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Land leasing reforms can prove to be very advantageous for states

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By Arvind Panagariya

Land leasing laws relating to rural agricultural land in Indian states were overwhelmingly enacted during decades immediately following the independence. At the time, the abolition of Zamindari and redistribution of land to the tiller were the highest policy priorities.

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Top leadership of the day saw tenancy and sub-tenancy as integral to the feudal land arrangements that India had inherited from the British. Therefore, tenancy reform laws that various states adopted sought to not only transfer ownership rights to the tenant but also either prohibited or heavily discouraged leasing and sub-leasing of land.

Politically influential landowners were successful in subverting the reform, however. As P.S. Appu documents in his brilliant 1996 book ‘Land Reforms in India’, till as late as 1992, ownership rights were transferred to the cultivator on just 4 percent of the operated land. Moreover, just seven states, Assam, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala, Maharashtra, and West Bengal, accounted for some 97 per cent of this transfer.

In trying to force the transfer of ownership to the cultivator, many states abolished tenancy altogether. But while resulting in minimal land transfer, the policy had the unintended consequence of ending any protection tenants might have had and forced future tenants underground.

Some states allowed tenancy but imposed a ceiling on land rent at one-fourth to one-fifth of the produce. But since this rent fell well below the market rate, contracts became oral in these states as well, with the tenant paying closer to 50 per cent of the produce in rent.

Many large states including Telangana, Bihar, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh ban land leasing with exceptions granted to landowners among widows, minors, disabled and defence personnel. Kerala has for long banned tenancy, permitting only recently self-help groups to lease land.

Some states including Punjab, Haryana, Gujarat, Maharashtra and Assam do not ban leasing but the tenant acquires a right to purchase the leased land from the owner after a specified period of tenancy. This provision too has the effect of making tenancy agreements oral, leaving the tenant vulnerable.

Only the states of Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Rajasthan and West Bengal have liberal tenancy laws with the last one limiting tenancy to sharecroppers. A large number of states among them Rajasthan and Tamil Nadu, which otherwise have liberal tenancy laws, do not recognize sharecroppers as tenants.

The original intent of the restrictive tenancy laws no longer holds any relevance. Today, these restrictions have detrimental effects on not only the tenant for whose protection the laws were originally enacted but also on the landowner and implementation of public policy. The tenant lacks the security of tenure that she would have if laws permitted her and the landowner to freely write transparent contracts.

In turn, this discourages her from making long-term investments in land and also leaves her feeling perpetually insecure about continuing to maintain cultivation rights. Furthermore, it deprives her of potential access to credit by virtue of being a cultivator.

Landowner also feels a sense of insecurity when leasing land with many choosing to leave land fallow. The latter practice is becoming increasingly prevalent with landowners and their children seeking non-farm employment.

Public policy too faces serious challenges today in the absence of transparent land leasing laws. There are calls for expanded and more effective crop insurance. Recognizing that such insurance is likely to be highly subsidized, as has been the case with the past programs, a natural question is how to ensure that the tenant who bears the bulk of the risk of cultivation receives this benefit.

The same problem arises in the face of a natural calamity; if tenancy is informal, how do we ensure that the actual cultivator receives disaster relief.

In a similar vein, fertilizer subsidy today is subject to vast leakages and sales of subsidized fertilizer in the black market. In principle, these leakages could be sharply curtailed by the introduction of direct benefit transfer (DBT) using Aadhar seeded bank accounts along the lines of the cooking gas subsidy transfer. But in face of difficulty in identifying the real cultivator and therefore intended beneficiary, DBT cannot be satisfactorily implemented.

In the context of the difficulties in land acquisition under the 2013 land acquisition law, states wishing to facilitate industrialization can further benefit from liberal land leasing if they simultaneously liberalize the use of agricultural land for non-agricultural purposes.

