central and State Governments concerning agriculture and its products. Important to note here that there is no income tax on agricultural income; so the Income Tax Act has nothing to do with the agriculture. However the State Government will collect the land revenue on the lands held by the farmers. The Essential Commodities Act 1955, a central Act, was subjected to several amendments and the recent Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act (ECA), 2020 seeks to deregulate the supply of food stuff, including cereals, edible oils, oilseeds, pulses, onions and potato by removing them from the purview of earlier ECA, 1955 in order to facilitate the private business houses to invest.

The Central Government recently enacted the Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) 2020 and the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance and Farm Services Act 2020 and touted them as the much-needed agricultural reforms in India. However, both agriculture and marketing of agricultural products are state subjects governed by state government laws.

These two legislations are not in conformity with the provisions of the Panchayats (Extension to the Scheduled Areas) Act, 1996, which extended the provisions IX of the Constitution of India to Scheduled Areas with certain modifications. The PESA Act, 1996 empowers a Gram Sabha or GP, as the case may be, to manage village markets by whatever name they are called, in Scheduled Areas, where tribals reside (Palla Trinadha Rao 2020).

In the erstwhile AP, Andhra Pradesh (Agricultural Produce and Livestock) Markets Act 1966, a market legislation, was enacted integrating the earlier Hyderabad Agricultural Produce and Livestock Markets Act, 1930 and the Madras Commercial Crops Act, 1933. The Markets Act empowers the state to establish regulated wholesale markets, construct and manage agricultural markets and regulate all aspects of marketing, including the levy of user fees etc, and the Market Committees were made responsible for implementation under the AP (Agricultural and Livestock) Market Rules, 1969 and the Bye-laws of the Market Committee.

However the markets committees are not acting as per the envisaged benefits of the Markets Act. At present the agricultural markets in the State are not competitive due to in-built conditions of the APMC Act such as licensing system and restrictive conditions imposed for the establishment of private markets. On the other hand, these are discouraging SHG federations for setting up their own private markets (GoAP 2016d).

On the other hand, the AP PESA Rules 2011 empowers the GPs to act as market committees in the SAs in respect of the marketing of agricultural and Non Timber Forest Produce (NTFP) etc. However the GPs are not geared to function as market committees to protect the interests of Adivasi farmers or NTFP collectors in marketing their produce and free from exploitation in the village markets.

Although the AP Scheduled Area Money Lenders Regulations 1960 have been in force to curb the exploitation of money lenders and mandy merchants who give loans to tribals on crops etc, the concerned enforcing revenue officers have failed to book cases against unscrupulous persons.

In respect of minor forest produce, the AP Scheduled Area Minor Forest Regulation of Trade-1979 provides monopoly to the Girijan Cooperative Corporation (GCC) to sell or purchase or cure or otherwise process or collects of store or transports any minor forest produce. The role of the GCC has been changed over the period, but it continues to maintain its dominance by playing a role as commercial business entity affecting the interests of Adivasi farmers and minor forest produce gatherers.

Therefore there is a need to develop a strong institutional mechanism in convergence with the GPs in the SA to avoid the market risks and check the exploitation of money lenders and traders.

In the case of tenant farmers, The Andhra Pradesh (Andhra Area) Tenancy Act, 1956 as amended by 1974 has several provisions to protect the interests of tenants. Subsequently the Licensed Cultivators Act, 2011 was brought to issue Loan Eligibility Cards (LECs) to tenants and thereby entitle them to gain access to bank credit, crop insurance, input subsidies and disaster relief. However there is a legal gap in implementation of this Cultivators Act 2011. As per the report of AP State Commission on Agriculture (2016), the Cultivators Act, 2011 was enacted without making any amendment to the Tenancy Act; as such it did not yield desirable results. The effect of implementation of the Cultivators Act 2011 can also be gauged by its impact as per the report of AP Productive Council in 2019. As per this report “under this legislation, out of the 22,461 cards issued during 2015-16, only 10 per cent received bank loans. The amount sanctioned per acre was also far below than the minimum amount originally suggested by the RBI and NABARD” (AP Productivity Council 2019).

Subsequently the Government brought AP Crop Cultivators Rights Act 2019 to provide all facilities including banking, insurance and other Government benefits to tenant farmers without affecting the rights of the owner of the land. However as per the Socio, Economic Survey Report 2020-21, an amount ₹324.41 crores was only given to 60,667 Crop Cultivator Rights Cards holders during 2020-21, against the number of cards issued to 4,14,795 actual cultivators in the state. Therefore, there is a huge gap in providing the benefit under the Act.

The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Act) 2006 is also interconnected to the farm laws. Rule 16 of Forest Rights Rules 2012 provides that State Government shall ensure upliftment of STs and OTFDs through taking up of schemes including land improvement, land productivity etc to the claimants whose rights have been recognized and vested under the Act.

What is required is a comprehensive suite of enforceable rights, planned support and budgetary programmes to enable farmers to collectively move ahead (Joyjeet Das 2021).

Reviewing the situation of Adivasi agriculture, the AP State Commission on Agriculture recommended that the policies have to resolve the deep rooted problems in regard to land/legal rights, market, financial and technical aspects for realizing higher levels of sustainable livelihoods. Agro-climatic conditions vary widely across rain-fed regions / mandals. Therefore, a bottom up planning approach needs to be developed. Village / GP resource based agricultural development plans need to be prepared through a participatory framework.

Conclusion

There is a need to develop agriculture and irrigation plans suitable to the agro climatic conditions of the SA. Such plans and programs shall be placed before the Gram Sabha for its consent before its implementation as envisaged under the PESA Act. The land records are to be updated facilitating both tenant Adivasi farmers as well as owners to secure ago related economic entitlements.

Coercive steps are to be taken to curb the exploitive forces in trade of agro-forest products and money lending. Local Adivasi marketing groups have to be formed and strengthened to procure and sell the agriculture and forest products for better prices linking up with Ashram/Residential and other local and outside markets. Training and education on market related matters shall be provided to them to understand the dynamics in the markets. The GPs in the SA shall be empowered to function as village market committees to regulate the village markets.

There is need to strengthen the traditional farming practices by adding value through external inputs instead of replacing them altogether for commercial needs. Policies should create conditions to strengthen the locally available resources, indigenous knowledge and skills of tribal farmers and also increase adaptability of modern agro technology to reduce wage costs and drudgery. The minor and micro irrigation schemes have to be implemented using hill streams, other minor water bodies.

It is essential to implement the PESA Act, Forest Rights Act and Land Transfer Regulations 1 of 70 for further effective implementation of policies and programs concerning the agriculture, markets, protection of land including forest lands. Diversion of water for augmenting the needs of farmers in general areas, curtailment of industrial needs and need a policy to ensure equitable access to water resources are needed.

References

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