Currently, conversion of agricultural land for non-agricultural use requires permission from the appropriate authority, which can take a long time. State governments can address this barrier by either an amendment of the law to permit non-agricultural use or by the introduction of time-bound clearances of applications for the conversion of agricultural land use in the implementing regulations.

The reform will open up another avenue to the provision of land for industrialization: long-term land leases that allow the owner to retain the ownership while earning rent on her land. In addition, she will have the right to renegotiate the terms of the lease once the existing lease expires.

Therefore, the introduction of transparent land leasing laws that allow the potential tenant or sharecropper to engage in written contracts with the landowner is a win-win reform. The tenant will have an incentive to make investment in improvement of land, landowner will be able to lease land without fear of losing it to the tenant and the government will be able to implement its policies efficiently.

Simultaneous liberalization of land use laws will also open up an alternative avenue to the provision of land for industrialization that is fully within the state’s jurisdiction and allows the landowner to retain ownership of her land.

A potential hurdle to the land leasing reform laws is that landowners may fear that a future populist government may use the written tenancy contracts as the basis of transfer of land to the tenant and therefore would oppose the reform. This is a genuine fear but may be addressed in two alternative ways.

The ideal way would be yet another major reform: giving landowners indefeasible titles. States such as Karnataka that have fully digitized land records and the registration system are indeed in a position to move in this direction. For other states, such titles are a futuristic solution.

Therefore, in the interim, they can opt for the alternative solution of recording the contracts at the level of the Panchayat eschewing acknowledging the tenant in the revenue records. They may then insert in the relevant implementing regulations the clause that for purposes of ownership transfer, only the tenancy status in revenue records would be recognized.

State governments must seriously consider revisiting their leasing (and land use) laws to determine if they could bring about these simple but powerful changes to enhance productivity and welfare all around. We, at the NITI Aayog, stand ready to assist them in this endeavour.

(IANS)

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Railway Minister launches first phase of station redevelopment Program for 23 major Railway Stations across India

The Railways will provide 140 acres of encroachment-free land for the development of these stations under a public-private partnership (PPP) model

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Railway
Indian Railways, Wikimedia

New Delhi, Feb 8, 2017: Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu on Wednesday launched the first phase of station redevelopment programme for 23 major railway stations across the country.

As part of the programme, the Railways will take up 400 stations in 100 top cities for redevelopment into smart stations, equipped with self-ticketing system, escalators and better amenities for the passengers.

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 The entire project, that is being touted as the world’s largest such programme, will use at least 2,200 acres of land and see investments worth Rs 1 lakh crore.

The 23 stations that will be redeveloped in the first phase include Chennai Central, Ranchi, Udaipur City, Indore, Yesvantpur, Bangalore Cantonment, Visakhapatnam, Howrah, Kamakhya, Faridabad, Jammu Tawi, Secunderabad, Vijayawada, Kozhikode and Bhopal.

The first phase will utilise a budget of Rs 6000-9000 crore, and the tenders will awarded through free bidding.

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The Railways will provide 140 acres of encroachment-free land for the development of these stations under a public-private partnership (PPP) model.

Speaking at the occasion, Prabhu said that “the Railways have certain advantages out of which one is holding of land on a large-scale” and that stations are a place “where lots of people wait to board a train and thus Railway Stations can be developed into an iconic property”.

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He said that smart stations are a prerequisite of a smart city and upon completion a total of 16 million passengers will be able enjoy the facilities at these stations.

Other amenities at the redeveloped stations will include digital signage, executive lounges, luggage screening machines, walkways, holding areas for passengers, grand and distinctive roofing and flooring, and free and paid Wi-Fi, among others. (IANS)

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Sculpting Rural Revolution: Art and Agriculture Festival in Paradsinga village, Madhya Pradesh

Paradsinga’s museum will put to display traditional food of the region through artistic designs crafted with the help of crops and plants

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An agricultural Land. Image source: Wikimedia Commons
  • A village to host a museum that will put to display traditional food of the region through artistic designs crafted with the help of crops and plants
  • Villagers are trained to create 300 wax sculptures out of traditional crops and dishes for the art-cum-agriculture festival in October
  • The idea of the upcoming ‘land craft’ festival originated from the ‘Beej Utsav’ 

A group of artists at Paradsinga in Madhya Pradesh is integrating a new style of farming by merging art and agriculture.
Working together with the artists, the local community is preparing to host Paradsinga’s museum that will put to display traditional food of the region through artistic designs crafted with the help of crops and plants.
“The museum will connect the village directly to the rest of the world. And our villages should be the cultural hub,” says Shweta Bhattad, an artist and activist, who is preparing the village for a grand edition of the festival in October.
      Bhattad has taken the lead in training the villagers to create 300 wax sculptures out of traditional crops and dishes, exhibiting the elegance of local recipes. For the first of its kind agriculture-cum-artwork exhibition, the village is being turned into an open site for seminars and workshops.
‘Dear Prime Minister Please Grow in India’, is the slogan of the ‘land art’ designed by the community with the help of leafy vegetables on a patch of farmland. The slogan aims to highlight the ongoing ‘Make in India’ campaign of the Prime Minister.
Keeping up with the ‘traditional spirit’ of the campaign, the villagers are using fresh organic produce as well as home-grown harvested seeds for the crafting out of plants. Other than the above message, the community aims to echo the importance of traditional farming methods over genetically modified varieties.
Indian farming lands during monsoon Image Source: Wikimedia Commons
Indian farming lands during monsoon
Image Source: Wikimedia Commons
  The idea of the upcoming ‘land craft’ festival originated from the ‘Beej Utsav’ (seed festival) which attracted about 50 visitors during the local exhibit.
“Just like there is artists’ exchange, we thought of creating a platform for farmers to exchange and meet and get involved. I realised that today a farmer feels very lonely,” says Bhattad.
Ms. Bhattad, who holds a Master’s degree in sculpture from M.S.U. Baroda has been camping for the same since 2013. She roped in other artists including Lalit Vikamshi, Tanmay Joshi, Aditi Bhattad, choreographer Parvinder Singh, for her innovative plan. To increase collaboration, Italian artist Virginia Zemati took to Skype for teaching the young village young girls to dance.
       “I saw the bio-diversity of the village get killed because the farmers were encouraged to grow only Bt cotton. It also led to fall in the water table. The youth in the village were frustrated. We wanted to address all of this and I felt that if there is an art angle to what we say it will reach out to more people,” says Bhattad.
         Bhattad, based in Nagpur, is attached to Paradsinga because her grandfather lives here.  This makes her deeply inspired to work on the idea. Her plans for the festival are building on different sources of inspiration for the local village community.
During the monsoons when farms used to get totally cut off from village, it was difficult for farmers without networked roads to carry on with farming. Influenced by Bhattad, a 21-year-old farmer named Ganesh Dhoke has recently built a 500-metre road that connects about 50 farms to the village.
Other than training the village youth, she is actively involved in providing equipments and machinery for the task.
 “As of now there are four farmers who have quit growing Bt Cotton completely and moved on to other crops,” says Ms. Bhattad.

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-By Maariyah Siddiquee, intern at NewsGram. Twitter: @MaariyahSid

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Swarna Bharat Party is only party that supports and defends all freedom: Interview with Party President Vishal Singh

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By Tarun Pratap

Swarna Bharat Party claims to be India’s only liberal party. It came into existence almost three years ago. Party believes that India, even though, achieved freedom in 1947  but it never became free.

NewsGram talked to the SBP President Vishal Singh about the politics in India and SBP’s status and future plans.

NewsGram: Please tell about the ideology behind the formation and functioning of the party.

Vishal Singh: Swarna Bharat is India’s first liberal party.

SBP is designed from scratch as a liberal party which advocates the philosophy of liberty and truth. It is not dependent on any individual, and aims to provide the sole national platform for all Indian liberals for all times to come.

vishal
Vishal Singh

India’s governance is in shambles. India’s governance failure is systemic, and comprehensive. But our major parties refuse to implement any reforms, pandering, instead, to caste and religion – and to the lowest common denominator. Claiming socialist goals, they subsidize the rich and are hands-in-glove with corrupt business. Crony capitalism is rife. The voice of the people is blocked through numerous anti-free speech laws. There is no one in the elected assemblies of India to speak for our freedoms.

In this domain of total under-performance, China is rushing ahead in many fields and poses an increasing strategic threat to India. India needs to get its act together to become a major power. That can only happen if India is committed to human liberty and truth. India needs to launch a frontal attack against illiberal and poverty-creating ideas.

That’s why Swarna Bharat Party – to speak – and fight – for our freedoms and our future. SBP fills a deeply-felt void in India’s political landscape, which is populated by corrupt, socialist parties. None of these parties can possibly provide India with corruption-free governance to deliver freedom, equality of opportunity, the rule of law, and justice to every citizen.

SBP is the only party in India that supports and defends ALL your freedoms. So, people should join us to defend their liberty.

NG: What do you think about the current political scenario of India and where does SBP stand?

VS: The current scenario in India is a mess. People had lots of faith in Modi to bring change, but that has disappeared. Many people still have faith in AAP which will also fail. People have to understand that all Indian political parties try to fix India with socialism. This simply will not work. Indians need to wake up and take steps before it is too late. Already our best talent wants to leave the country. Everyone wants reservation. The situation is alarming. SBP is working hard to convince people about the perils of socialism. We have a full blueprint on how to transform India. We are ready to do the job. We are just waiting for India to be ready.

NG: I saw the recent launch of the official website of the party, what are the plans of the party to increase its reach and connect with people?

VS: We are continuously on looking out for leaders who really believe in liberty. Leaders are the ones who will convince people why all current political parties are doomed to fail and why freedom and liberty are the only way to make India strong. We do have outreach programs. We are converting our manifesto into regional languages which will help masses to learn more about us.

NG: How strong is the base of the party outside India and within India?

VS: We are a very small group as of now but we are all deeply committed in reforming India. There is huge interest in us in last one year. People now are taking us more seriously. The experiments of Modi and AAP are failing. People cannot still forget corrupt congress. There is growing interest in our value proposition of liberty. I see us only growing from here.

NG: Sir, your party talks about being only liberal party in India, please put some light on that?

VS: This is a very good question. In India as well as the word liberal would mean a person very closely associated with left. We are the true classical liberals. A classical liberal is a person who believes in a limited state. A state which has a very limited role, unlike left liberals who want the state to become a nanny state. I would strongly encourage people to visit our website swarnabharat.in/sbp-manifesto to read the detailed manifesto.

NG: What in your opinion, Indian politics lacks? I mean there is right, left and centre and still a void? When AAP came, there were lot of talk of alternate politics but with time it could not prove it, do you think SBP can do that?

VS: As I told all Indian political parties are same. They offer the same brand of socialism. Left, right and centre have no meaning in India. They are all socialist. All of them want more state control. Modi came with the slogan of limited government, but all his actions are diametrically opposite to what he was saying during elections.

AAP is a one man party and will suffer the same fate as BJP. SBP is rooted to idea of liberty. We are ready today but we will wait for India to be ready. As I said I would encourage people to read our manifesto.We have the time-bound plan to transform India into a sone ki chidiya gain.

NG: What are the immediate and future plans for the party?

VS: The immediate and future plans for party remain same – to convince India of the value of liberty. On this front we are reaching out in various ways – direct contact,social media, press releases.

I would like to call upon people and especially young people to read our manifesto, mull over it and join us. The revolution in India has to begin first in the minds of people. When minds change action happens automatically.  We hope that in coming days India will see the value of liberty – the core proposition of SBP.